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‘The Paperless Office’ was a term featured in BusinessWeek magazine on June 30, 1975. Forty years later and the future of work is still a hot topic for business leaders but are we any nearer to the paperless office, and what steps are needed for organisations to realise a digital future?
Reading the article and the concept of a paperless office is a tidy, catch-all phrase for office automation. It’s not just about paper but a better way of working – an office environment that is more agile, productive and sustainable. You can probably throw mobile and secure into the mix of business drivers as well these days. A whole world of work reimagined.
But 40 years on and paper can still be symptomatic of a less than efficient and effective way of working. That’s not true of everything and digitalisation for the sake of it is not necessarily the answer; after all you can be just as inefficient, unproductive and wasteful with electronic processes as you can with physical documents. And if an information management strategy is implemented badly then people are no more mobile or secure with electronic information than they are with folders and filing cabinets.
So what’s the best approach to an effective digital workplace? Here are three steps to consider.
1. Focus on core document processes – this is the area of greatest opportunity for business transformation by going digital. Think electronic invoicing over envelops, digital mailrooms over manual distribution, and archiving information smartly in a way that can be retrieved on demand, across any device. The key here is to fully audit your business processes and make improvements before making the switch to digital. There may be steps that are not necessary any more so why bring them into a new format or process.
2. Implement Change Management – don’t forget that people play an important part of any change in technology or process. And not everyone is the same – paper-based documentation means different things to different parts of a business, from finance and HR where compliance is constant; to legal where paper is a commonplace, to IT where digital is more of a default. And don’t forget that with four generations in the workplace today, age can play a part in how an office environment adapts.
3. Choose the right partner – information is growing and harnessing it for competitive advantage is becoming a strategic issue. Therefore, it’s too important to try and go it alone. Besides, information management cuts across many traditional reporting functions so it’s hard for one internal department to own and manage. It pays to partner with a company that specialises in business processes, information workflows, technology and service delivery. They should also have the ability to quickly scale any solution on a national or international level as information management and the knowledge economy is as fast as it is global.
Go Digital or Go Home
A colleague, Dominic Keogh, posted an excellent article early this year – Go Digital or Go Home – about the importance of organisations being digitally mature. It’s a marvellous call to action, stating that the move from paper-based processes to digital can improve customer satisfaction, employee productivity and the bottom line. But it needs to happen fast for full benefits and competitive advantage to be realised. The Paperless Office – or the ‘Less paper, digitally mature office’ can’t wait another four decades.