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“Businesses will be paper-free!” This has been a mantra of the enterprise content management (ECM) industry since the launch of the first document imaging systems in the 1980s. I know, I was one of those folks chanting the mantra when I was in research and development (R&D) at Wang. (Now, there is a name that will shake the cobwebs of a few minds.) The concept of eliminating paper in business was and still is sound, but it is the reason to be paper free that makes a difference.

For many back then, it was the drive to eliminate paper storage costs. Remove the paper, eliminate file cabinets and reduce overhead costs. While this is not a bad reason, and benefits can still be gained as a result, the fact is that much of today’s information is born digital, so why create paper versions? In many cases, the underlying reason for this is to capture a signature or multiple signaturesyet even that can be managed digitally today. So the question is simply this: Why do you need paper?

To work at the speed of paper leaves you at a competitive disadvantage.

Paper clogs operational processes, slows productivity and diminishes collaborative efforts. To work at the speed of paper leaves you at a competitive disadvantage. You are waiting for paper to slog its way through your organization while your competitors, who have gone the digital route, are processing faster, responding to customer inquiries quicker and meeting client demands.

In my view, there is little to no reason why most paper documents are still needed in business today. Yes, there may be an exception or two, but in reality, most paper can be eliminated. Think about your buying experience at a store these days. You are given the option of a paper receipt or one that is emailedno paper. In some cases, you may not want the receipt at all, because the transaction is recorded in your bank or credit card statement and that is all you need.

If you are looking for a benefit, how does improved workflow and operating efficiency work for you? Or how about increased findability and responsiveness? These are a couple of things to consider when paper is no longer in the mix or a hindrance.

If you want to test the waters, take the AIIM challenge of eliminating paper from a process on World Paper Free Day. The idea is simple: Pick a process, eliminate a piece of paper from that process by keeping it digital and work with it that way. Perhaps, you can begin with customer documents and offering to email it to them rather than print and mail. Not only do you improve responsiveness to customer requests and eliminate costs to print and ship, you also help the environment. No more trees to cut, no more growing landfills. It is all digital, and you are a part of this transition.

Take the pledge, and give it a try. Simply click here, World Paper Free Day, and become part of the paper-free movement on November 6. To be paper-free or not to be paper-free, the answer to this question is up to you.

Bob Larrivee is vice president of market intelligence at at AIIM and an internationally recognized subject matter expert and thought leader with over 30 years of experience in the fields of information and process management. He is an avid techie with a focus on process improvement and the application of advanced technologies to enhance and automate business operations. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee.

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