There’s a big event associated with paper coming up soon. No, it’s not Election Day. It’s World Paper Free Day, or WPFD 2016.

Traditionally held the first Friday in November, WPFD is sponsored by AIIM and is intended to call attention to the use of paper in the office. The goal is not just to recycle paper instead of throwing it away—though that’s a laudable goal too—but to keep from printing things out in the first place through the use of paperless processes such as workflow management, enterprise content management, electronic signatures, and electronic documents.

“By all rights, this business shouldn’t exist,” writes Christopher Mims in the Wall Street Journal, noting that a 1975 Business Week article predicted that paper would be on its way out by 1980 and nearly dead by 1990. “The reality is the high-water mark for the total number of pages printed in offices was in 2007, just before the recession.”

Hence WPFD.

“World Paper Free Day isn’t just about switching off the printers, it’s about working smarter, decreasing the paper entry points, and improving your processes,” AIIM writes. As part of the event, the organization will be releasing a status report on the transition to paperless processes, Paper-Free 2016: Are We There Yet?

As part of that research, AIIM found that two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey said the demand for paperless processes in their organizations was on the rise, according to AIIM CO John Mancini. At the same time, the amount of paper arriving at the door is decreasing for half of organizations, he writes.

And it’s having an effect. “For the first time in history, there is a steady decline of about 1 percent to 2 percent a year in office use of paper,” Mims writes. “Add in the dip in use during the most recent recession, and as of 2016, we are already 10 percent below the peak of the number of pages produced by office printing and copying in 2007.”

A year ago, 18 percent of organizations said they were paper-free; now that figure is 25 percent, writes Nick Ismail in Information Age. “Paper use in HR is well down around recruitment (49 percent) and employee lifecycle (48 percent), while paper use is also decreasing for 41 percent of our membership in accounts payables and 39 percent in accounts receivables,” he writes. “The greatest paper reductions are seen in records management by 39 percent of respondents, while for 27 percent the greatest reduction has been with technical documents.”

The benefits? “Faster customer response is the biggest benefit (50 percent) followed by higher productivity (42 percent),” Ismail writes. “36 percent indicate some ROI on paperless technology investment (typically, enterprise content management) of between 3 and 6 months. Some 6 percent expect ROI in less than 6.”

AIIM suggests looking for what it calls “paper entry points,” such as bills and receipts, and eliminating them through the use of processes such as automating functions like accounts receivable and accounts payable.

Needless to say, the event is well represented in electronic, paperless social media, such as Twitter and Facebook. You can even download a badge from the AIIM website to put on your social media photograph, indicating your support of WPFD 2016.

So, once you’ve decided to go paperless, how do you get started? As with any other journey, it starts with a single step. And like any other IT project, it’s important to look at the return on investment. While you might think it would be too expensive to digitize your paper backlog, you may find that for the cost of storing and maintaining all that paper, you could scan it all and end up saving money. After all, digitizing and shredding the documents is a one-time charge, while storage costs continue to accumulate every year.

Or perhaps you can digitize just the most cost-effective parts. For example, the largest amount of paper you have is likely to be in your historical files. To what degree do you want to spend the time and effort to digitize those files? It may depend on your organization and the compliance regulations in your industry.

That is, if you typically discard paper files after a couple of years anyway, it may be more economical to simply start digitizing paper records going forward, and count on attrition to gradually eliminate the paper backlog. On the other hand, if your industry typically keeps paper files indefinitely, it may be worthwhile to look at economical ways to digitize the backlog.

“Archiving is top of that list, increasing efficiency, meeting regulatory requirements and making those paper filing cabinet farms redundant for good,” Mancini writes. “A digital version of the document can be easily searched, shared, stored, accessed remotely, and linked to other relevant material.”

Of course, the biggest step is getting management and employees to buy in to the change. Surprisingly, even with the factual basis of how much money you could save, it is not always easy to overcome people’s emotional investment in paper. Perhaps the first step might be to digitize a new project, one where people aren’t too invested in “but that’s the way we’ve always done it,” and then gradually migrate other projects once employees see how successful it is.

There may also be one project that generates the most paper—or the most pain. Attacking that project first could generate enough savings to demonstrate how digitizing the rest could be worthwhile.

And look at the bright side. At least we’re not celebrating World Clay Tablet Free Day.


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