Much has been written about the paperless office and the likelihood that it will ever—or should ever—be achieved. Recent IDC research looked at paper usage and paper reduction initiatives by various vertical industries. The research was part of a survey focusing on US organizations’ efforts to automate and optimize document-intensive business processes. We analyzed responses from individuals that are involved in the company's decision to implement technology and/or services that enabled document workflow automation and optimization.



We asked respondents for their best estimate of the percent of all documents that their company used each day in paper versus used in an electronic format. The response was split almost equally, with paper documents slightly edging out electronic documents at 55%. Paper document usage was highest in the education, government and healthcare industries. Financial services and manufacturing were the lowest.

We also asked respondents for their best estimate of the percent of all documents that their company would use each day in paper versus electronic format in two years. Respondents indicated a shift to electronic format, estimating that only 39% of documents would be paper-based in two years. Healthcare continued to be the most paper-intensive industry, with financial services leading the way in the shift to electronic.

Interestingly, there appeared to be little correlation between print attitudes and the extent of paper over electronic document usage, at least in the healthcare industry. We asked respondents if their company had any initiatives in place to reduce the amount of paper used. 66% of respondents indicated that such an initiative did exist within their organization. The financial services, manufacturing–and healthcare– industries had the highest number of respondents who indicated such an initiative. In fact, 79% of healthcare respondents said that their organization had an initiative in place to reduce paper.

This is probably not surprising given recent healthcare legislation and the growth of electronic health records. We asked respondents which business processes their company has made an effort to automate and optimize in the last 12 months. One third of respondents from the healthcare industry indicated that their organization was automating and optimizing processes related to documents, such as patient records, patient admission forms, test results and care providers' orders and notes. (Interestingly, over 40% of healthcare respondents indicated that their organizations were automating and optimizing documents related to human resources, such as job applications, resumes, 401k applications, health plan applications, etc. This is as compared to 31% of respondents in total.)

Bottom line–the jury is still out regarding paper usage in the healthcare industry. Past IDC research consistently points to healthcare as one of the most document-intensive industries in the US Clearly it is an industry ripe for change due to regulatory forces. The open question is whether this change will be a gradual incline or a cliff–leading to a paperless healthcare office.


Holly Muscolino is the research vice president of Document Solutions at IDC. She is responsible for all written research related to document services and the solutions that enable them, including managed print services, related software solutions, the scanning ecosystem and document outsourcing. Follow her on Twitter @hmuscolino.

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