The disconnect between paper and policy – and what needs to be done about it

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When you think of what the office used be like, before modern laptops and smartphones came into play, and working from home was non-existent, what comes to mind? For me, it’s paper. From company letters and payslips to invoices, job offers, CVs and meeting minutes – paper has always been a core part of organisational processes. And the whole paper ecosystem still very much exists today, despite the rest of the office environment changing around us and digital transformation efforts ramping up, and always on the move.

What’s changed is the means of capturing documents and creating digital copies. Electronic devices like scanners, for example, have improved the way we capture all-important information from paper copies, and have paved the way for individuals and organisations to store all their documents in one secure place, whilst having the ability to easily amend and edit online. So, it’s perfectly logical to think that now, in 2022, a paperless organisation could be a reality. Particularly in the hybrid working environment, with employees scattered across the world, the need for physical copies have become less of an office essential, and more of a nice-to-have, and an employee choice. This, coupled with the fact that organisations are increasingly wanting to improve on their environmental credentials and CSR initiatives, puts paper under scrutiny as to whether it’s really necessary anymore.

However, according to new research from Quocirca, only 1% of companies would say that they are truly paperless, despite four in 10 organisations wanting to use less paper. These usage levels are dictated by employees, (cited by 25% of organisations) customers (29%) and security (22%).

More paper, more problems?

Despite being far from a paperless world, and wanting to reduce paper use in the workplace, 36% of organisations agree that digitised data is easier to deal with, with 33% saying that it leads to better knowledge sharing. It seems then, that there is a disconnect across organisations about what purpose paper serves, and how to make the most of digitisation.

In essence, for many organisations, paper is inescapable because of its ubiquitous nature. It remains prevalent across so many processes that even paperless offices often have to find ways of dealing with incoming paper from external sources. And once external documents arrive, there are many factors to consider when it comes to digitising them – the size of the document, quality of paper, type of input, whether the text and content need to be extracted for downstream use, and where and how it feeds into business processes.

The decision to digitise

 In spite of many organisations choosing to only work with digital documents, it appears that significant amounts of physical items will continue to arrive at the doors of organisations for the foreseeable future, meaning that fully letting go of paper-based processes isn’t necessarily a viable option. In such cases, organisations must look at addressing their paper management and digitisation policy.

 Speed, efficiency, and consistency are key here – so it may make sense to apply a strict approach, making sure that each document that comes through the door of the business is scanned in straight away. This avoids the window of opportunity for the document to get lost or missed, and also delivers greater control over the security of physical documentation after the information in them has been captured.

Alongside building robust, paper-to-digital processes, the right technology is also required in order to action them both efficiently, and consistently. For example, scanners need robust automatic document feeding and paper protection capabilities to prevent misfeeds, paper jams and the needs for rescans – crucial for organisations that needs to digitise lots of documents.

Whichever way organisations decide to digitise paper and put in place the policies needed to do so, to maximise its benefit requires consistency of execution across the whole organisation. Adopted as a strategic goal, digitisation of paper documentation can not only streamline processes, but also enable greater flow of information throughout an organisation, delivering sustainable value through the discovery of new insights, and entirely new ways of working. Eliminating paper completely often isn’t a viable option but accepting this can allow businesses to focus on executing on what is possible, and given the possibilities offered by current capture technology, achieve meaningful results.