by Christopher Zybert, New England Document Systems
Going paperless is far from a novel idea. In fact, the concept of going paperless has been around for quite some time. The origins of the paperless society can be traced back to 1978, when Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster, a British-American information scientist, first envisioned a future in which all paper is replaced by electronic documents and storage. He understood that technology would eventually eliminate the need to handle print documents, and that record keepers would instead become information specialists.
It is generally understood by the business world that going paperless plays an integral role in reducing costs and improving services. However, it is important to note that becoming paperless should not be the main focus. Instead, the ultimate objective is to optimize processes – and eliminating paper is the first step in doing so.
It has been almost four decades since Wilfrid’s original prediction, and yet we are still nowhere near achieving a truly paperless society. Fortunately for Wilfrid, and for the environment, we stand on the cusp of a paperless future – driven by modern technology and the desire to cut costs, automate processes, and enhance security. Companies of all sizes, across all industries, are beginning to realize the true potential that going paperless can provide.
In a multi-part series of articles and blogs here and on WorkflowOTG.com, we will be providing you a detailed transition guide for any company considering a paperless future. Throughout this guide, we will be covering the entire process of going paperless – from understanding the benefits, to planning and executing your first document conversion project. We will include tips and best practices to help ensure your success as you look forward to implementing an Enterprise Content Management system and reaping the rewards.
Benefits of Going Paperless:
In an ongoing attempt to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and reduce environmental impact, companies are beginning to transform their operations to paperless processes.
While document management plays a large role in a paper-free workplace, there are plenty of reasons to go paperless beyond just eliminating your dependence on physical files. Whether you would like to make your documents more accessible, free up costly storage space, or streamline paper intensive processes, there are plenty of reasons to consider implementing a paperless business solution.
In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the potential benefits that electronic document management and going paperless can provide for your organization.
When it comes to managing your sensitive information, security should be top of mind. Depending on the document management software solution you choose, there are a wealth of security benefits to be found when going paperless. These security benefits can include:
- User Level Security Controls: Administrators are able to set user level controls, such as read-only access to certain files. For additional functionality, users and permissions can be grouped by job title, department, function, etc.
- Password Protection: As with any type of information security, paperless security starts with a great password. With the right paperless system, administrators will be able set passwords and password requirements, such as complexity and/or length requirements. Passwords are often encrypted for additional security.
- Account Lockouts: Administrators can schedule lockouts after a number of invalid sign in attempts to ensure security.
- Session Timeouts: Users are automatically logged out after a certain period of inactivity.
- IP Address Limiting: Access to information is limited to specific IP addresses. This ensures that access is only obtainable in authorized locations.
- Function Level Verification: Each application function is verified before any access is granted. This means that security is evaluated and verified for every single exchange within your system.
- Data Encryption: Any and all secure data is encrypted at all stages (in storage, transit, etc.)
- Disaster Protection: Are your physical files safe from natural disasters or internal threats? Files stored digitally in the cloud, or locally on a server, are far more secure than physical paper – and less prone to the dangers of the physical world. When paired with regular backups, digital storage can just about guarantee the safety of your documents.
- Disaster Recovery & Automated Backups: With automated backups, disaster recovery is made simple. Backups can be stored locally, offsite, or even in the cloud.
- Audit Trails: Audit trails provide you with a complete history or log of document activity. This can include the creation, modification, copying, sharing, or deletion of a file. Administrators are able to view these history logs and identify any and all changes made to their records. This is particularly useful when undergoing an audit or investigating any potential security issues.
REGULATORY COMPLIANCE and AUDITS
In today’s world of heavily regulated businesses, there is a pressing need for organizations to remain compliant and reduce friction when undergoing an audit. Not only is going paperless great for reducing costs, it is also fantastic for helping maintain regulatory compliances. From HIPAA to ISO, it is easier to minimize risk of litigation and stay compliant with a paperless filing system.
Regulation and audit related benefits can include:
- Auditing Costs: With an electronic system, auditors are not restricted by geographic location. This enables companies to find competitive pricing for auditing services and expand their reach to new pools of auditing professionals. Additionally, finding, compiling, and presenting documents can provide large savings in regards to auditing labor costs by enhancing and streamlining access to documents. Furthermore, having detailed logs of your files and the changes they have incurred is a great way to speed the audit process.
- Create, Manage and Destroy Documents: Most paperless management systems will enable you to automate document retention policies. This includes scheduling the destruction of documents based on a pre-defined set of rules. Having a consistent retention policy is imperative to any successful document management strategy. By going paperless, you are creating an environment in which consistent document retention standards can be easily implemented.
- Monitor, manage, and Reduce Risks: With a document management dashboard, record managers or administrators have the ability to watch for, address, and reduce risks without the limitations that physical files pose.
- Decrease Regulatory Response Time: With an electronic filing system, changes to your document management system or policies can be implemented with ease. This will enable your organization to be faster, more flexible and adaptive when overseeing new changes to compliance sensitive regulations.
Some common regulations that benefit from going paperless include:
• Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX)
• International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
• Security & Exchange Commission (SEC)
• Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)
• Department of Defense (DoD)
• Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
POTENTIAL COST SAVINGS
Now for the most important set of benefits that accompany going paperless – cost savings. When evaluating your potential for return on investment, be sure to consider the following costs and how going paperless might alleviate them.
- Labor Costs: Time spent searching, filing, accessing, and processing documents can all be reduced with a paperless solution. Minimizing time intensive tasks like data entry and filing can significantly reduce labor costs.
- Cost of Paper: Toner, reams of paper, and photocopier costs are all attributed to paper-based filing systems – and can be eliminated with the proper paperless solution.
- Space: Imagine if you could free up the space where you have filing cabinets? By eliminating physical paper, you are able to increase space availability. Floor space once allocated for storage can be repurposed for more productive equipment/personnel. Additionally, if you are currently storing files off-site, you can reduce storage fees by converting your backlog of records.
- Errors, Misfiling, Lost Documents, Fines, and Fees: A lost or misfiled document can cost your organization quite a bit of cash. Between potential regulatory fines and the hours of labor associated with replacing just one lost document, there is a large benefit to having your files stored, backed up, and secured digitally.
- Improved Efficiency: In addition to the security, cost saving, and regulatory related benefits, there are still more boons to be found when going paperless. Chief among these benefits is the ability to improve overall efficiency. Increased productivity means more work can get done, which helps to improve your bottom line.
- Improved Customer Service: In line with improved efficiency, your ability to provide superior customer service will also be enhanced with the right document management solution. Being able to address your customers’ questions, comments, or concerns with speed is imperative in providing a quality experience. By going paperless, you can provide your customers with unmatched customer service.
Now that you are aware of the benefits that going paperless can provide, you are ready to begin evaluating your current processes. Be sure to watch for our next installment of the Paperless Transition Guide on WorkflowOTG.com, in which we will discuss how to measure your current paper processes, organization, and policies.
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel