A paperless office saves money, improves customer service.

How many pieces of paper does it take for you to buy something from someone or sell something to someone else? And, how many times does each piece of paper get moved, shuffled, reviewed and finally filed? It all adds up in administrative time, as well as printing and storage expenses! In the end, it's not uncommon for administrative costs to outweigh the actual cost of the product or service sold. Today, with eroding margins and escalating costs, finding ways to streamline our processes can often be the difference between being profitable or not! Most business owners would agree that eliminating at least some of the paperwork required to do business would certainly ease their cost-control burden.

While I don't believe one can have an efficient, totally paperless office, there are many tools available to reduce paperwork and become more efficient with the paper you can't eliminate.

A document imaging system is the first step toward a paperless office. In overview, a document imaging system captures documents before you print them, allowing you to move, manipulate, process and archive them in a database. This saves significant time, as routing and filing can be automated through the use of optical character recognition (OCR) technology and automated workflow processes. The result is an elimination of paper and physical filing of documents in any area where document imaging is introduced. Imaging also provides superior search capabilities vs. manual systems.

Document imaging will usually drive a need for some additional hardware and software, as well as possibly improving some internal processes. However, the savings in administrative time, printing and storage costs can be significant.

Additionally, you must be prepared for handling stray documents that are bound to occur. Scanners provide the solution here. They are available in many different “flavors” (High Speed, High Resolution, Full Duplex, Flatbed, Auto feed, etc…) with varying degrees of capability and quality.

Rolling out a document imaging system to all of the departments in your organization might take years depending on your approach. I recommend phasing in a document imaging system one department at a time or at least as few departments as make sense. As with many other aspects of business IT systems, having access to an IT professional is really helpful!

During the phase-in process, you might also want to become more efficient with the paper you do print. Strategically placed multifunction printer/copier/scanner units (sometimes called MFPs) are a cost-effective addition. One of the biggest benefits of MFPs is their cost per page. As an example, classic HP laser printers cost between .03 and .08 per page. Typical commercial MFPs cost around .015 per page. If you print 10,000 pages per month, you could potentially save $650 a month by eliminating your small laser printers and moving to networked commercial MFP printing.

Sidebar: Best Practices

Here are this month's Best Practices:

15. Consider moving toward a “paperless office.”

While paper will probably never be eliminated, moving toward a paperless office is a great way to streamline your operation, saving time and costs, while also providing better customer service. The biggest challenge will be getting employees to “buy in” to the change, which can be initially uncomfortable. However, in most cases, employees will be the biggest supporters of the system once it's up and running. A phase-in approach is the best method, but make sure you have a solid understanding of your hardware and software needs, as well as the process changes that will be required before you start.

16. Recognize your printing costs and try to reduce them.

As you plan to move toward a paperless office, the first step should be putting a solid number against your current paper costs and trying to reduce them as much as makes sense. Many businesses have found that moving to multifunction printer/copier/scanners is a great way to cut printing costs for routine documents. This is also a good first step in making employees comfortable with the changes associated with moving toward a paperless office.