Despite the demonstrated security and economic superiority of digital processes when it comes to workflow management in business, it appears that some businesses are still ingrained in paper habits, according to two recent surveys.

One study, conducted by Wakefield Research found that business owners and decision-makers use their printers more often than commonly thought, while a concurrent study by InfoTrends called document management and printing “vital corporate investments.”

The Wakefield study found that 73 percent of business owners and decision-makers in small to medium businesses with fewer than 500 employees used printers or multifunction devices at least four times a day. This is particularly true for internal corporate departments such as human resources, accounting, and legal, which rely on hard-copy documents for processes such as employee onboarding, invoicing, and notetaking, InfoTrends found.

In contrast, AIIM recently found that almost half of its members surveyed (49 percent) said consumption of paper is decreasing in their organizations, writes Edward Gately in Channel Partners.

Ironically, it’s precisely the kind of regular workflow processes such as onboarding and invoicing that are best suited for digitizing with paperless office software. This is especially true given that the studies found that printing often happened in conjunction with scanning.

Printing and scanning tend to happen in one of two situations, writes John Brandon in CIO. Employees use printing and scanning for unstructured activities and ad hoc businesses processes. In a more structured setting, such as HR, accounting and legal departments, printing and scanning tend to be part of a daily workflow, such as scanning purchase orders or printing out invoices, he continues.

Instead of going to the cost and time of printing and scanning those documents, wouldn’t it make more sense to just use born-digital electronic documents, such as forms, in the first place? Especially since, as AIIM discovered, 34 percent agree that most of the documents they scan are unchanged from printer to scanner?

Moreover, both studies noted that SMBs’ reliance on paper costs them heavily. “The average company spends $34,843 annually on printing, and the amount varies by industry,” according to the Wakefield study. And according to the InfoTrends study, “a hypothetical company handling 5,000 printed pages per month will spend, on average, more than $27,000 on printed document management.” In fact, according to Gartner research vice president Ken Weilerstein, employees print an average of 400 pages per month, Brandon writes.

Companies have begun to notice these costs and have begun implementing a “paperless light” concept, Keith Kmetz, IDC’s program vice president for imaging, printing and document solutions, told Brandon. This means that almost all internal processes are entirely paperless, though some external processes still involve printing and scanning as a way to integrate into a digital storage system, he says.

(Weilerstein and Kmetz have found that some companies are even still using fax machines, Brandon adds, though their use is “diminishing rapidly.”)

In contrast, AIIM found that nearly three in five (59 percent) of its respondents achieved a payback in less than 12 months from paperless office software-related projects, including 26 percent in six months or less, Gately writes. “84 percent achieved payback in less than 18 months—the highest the association has ever recorded,” he adds.

More green, fewer trees

Part of what might be encouraging more printing is what CIO described as a trend of putting printers and multifunction devices (MFD) in work pods rather than in a more centralized area. In contrast, steps such as moving to shared printers—visible so everyone can see who’s using the printer—have been found to result in a reduction in printer use. Consequently, this saves money on ink, paper, printer wear-and-tear, as well as simply having to manage all the paper. Other techniques that have been shown to reduce printer use, such as timed printing, print servers, and pulled printing, are also becoming more prevalent, Weilerstein tells Brandon.

Reliance on printing and scanning should also diminish as mobile devices become more integrated into corporate workflow management. This is because, at this point, some users have to resort to printing and scanning a document to be able to move it into their mobile devices, Brandon writes. Support for electronic signatures is also helping reduce dependence on paper, he adds.

Indeed, the move to mobile is part of what’s moving organizations away from paper, Peggy Winton, AIIM’s vice president and chief operating officer, tells Gately. “Fewer and fewer knowledge workers—or their customers—are tethered to hardware or paper inside of a bricks-and-mortar environment,” she says. “They want access to the information they need to do their jobs—anytime, from anywhere and on any device. That information has to be in digital form.”

Adapting your office

Interestingly, articles about the studies published in the two editions of CIO also got pushback from people exhorting the cause of the paperless office. “Organizations (no matter the size) are looking for ways to improve office procedures, and going paperless—or paper-light—is something that will become a priority over the next couple of years,” wrote one in the U.S. edition. The important part, as with any change, is to communicate with users, he said. “Talk to them to learn more about their everyday workflows so you can discover broken processes that would benefit from a tool, like enterprise content management solutions, that would digitize and automate processes.”

“We run a totally paperless office and will never go back to paper and printing,” reported one commenter in the Australian edition, who identified himself as working for a financial services firm. “Once you have successfully introduced the cultural change that goes with being paperless, the speed, flexibility, time-saving options and sheer creative outcomes possible with paperless systems leaves paper and printing for dead.” In fact, using paperless office software offers his company a competitive advantage against their paper-based competitors, he added.

Ultimately, what’s important is to look at the actual needs and processes for your own employees, regardless of industry trends, Brandon writes. “Do a yearly review of processes within a company and find out whether that MFD in the corner is sitting idle most of the time, if employees are still faxing and scanning in most departments, and if printing is increasing or decreasing,” he advises.

Whether your organization manages ten thousand or ten million documents, planning out the document imaging process ahead of time is essential to a paperless officeDownload this step-by-step guide to help understand the document scanning needs of your organization and start planning your organization’s path to a paperless future!

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