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Can We Stop Talking About Paperless Offices, Please?

Everyone seems to be talking about the paperless office – then bemoaning the fact that we continue to print large amounts of paper. This leads us to the debate, paperless office: reality or pipe dream? Is paperless even worth striving for?

It does seem to be the case that people prefer to print out and read documents they have received, rather than stare at a screen. Maybe we are kidding ourselves and a paperless office is a fantasy?

This is a fundamental question for us in the document management world. But I think the terms of the whole debate need to be recast. This isn’t an issue about trying to eliminate paper from  the whole business process – if we judge it by that criterion, of course, the paperless office will never happen.

But that isn’t what we’re trying to do! When we talk about document management, we need to forget paper completely and instead, talk about the speed at which the business can retrieve information and data and the efficiencies that brings, rather than the idea that ‘we want to eliminate paper completely.’

In other words, is the paperless office the objective, or do we believe that investing in a DM system is about making efficiencies around fast retrieval of information, and the productivity gains those bring?

I think we should be encouraging more people to think like that – as I do not believe that the paperless office is achievable. We should concentrate more on recycling than about how much people are printing, in fact that would be a much better focus of effort in my opinion.

A better focus for the DM community is to forget paperless and start educating users about the benefits they’d get from indexing. Everyone working with documents needs to get into the habit of saying, ‘If I’m going store a document, it needs to be indexed in such a way that I can retrieve it more quickly in the future.’ If I am looking for documents that relate to each other, the system can search my structured data, e.g. my accounting and procurement systems, plus all the unstructured data, like e-mail and documents.

Indexing is very important in terms of the fast retrieval of information across the enterprise systems and is something that is getting easier (you can index documents within SharePoint) but it isn’t second nature for many people just yet.

And that’s the kind of subject I’d like to see a lot more focus on in DM, rather than the paperless office… and, I suspect, so would you.

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