What Does Having a Paperless Office Really Mean?
Like anything else, making the change from a paper-oriented office environment to a paperless office has both advantages and disadvantages (please see the first part of this series So, You're Considering a Paperless Office?). However, if armed with a thorough understanding of its operations and a solid implementation plan, an organization can make the switch to a paperless office less painful. I once read an article on the Internet that said to have a paperless office is about as realistic as having paperless toilet paper. Obviously, this person doesn't understand the power of water. Having a paperless office is possible provided an organization's expectations are realistic. But before we jump into that, let me clear up one common misconception about the term “paperless office.” Having a paperless office does not mean a company will never have or use paper. Rather, it means a leveraging of technology to reduce a company's dependency on paper; it does not to eliminate the use of paper altogether. A wise person once said, “It is possible to change without improving—it is impossible to improve without change.” Most (if not all) organizations constantly strive to better serve both their internal clients (that is, its employees) and external clients. Without a doubt, going paperless requires change, and for some organizations, making this change is a daunting, if not impossible, task. As with any change, organizations should prepare themselves by reviewing the various possible outcomes (both positive and negative) that could result from going paperless. In other words, organizations should ask the question: will this change have a profound effect on the way we do business? Knowing Your Operations
An organization's first step when implementing a paperless office is to know its operations—not just its physical processes (although this is very important too, and must be taken into account), but its clients' and staff's attitudes toward this type of change as well. Are clients prepared for a paperless system? Will it change the way the organization interacts with them? Will office personnel now receive those 100-page reports electronically instead of as hard copies? Do they have the technological means to support this change, and are they willing to accept this new way of working? Here's an example to illustrate my point. My wife has led change management programs for several large organizations, including a Fortune 500 company. Her work involved guiding companies through the process of changing the way they do business and interact with new technology. In the majority of cases, she would inevitably find herself “cleaning up” (correcting) management's errors caused by having made changes without analyzing the effects those changes would have on internal and external clients. Too often, management's focus was exclusively on physical processes. This single-mindedness proved to be very costly for these organizations. Furthermore, an organization must be aware of the types of documents it is required by law to keep in hard copy. I emphasize “by law” because you would be surprised at the difference between what people believe, based on their personal experience, is meant by this, and what is actually meant by the stipulation “by law.” To understand how to transform itself into a paperless office, an organization must first recognize the several hurdles that it will need to deal with, and then take the appropriate steps to overcome them. For a smooth transition to a paperless office, an organization should take the following measures: * Know its external customers. Will the change to a paperless office be transparent to them? If so, will they feel the change immediately? * Know its internal customers. Are employees aware of the intended changes? What training will they receive? * Identify the physical processes that will change. Remember, it is not necessary—or even realistic—to...
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