GOING PAPERLESS ?
GOING PAPERLESS ?
2010-04-11 at 5:14:12 pm #23818
How do we stop ourselves from hitting that ‘Print’ key?
BELIEVE it or not, the idea of a paperless office has been mooted since 1975. In a Business Week article published on June 30 of that year, titled The Office Of The Future, it was proclaimed that by 1990, “most record-handling will be electronic.”The article went on to analyse how automated systems would revolutionise the way offices worked. George E. Pake, then head of Xerox’s Research Centre in California, accurately predicted that by 1995, “there will be a TV-display terminal with keyboard sitting on his desk.”“I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on screen, or by pressing a button,” he was quoted as saying. “I can get my mail or any messages. I don’t know how much hard copy I’ll want in this world.” (The article is still available online. There is also a George E. Pake prize today, awarded annually by the American Physical Society in recognition of outstanding work by physicists).Big challenge: A worker sorting waste paper at a recycling plant in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. We still junk plenty of paper each day.Those prophetic proclamations have one flaw though. Today’s offices are no more paperless than they were back in 1975, albeit the word “less” is still applicable because some offices do admittedly use less paper today compared to back then. Today, in the United States alone, businesses use more than a trillion pages of office paper each year, according to market research firm InfoTrends.In an article by efficiency and productivity expert K.J. McCorry, it is stated that the US uses almost 3.7 million tonnes of copy paper every year. The paper industry is one of the world’s biggest contributors of greenhouse gases, felling 900 million trees annually. A study by Xerox showed that 45% of office paper that end up in the bin were discarded on the day they were printed.
The authors of the book The Myth Of The Paperless Office, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, found that even when digital versions of documents are available, workers would still use paper versions 89% of the time.So, is the concept of a paperless office still a myth, or has there been a steady progress towards zero use of paper?“I think it’s still in the process,” says Christopher Reid, Asia Pacific vice-president and general manager of InfoPrint Solutions. “It’s a real challenge for people to get there but there are offices that have really been able to reduce paper, and they get pretty close to paperless. But I think they’re few and far between.“I don’t think it’s a myth but it’s a big challenge, both technically and also because of the kind of commitment that it takes from the senior management of an enterprise to be able to transition to a paperless environment, whether that is in a healthcare, corporate or manufacturing environment.”Reid notes that printing has been around for the last 500 years, and it is going to be a while before it goes away. “That’s because some kinds of operations have to print,” he says. “They have to print labels, tags, invoices, bills. And in the office environment people still prefer to have a Word file in hardcopy so that they can carry it around, make notes and file things away.”A good way to cut down paper usage is to print on both sides of the paper.
IBM Malaysia chief technologist Lee Yu Kit says the main point that everyone should look at is how going paperless would benefit offices and organisations. He says document management systems were always about better productivity and processes, and not eliminating paper per se.“‘Paperless’ is not an all-or-nothing proposition, so we are talking about reducing the use of paper, not eliminating it,” he says. He adds that the tools for reducing paper consumption are already available, so it is not an issue of technology.
Lee Chin Guan, Fuji Xerox senior manager of office product and solution marketing, concurs: “For us it is not ‘paperless’ but ‘paper-less,’ which is to fully use paper and not let any go to waste. Businesses can’t run without paper, because of several things such as compliance issues, the business process and our Malaysian business environment.“How do we optimise the use of paper? A lot of times, it is not about how much we can save on usage, but how much we can save on wastage.”
Chin Guan says that in Japan, there are laws pertaining to digital documents where such documents are deemed legally valid, while in Malaysia such laws are still not fully in place. Businesses still have to file away paper documents for legal purposes for at least seven years.In the US, on June 30, 2000, digital and electronic signatures became legally valid under the the ESIGN Act approved by then-president Bill Clinton. The ESIGN Act is largely seen as eliminating the final hurdle to the paperless office concept. Yet, many people are reportedly still reluctant to accept e-signatures. In fact, a lot of us still prefer to read something on paper than on a computer screen.“But there are offices where moving to zero paper is absolutely possible and is the right thing to do,” says Reid.“And people are starting to move. But you’re going to have environments where you can’t transition everything to an electronic signature. For example, you have customers in rural locations who have to sign on paper.”A study by Xerox shows that 45% of office paper that end up in the bin were discarded the day they were printed.
Reid illustrates one example of a healthcare provider in the US. “It was very, very painful to get information because they had to go down to their archives and pull out their records from the last patient visit, and when they got questions, they needed a couple of days to get back to you,” says Reid.“And that changed completely when they scanned all those documents and provided all the nurses and doctors with tablet PCs so that they have access to all the documents instantaneously.”
Yu Kit says some users are not comfortable with computers, such as the older generation who may prefer paper. But he believes that will change as a generation of “digital natives” grows up and joins the workforce.“Nevertheless, the change of processes from paper to electronic will also entail long periods of time to adapt, especially for older employees,” says Yu Kit. “For organisations which are not automated, such as very small businesses, the initial costs of setting up may be daunting, so it has to be asked what the benefits are for them to go paperless. Doing so simply for the sake of reducing paper use is not economically viable in most situations.”
In contrast to these views, a recent report by JP Morgan states that going paperless is more than possible. It presented as proof how it introduced digital processes and helped 25,000 clients eliminate more than 24 million paper documents from their operations within 18 months. It also stated that firms can save more than US$500,000 (RM1.6mil) in annual costs by moving towards a paperless environment.“Many businesses are motivated by cost reduction, process efficiency, service improvement and competitive difference,” says Yu Kit. “All these are incentives to do with less paper. If it became very much more expensive to use paper, people would use it less. Organisations are not equal. For a very small business or a home business, does it make sense to become paperless?”
Cut the paper trail
Some businesses have other reasons for going paperless. DiGi Telecommunications, for instance, has an ongoing Deep Green campaign, part of which involves the reduction of paper consumption.Through various processes and also the use of multi-function devices, the company has managed to reduce usage from 2.4 million sheets of A4-sized paper in 2008 to 1.7 million sheets last year.To use the multi-function devices, DiGi requires its employees to log in or provide some form of identification before use. This tracks how much paper is used by each individual. Paper ordering has also been made as part of the key performance index of the corporate administration.
Each employee is given limited storage space in the form of a locker. And with the office practising open seating for all, employees have very little space to keep their things, hence they would be discouraged from printing too much.“We started the three-week Feel The Heat campaign in 2008,” says Philip Ling of DiGi’s corporate responsibility and corporate affairs. “We created a lot of awareness. We showed movies, brought in experts. Basically, we revealed how many trees would be saved every time we don’t print.”
However, for the individual, our habits are still very much tied to paper. What incentive is there for an individual to reduce her or his paper consumption? Ever since our school days, everything has been done with paper, from textbooks and exercise books to examination papers. How do we wean ourselves off paper usage?“What we found is that the incentive works for a little while, and causes a portion of customers to move to electronic only, for example with the telcos or with bank statements,” says Reid.
DiGi, for instance, has introduced e-billing and customers who want paper bills will have to pay RM3.But Reid says: “The challenge that we found in our research is that when there is a problem in their bill, or if they have concerns about what they’re being billed for, consumers will turn to their printed output very quickly. So they have a document that they can file away.”Says Yu Kit: “For individuals who work in offices, a lot of motivation comes from company policy and cultural mores, so peer practice is a big influence. Similarly, individuals can make a big difference by using paper judiciously and influencing their peers.”
But Yu Kit thinks disincentives can work just as well, for example charging departments for printer and paper usage.Reid says there has been a growth in paper usage in countries such as China and India, and other emerging markets. “As the economy grows, as telcos and banks start to provide more capabilities, they need to print more documents to communicate with their customers. But in countries like the US or Europe, it’s very different. You see an already very advanced document-based workflow. We are seeing flatlines in many cases in terms of total pages produced.”
Chin Guan also foresees that paper usage will continue to grow in the coming years. According to estimates, by 2025, there will be 190 times more information going through the Internet. With all this information, people will be printing even more. But he remains hopeful that technology can reduce wastage.“Technology can also change people’s habits,” says Chin Guan. “When we show them that technology can help them in their work, they might change. If we start thinking green, eventually we will achieve something.”