Paperless Office Saves Money But Not a Reality Yet, AIIM Finds

3 min read
  • Intelligent Data Capture

It’s typically thought that computers would bring us to that Holy Grail: the paperless office. But a recent survey by AIIM shows that businesses still have a long way to go to becoming all digital — even though the payoff would be huge.

Winning the Paper Wars, written by AIIM’s Doug Miles, found, for example, that 74 percent of respondents have business improvement campaigns that would benefit from paper-free initiatives — but that only 24 percent have a specific policy in place to drive paper out of their business. These business improvement campaigns include implementing continuous process improvement, limiting environmental impact, and reducing response time to customers.

Indeed, the amount of paper flowing through business processes is decreasing in only 41 percent of organizations. And for 19 percent, the amount of paper is actually increasing, which AIIM attributed to additional regulatory requirements or a need for more management feedback.

The problem with paper? The biggest issue respondents reported was the large amount of time spent re-keying data, searching for paper copies, and filing the paper. Storage volume and outsourcing paper storage costs came in second. The inability to monitor workflow progress wasn’t far behind.

47 percent of organizations responded that they had made only 5 percent progress toward processes that could be paper-free — and 18 percent hadn’t even started yet.

Yet at the same time, survey results indicated that going paperless saved money and time. On average, respondents said they felt that driving paper out of the process would improve the speed of response to customers, citizens, or staff by four times. And this isn’t just a pipe dream. Those who actually had experience with paper-free processes reported that the speed improvement was more on the order of 4.6 times. In addition, respondents said they felt that driving paper out of the process would improve the productivity of process staff by 29.7 percent — and 35.4 percent for those with more experience.

Two-thirds of those adopting paper-free processes report payback within 18 months — and 50 percent said they see payback within a single 12-month budgeting period. The biggest benefit is better records for audit trail or compliance, followed by faster response and improved productivity, and then better monitoring of process status and workflow.

graph of departments that have implemented paperless processes

What are the most popular processes to go paperless? HR, accounts payable, and customer correspondence — with 70 percent reporting that AP and accounts receivable have “excellent” or “good” return on investment. Contracts and procurement are also proving to be successful candidates.

So if going paperless works so well, what’s stopping more people from doing it? The biggest issues were requirements for physical signatures, not being able to make the required investments for scanning and capture, and concerns about legal admissibility. Naturally, the departments most concerned about these were Legal Counsel and Finance. However, even Legal Counsel respondents were 37 percent in favor of paperless processes, with 26 percent against.

For the companies that are implementing paperless processes, how are they doing it? 31 percent are scanning before processing, with 10 percent using digital mailrooms, while 26 percent use paper in the process and then scan for archiving after the process. Nearly a third of organizations process electronic documents, forms, and PDFs separately from scanned paper. And check this out — 20 percent print them out, and 13 percent print them out and then scan them back in. 15 percent use smart devices to scan or capture forms, while 22 percent would like to.

The good news about scanning is that 70 percent of respondents are scanning as part of the process. However, only 13 percent are using optical character recognition to extract data from the document or form and using it as part of the process. Another 15 percent are extracting some data from the form but are using it only for routing or indexing. Another 18 percent scan the form but manually route it as a flat image.

The biggest challenge to implementing these paperless projects turns out not to be the technology itself, but, instead, the humans. The largest hurdle was reorienting staff and change management, followed by integration with other systems and defining the processes clearly. Other people issues included convincing management and convincing legal, compliance, or finance departments.

Altogether, 64 percent of large organizations, and 77 percent of small to midsized businesses, have five or fewer paperless processes in their offices, AIIM reported. “We know that in these very large organizations, especially government agencies, there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of processes that could potentially be made paper-free,” AIIM says. “We are still very much at the start of this journey.”

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