Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a six-part series from Insightful Accountant on why, what and how today’s companies are approaching going paperless. Sponsored by Canon imageFormula scanners, the series takes a deep dive into what a path to paperless strategy means, the various solutions available and a guide to help you get there. Check out part one, part two, part three and part four here.
There is skepticism at first. There always is. Transitioning to a program that eliminates the overall dependency on paper seems like a bit of a reach, even for the most optimistic of business owners. They say it can be done. Well, it is being done. Forward-thinking businesses are transforming the way they do business by finding more efficient ways to store, search and manipulate their documents. They are investing in scanners and software and related apps that can get the job done seamlessly.
How a business communicates and saves information is critical. There is no getting around that. But times are changing, and if you look at around, you will see that technology has created digital ways in nearly every instance to think paperless.
Don’t kid yourself—a paperless office is not exclusively defined by the elimination of paper. The people who work in a paperless office must buy into the concept of process efficiency delivered exclusively via technology. For many, the familiarity and comfort developed over years of digging through filing cabinets make for a tough transition to a paperless world. And then there is that other deterrent. The act of engaging in the conversion to a paperless office will result in a more painful experience than the paper-centric process it was designed to replace. Don’t go there. The technology is here. The timing is perfect.
To help give you some insights into the key considerations and steps needed to start your journey, we asked some industry thought leaders to share their thoughts. Our panel included: Isaac Herring, Director of Sales, Lucion Technologies; Matt Toth, VP of Sales, The Neat Company; Darcey Wilde, eFileCabinet‘s Director of Marketing; Sarah Sivesind, Partner, Operations, Aero Workflow; and Lindsay Conderman Pinkos, Product Marketing Manager, AbacusNext/Office Tools.
What are the key considerations for choosing a path?
Isaac Herring: With so many options out there, and with almost no one agreeing on what exactly DMS is, you have to know your needs. Have an idea what you really need and what you will actually use. Many times, companies purchase fancy solutions with all the bells and whistles only to find two years later they are using 10% of what they paid for.
Matt Toth: If the business is a startup or early-stage company, adopting a paperless office is much easier than unwinding all the legacy systems and processes of an established organization. For established organizations, the transition may be longer and more challenging. Find the areas within the business that, if converted to paperless, would have the greatest impact. For example, a CRM replacing a paper-filled filing cabinet will have a significant effect on how the business operates. Plus, it puts a giant stake in the ground with regard to your intention to commit to a fully paperless office.
Darcey Wilde: Create a plan and stick with it. Initiating paperless processes and only doing them sometimes is bound to create confusion and frustration with the system. All employees need to embrace the new processes for it to work cohesively. Next, communicate to clients, suppliers and partners about the change so that they can make accommodations to better interact with your new processes.
Sarah Sivesind: Check your security requirements. Do you need to control who can access documents? Are you dealing with sensitive information? Are there government regulations controlling storage and sharing of docs in your business (HIPAA)? How much control do you have over incoming documents (will you be doing a lot of scanning or can you insist on getting digital documents). Are key stakeholders on board (or can you get them onboard)? Where do you anticipate the most resistance coming from? What is your time frame and resources?
Lindsay Conderman Pinkos: Ask lots of questions. What is your current workflow process and what steps involve manually moving paper from one step to the next? Where are you storing documents now? What is your end goal for document storage? Where will you be storing your electronic documents? What technology solutions have evaluated? Are you going to be storing documents in s desktop solution or are you going to be using a cloud solution? How will you get the documents scanned in the document storage solution? How will you access the documents during the tax preparation and accounting process?
Define the steps and the solutions to make the paperless transition happen?
Herring: First, recognize what the real need is (loss of efficiency or regulatory need). Then, define how you would like it to look (a good vendor can help paint that picture). Next, make sure you have the technology necessary (server space, scanners software, etc.) Effective training to help staff understand procedure and best practices is the key.
Wilde: When making the decision to switch to a paperless office, it is important to have a carefully laid-out plan for the transition. This includes having a timetable for training, implementation of software and execution. This is the time when a company needs to recreate its everyday business processes with a digital mindset, so it can fully take advantage of a paperless office.
Fortunately, the investment in hardware and software is minimal. For hardware, it depends on the volume of documents that need to be digitized and how fast. A simple, quality scanner can get the job done, but a high-speed scanner will handle large amounts of documents in a short amount of time.
Software is an area that must be thoroughly researched in order to settle on a solution that will accommodate all of a business’ needs as it will the new interface with which employees will interact with documents. At a minimum, your software should be capable of optical character recognition (OCR), which allows the software to recognize printed text and translate it into usable data. This will be key to turning your physical documents into digital content.
Sivesind: Analyze the direct cost of paper in the business (paper, printing supplies, copiers, etc.) plus the indirect cost (time spent filing and finding docs, space to store docs). List the benefits to your firm of going paperless (cost savings, being “green,” possibility of remote workers, etc.). Sell the idea to the stakeholders.
Conderman: You must have a strategy and set a timeline. It is also important to identify potential hiccups that could occur, and then make adjustments and changes to the implementation process before you start. Make sure to include team members who conduct various roles in the organization are part of the process. The more insight you can gleam from how each department needs to access documents the before implementation, the greater your chances of 100% adoption. It is critical to have champions of change management with in each department.
As we move into the next phase of technological advancements and tech savvy professionals entering the market place, the call for more efficient, cost saving processes will be louder than ever, meaning the possibility of a paperless office is closer to becoming a reality than you think.
Next: Going paperless: Success stories from the field
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