Path to Paperless: Getting into the paperless state of mind

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Editor’s Note: This is the second 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. The first story—Path to Paperless — What it Means and Why it should Matter to You”—can be found by clicking here.

If you are looking for a way to describe the accounting profession’s plodding transition into a paperless world, Jeff Price has the perfect word for you—Frankensteining. The term aptly defines the adoption of isolated and random pieces of software that do not connect to one another—software that oftentimes requires separate logins and, ultimately causes more operational headaches than they solve.

You would be tempted to think that the introduction of scanners, word processing and local data storage might have made the concept of a paperless office possible today. Think again.

“While these technologies were the gateway that eventually led to a paperless office becoming a reality, I’d argue that businesses that adopted these technologies during the computer boom of the 1980s proved that these technologies alone did allow for a fully paperless office,” says Price, VP Product Management for The Neat Company. “What they were missing was mobility, both in terms of devices and data storage.”

That all changed with the introduction of smartphones and cloud storage, both of which have enabled business to be conducted anytime, anywhere, without the use of paper. Having a paperless office can make a difference for many different reasons, some of which can be based on regulation or simply efficiency. Today, not being in the paperless game makes less and less sense.

So, how do you get into that mindset? How do take the steps that lead to implementation? Isaac Herring, Director of Sales, Lucion Technologies (FileCenter), says these are good questions that should have simple answers.

First, your company must recognize what the real need is, i.e., loss of efficiency or regulatory. Second, define how you would like it to look (selecting a vendor partners can help you paint that picture). Third, find the necessary technology (server space, scanners and scanner software, etc.)

“Effective training to help your staff understand procedure and best practices is the key to making adoption easier for them to swallow,” Herring says.

With so many options out there and no universal agreement on what Documentation Management System (DMS) to use, it is about finding what works for your needs. If you work in finance, you need to meet SEC and FINRA regulations. If you work in the medical arena, there are HIPPA standards. And, of course, the IRS has its own standards. “Knowing these things is very important,” Herring says. “You must have an idea of what you will actually use.”

The industry is filled with stories of companies that purchased fancy solutions with all the bells and whistles, only to find out two years later that they were only using 10% of what they paid for. “Make sure you understand what you are going to implement and how far you are going to go down the rabbit hole of DMS,” Herring warns.

To help you find your footing, here are few pieces of advice from industry leaders on getting into a paperless office state of mind:

Make it a mindset What better way is there to get started than to set your mind to the task ahead. Holding on to systems and processes that require paper (unless there are no technological alternatives) will hold a business back from ever making a transition.

Evaluate what you have What current systems do you use to manage your business’ information? How do you store customer information? Track sales? Accounts payable/receivable? Store documents? How does it communicate with customers? Run payroll? How much of the business operation is reliant on paper? These are important questions to ask as you move your thinking forward.

Identify your opportunities — Once you have taken an accurate stock of the processes you use, analyze how they all fit into the equation. Try looking at this as if it is the first time you have seen it. Make sure to identify every step in each process where you and your team are handling paper and how you can make a transition.

Invoke the “wheel and spoke integration strategy” — Determine the systems that touch the most within the business’ back office. On the HR side, that would be your payroll platform. Seek one that has many strong integrations with other back-office solutions such as time-tracking, HR, benefits, accounting and bookkeeping, and document storage/management. On the business development side (CRM), choose a CRM that has strong integrations with your business’ marketing and customer support platforms, payment processing system, billing system, business intelligence tools, etc. Working with one or two centralized systems that integrate well with important business tools eliminates that “Frankensteining” conundrum.

Put your thinking in writing — Analyze the direct cost of paper in the business (paper, printing supplies, copiers, etc.) and the indirect cost (time spent filing and finding docs, space to store docs). Next, list the benefits to going paperless (cost savings, being “green,” the possibility of remote workers, etc.)

Make your pitch to your stakeholders — Once you have evaluated what you have, where your processes can evolve and how each piece fits into a paperless transition, it is time to take it to the masses. That means selling the concept to those performing the tasks. When you start breaking down things like efficiency, sustainability and technological advantages, your company’s paperless mindset can start to take shape.

For companies that have made the investment in time, resources and manpower know that transition to paperless is the right move. Your company is up next for the transition. Are you ready?

Next: Part 3 — Your “Path to Paperless” Checklist

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