by Greg Walters | 9/3/14

Passing notes in class used to result in a disciplinary action.  Back then, the most efficient method of conveying information or querying a prospect was to scratch a simple question on a scrap of paper and ask your neighbor pass it along. “Do you like me? Do you want to be my friend? Check yes or no." In the early days of business, like those notes in third grade, sales orders were hand written on paper with a pen.

 As time went by, more advanced order-entry processes developed around carbon and carbonless paper and forms.  One instance of data entry, writing information down on the order, would create three or four copies, which you’d just peel apart and forward a copy to the appropriate department — original into daily sales, yellow to the warehouse, goldenrod over to accounting as an open order, and the pink gets thrown away. (As an aside, do you remember how challenging it was for some copiers to make a copy of a yellow background, carbonless form?  That’s right, we were making copies of copies.)

I’m sure you remember the days when a piece of paper followed an order around your company, ending up in shipping.  Back then, when CRMs were Rolodexes and the USPS was profitable, every department had a copier and rows of filing cabinets.  Most processes, optimized as much as possible, required human interaction and moved at a slower pace. Acceptable lead times of weeks or months were normal and follow-up meant mailing a handwritten letter.  Our expectations rarely rotated around instantaneous response.

Computers changed all that.

The personal printer churned out four customized letters every minute.  Fast, but nothing compared to the newer communication tool, “electronic mail.”  

In a manner reminiscent of Moore’s Law, the speed of communications appeared to double every six months.  At first, this meant we needed more paper, along with closets chock full of ribbons and multi-part, pin-fed paper.  Until then, nobody but the geekiest of geeks thought about workflow. Indeed, in the early years of copier sales, we would equate workflow with paper flow — it made sense because most administration, executive and accounting functions included paper. Hence the phrase “paper pusher.”

While some reported the beginning of the Paperless Age, the paper glut expanded and the salad days of copiers and printers ensued. Life in the imaging industry was grand.

Everything changes, that’s a fact, and so too is the world of paper — office print is down and efficiency is up.  Now, imagine you’ve moved to electronic invoicing and payment.  Invoices are no longer printed once or twice a month.  The entire process can go from four days to a couple of hours; from reams of paper to zero. In most efficiency projects, the reduction of paper is not a goal but a result.

It is my contention that the amount of paper flowing through your organization is a direct indicator of your internal processes.  Think about this: what’s the turnaround on your digital invoices?  How about “float” when your clients pay direct to your bank account?

Good workflow requires less paper.

I’m not saying reducing paper use drives office/workflow efficiencies; it’s the other way around.

How can you determine your efficiency:

Determine your monthly paper spend over the previous year

Track your purchases/usage against your IT initiatives; e.g., BYOD smartphones, tablets, etc.

Plot both metrics

One more thing

 Efforts in office efficiency and business process optimization revolve around making relevant information available “instantaneously.” There is nothing instantaneous about paper.  The world of BPO is moving toward live feedback and actionable information as it happens — paper cannot.

How many of you (or your kids) IM friends and colleagues?  Quick, what does “IM” stand for?  “INSTANT MESSAGE.”

Your kids expect instant feedback. That’s a long way from passing notes in class, don’t you think?


A prolific writer, frequent speaker, and hyper-charged freelancer, Greg Walters shares his passionate, unique and provocative view on technology, addressing the digital impact on 21st century business and the new way of work and society. His book, Death of the Copier, published in 2014, offers a controversial summary of the early days managed print services and the not-so-distant future of the hard-copy industry. For four years, he was part of and then rebuilt a managed print services practice inside a West Coast VAR/MSP. Over the last three years he has been assisting companies with optimizing their IT portfolio of services, analyzing information workflow and processes, building self-supporting MpS programs inside IT departments and creating and implementing print policies for medium to large businesses. His company, Greg Walters Inc., is a bold consulting and content creation firm helping companies optimize processes and communicate their stories. Contact him at

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