The digital age is here to stay, and it’s bringing major changes in how businesses operate. The most obvious of these changes—and perhaps the biggest threat to small businesses in particular—is the decline of paper documents. As more of our lives are conducted online, the need for paper-based documents is decreasing. In fact, it has been estimated that by 2023 we’ll have reduced our paper consumption by 75%.
In recent years, the digital transformation has forced businesses to adapt to a world where everything is digital, including contracts and invoices. There are many reasons for this trend, but the two most common ones are environmental concerns and the ever-increasing paper and printing costs. But there are even more benefits to going paperless, especially if you pair paperless operations with workflow automation.
What is digital transformation?
The process of digital transformation is about leveraging technology to improve business processes. Digital transformation is relevant to any industry, and it’s not just about technology; it’s also about changing how you do business. It’s not enough to simply buy the software and install it—you have to change how your team thinks about their jobs, how they operate within the organization and communicate with each other.
Digital transformation is more than just adopting new software or hardware; it’s a fundamental shift in thinking that can transform an entire organization into one that is better suited for today’s environment than yesterday’s was.
The key drivers for digital transformation
Of course, there are plenty of reasons for companies to go paperless. Some of the biggest drivers include:
- Cost reduction. In the United States alone, offices use 12.1 trillion sheets of paper per year; unfortunately, 40% of printed paper in the U.S. ends up in the trash (Source The World Counts). In addition to spending less on paper, going digital means you can also reduce labor costs associated with managing paper documents. For example, each filing cabinet of stored documents costs approximately $1,500 a year to maintain. For an office with 4 filing cabinets, that is a potential savings of $6000 a year.
- Increased efficiency and productivity. Because records are stored electronically rather than in physical files, they’re more accessible than ever before—meaning employees have access to information when they need it instead of having to wait until their next trip into the office or file cabinet room. This makes it easier for them to get their tasks accomplished quickly so they can move on to other projects; plus, there’s less chance that important documents will be accidentally lost or tossed out by accident. Each lost or misplaced document has a cost associated with it. On average, employees waste 40% of their time searching for documents, and it takes an average of 18 minutes to find one misplaced file.
- Improved Customer Relations. Improving customer service is always a goal for businesses, and there are many ways to achieve it. One way is by providing real-time updates about shipments or order status. Having this information sent directly from your computer system as soon as changes happen can make things easier for everyone involved. Customers can be updated immediately if there are any delays with their orders, and they will appreciate the improved communication. This also allows businesses to keep track of their orders more easily and efficiently. By providing real-time updates, businesses can improve their customer service and make things more convenient for everyone involved.
What does a paperless office mean?
The term means little or no paper is used. You can never have a truly paper-free office as there will always be paper documents that come into your office. However, you can drastically cut the amount of paper used within your organization and digitize documents as soon as they are received. To do this, you need to have a digital workflow model in place, with a digital copier and workflow software for your employees. You also need to train your employees on how to use the processes and procedures. Then you will need to set up management policies and procedures for audits of the workflows and other business functions that are impacted by this shift in technology and procedure.
4 Steps to be Paper-Free in 2023
1. Start with the goal in mind
The first step in a paperless office is to define your goal. What is it you want to accomplish with this change? Set definable key point indicators (KPIs) that can be measured and tracked throughout the process so you can tell what is working and what needs improvement.
For example, one of your goals might be to reduce your carbon footprint. Next, you need to define exactly how you will measure the success or failure of that goal. Your KPIs might be the amount you spend on paper products and energy consumption. These measurement points will tell you how successful your new digital initiative is.
Analyze your current processes
Once you have a clear goal in mind, the next step is to analyze your current manual processes. Make sure that you understand how reliant your business is on paper. This will help you identify what needs to be done before you begin going paperless and also ensure that there are no surprises once the process begins. You may find that some areas of your business are more affected than others by the introduction of technology. Take time at this stage to consider what needs to be achieved before deciding which software or processes need to be changed.
Make sure the key personnel are involved in the audit process and document the current steps before making any changes. A full understanding of your current process will aid you in streamlining those processes later on.
3. Streamline Your Technology and Processes
Get The Right Technology
The first step in streamlining is making sure you have the right equipment. You want to use digital copiers that are optimized for paperless working. Modern digital copiers and Multifunction devices have digital scanners that can help you digitize documents and convert them into searchable PDF files, so you don’t have to keep boxes of paper in your office. Upgrading your older copiers and printers is essential since you cannot stop the flow of paper into your business and will need some way to digitize these documents.
Once you have the digital copiers, you will need some workflow automation software to work with your MFP. Workflow software helps to route and store your digital documents and automate your manual processes. Finding the right workflow automation software is important. Depending on your business, you may need both print management software to limit and track your prints and workflow automation software to make printing unnecessary.
The cost of a full digital transition can be high—but it will pay off if done correctly! Consider how much time will be saved by not worrying about storing or filing paperwork; or how much money could be saved by automating manual processes. Then factor in maintenance costs for hardware like printers and scanners throughout their lifetime, training costs for staff who use them every day (and may need some retraining); ongoing support from IT when things go wrong!
Set Up Workflow Procedures
Once you have the right technology, you must set up workflow procedures to help route your digital documents to the right people and storage locations. These procedures can include approval checks, notifications, routing, and much more. These are the steps that will help eliminate the majority of your manual processes and streamline your organization. You will use your digital copiers, scanners, and workflow software to develop these procedures.
Train employees on new tech and software
Employees are the backbone of your business. As such, they need to be trained on how to use the digital workflow software and the new digital copiers. You can use this training as a chance to explain the benefits of using these new tools and how they will help your organization. Help employees get comfortable with using the new technology because the more familiar they are, the more likely they are to accept and use the new solutions. Let’s face it, all the work you put into developing your new paperless system will be wasted if your employees don’t use it.
4. Audit Your Workflow Procedures
There are several ways to audit your workflow. You can look at the statistics and records you have generated or ask employees for their feedback. You can also conduct interviews with people who work in other departments to see if they are having any problems with the new system.
You should take corrective action if your workflow isn’t working as intended. This can include making changes to the system or adding new processes to help correct problems. You should also ensure that the changes are communicated to all employees, so they understand what needs to be done and why it is important.
Finally, you should monitor the workflow to make sure it is continuing to work as intended. Measuring the success of the workflow is important so that you know when it’s time for changes or adjustments based on what has been happening with your business since its creation (e.g., if sales have increased dramatically or things have slowed down). If changes need to be made, you should make them quickly and efficiently so that your business doesn’t suffer any setbacks that could have been avoided with better planning.
It may seem like a lot of work, but in the end, it will be worth it because you will have more productive employees who can focus on the things that matter most.
There are a lot of benefits to going paperless, but the biggest one is that it’s better for the environment. Going paperless can help you save money on supplies, reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, and make it easier for your business to operate. It’s also important to realize that going paperless doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate all physical documents from your life (although it might be tempting); instead, you can use the digital versions of them when necessary.
If you are ready for your business to be paper free, we are ready to help!