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The mantra of our industry has long been one of "being paper-free." This is not new; we have been chanting this since the early days of document imaging. Overcoming the differences between acceptance of the idea, improved technologies and the realization that this reality can be achieved, though, is no small task. Making progress toward paper-free processes needs to be understood and accepted by the organization as a whole—as a continuous improvement campaign. Every process should be reviewed for the potential to drive out paper.

How are we doing?
As reported in the AIIM research study “Paper-Free Progress: measuring outcomes,” 16% of our responding organizations approach being paper-free as an ongoing campaign, though only three percent report that they have nearly reached the limit of suitable paper-free candidates.

Consider this
While it may seem a monumental task, removing paper from various processes is possible. The reality is that it will not happen overnight, and there is even the probability that not all processes can be paper-free at this time due to regulatory, legal or industry constraints. My point is that there are possibilities, and you have to make a conscious effort to find them and work at it.

What to think about
The first step is to create a vision depicting a paper-free environment—one that operates completely on digital information. What would it look like in your business world? What processes could be enhanced through the elimination of paper, and what impact will it have on the stakeholders? Is there risk in moving to a paper-free process, and what level of risk is there?

Identify a process and walk through it, pinpointing all of the information related to that process. Document who creates it and how it is created. Learn where and how it enters the information ecosystem and your business processes. Assess if there is a way to capture this information closer to the first touchpoint. If it is paper-based information coming from the outside, look for ways to scan it earlier in the process or find a way to capture it digitally from the beginning. As an example, if the document you are dealing with is an application form, investigate the possibility of using digital forms and online completion.

In my view

We are closer to becoming a paper-free society than ever before. We can complete application forms, place orders for various products and even acquire products—books, music, videos and more—all online and without the need for paper. It may not be possible for you to get rid of all of the paper from your business processes in the immediate future, but it is possible for you to start. Go ahead. Take the first step. You will be surprised at the difference it makes.

Bob Larrivee is vice president of market intelligence 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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