While it is a common refrain and a rather tired theme to fire up discussions about the mythical ‘paperless office’, a more meaningful approach to paper in the enterprise is viewing it through an ‘opportunity’ lens. Got a process which features a lot of paper? That right there is a clue to an opportunity.
Before delving further into paper and processes, consider for a moment that talk about paperless offices has been around for nearly half a century. That’s right, it all started back in 1975 – OK, that’s 43-odd years, so close-ish to the half-ton.
And despite this storied history, you know very well that paper is still, if not the life-blood of many organisations, then maybe the white cells. There’s plenty of it and it ain’t going anywhere fast. In fact, give it another 43 years and there’s probably still going to be copiers, printers and papers all over the corporate landscape.
And that’s fine.
The trick, really, is not to attempt the elimination of paper from the office (proven futile many times over already). Instead, the trick is to look at paper as a tell-tale for inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.
Let’s take a common business process, Accounts Payable, as a case in point. For many – maybe most – companies, this is paper-heavy. Even if it has some aspects of ‘e’, like emailed invoices, there tend to be printouts, people capturing information with ‘swivel chair integration’, piles of documents waiting for attention (and let’s face it, only the page on the top of the pile is seen…or noticed), and things take time. Recognise the issue? Chances are…
AP taking time is bad. Suppliers truly respect a client which pays on time; in fact, many suppliers will take as a sign of respect and appreciation payment on time and in full for goods or services rendered.
AP taking time is also expensive. It means people are wasting hours looking for documentation, information, numbers. It could mean they are recapturing information from an email into the ERP system. Duh, that’s not productive.
Picking up on these ‘paper clues’ in the AP process provides an opportunity for digitisation. And while we could wax lyrical about, for example, environmental benefits (bearing in mind that paper is a renewable resource), that’s not really the crux of the value you stand to gain.
Instead, the gain is in efficiency, reduced time, and greater accuracy. Happier customers. And COST REDUCTION.
There’s plenty of supporting evidence for how a digital process saves money. Every piece of paper has a price and printing an invoice costs somewhere between 12-22 cents per page. Storing the stuff is, frankly, stupid, compared with storing digital information.
And of course, there’s plenty of technology available to support digitisation. Staying with the AP example (but remembering that this could be any process where the paper clues make themselves known) retirement village operator Ryman Healthcare shows us how it’s done using Greentree’s eDocs:
“We process on average 15,000 invoices every month. eDocs is saving us hours of work each week and since the company is continuing its rapid growth, we’re confident that the system will comfortably handle the extra workload. eDocs has improved our workflow from the moment the invoice is received, to the time the supplier is approved, to paid. It’s definitely been a change for the better,” explains the company AP professional, Rebecca Payne.
Accounting folk do love a good paper trail, so go on the hunt in your company…except, seek out those paper clues. You’re likely to find them in HR, timesheet data, requests for credit, bank statement reconciliations, field sales processes, warehouse transaction, Health and Safety, payroll, and expense management. And probably in a dozen more places besides.
Without going on a ‘paperless office’ crusade (because let’s face it, there’s still going to be plenty of paper after the fact), you can eliminate a lot of manual processing. Iron out plenty of superfluous cost. Drive productivity. Make people feel good about doing something nicer for Planet Earth, even.
And wouldn’t that be a nice way to spend a day.