Is the paperless office a myth?

| 2 December 2013

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Many predictions on what the future office will look like have been made over the last few decades. Experts said that in this century we would be living in the paperless office and processes would be completely digital. Some even said that the world’s paper consumption would dramatically decrease.

Well sadly we are far from that reality despite the fact that we have made huge strides in terms of both hardware and software. Nashua has highlighted companies like Avis Fleet Management Services, who have made the move in the right direction, and their efficiencies have improved dramatically.

The truth is that the world uses 400 percent more paper now than it did 40 years ago.


AIIM is an organisation that was founded in 1943 with the intention of empowering information professionals in understanding current and future challenges, and having a better understanding on how future technologies will impact businesses.

A recent survey in the UK found that 74 percent of respondents have business improvement campaigns underway that would benefit from paper-free processes through reduced operating costs and increased worker productivity, but only 24 percent have a specific policy or plan to eliminate paper from their business. A big obstacle to adoption comes from misinformation about the legal admissibility of electronic signatures and documents.

47 percent of organisations surveyed have made just 5 percent progress toward processes that could be paper free. 18 percent have not even started yet. Over 19 percent of companies have had paper consumption in their offices increase!

In the UK for example, over 80 percent of UK businesses print documents just to get them signed.

Recently 24 October was declared World Paper-Free Day. The idea was not to just focus on the conservation of trees, but rather to create awareness on improved processes; facilitating the mind shift and getting people out of the habit of printing unnecessarily.

The scary part is that most of the respondents believe that a paperless office will bring significant improvements and efficiencies in the organisation, yet the implementation is a stumbling block.

The interesting part was that two thirds of the organisations that have adopted paper free processes, reported a payback within 18 months, while 50 percent see a payback within a 12-month period.

There is no doubt that less paper in the work place delivers significant benefits. One of the key findings from AIIM’s research was that the elimination of paper in the office and moving to digital processes of office automation, improved customer responsiveness by a huge 300 percent!

Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Young people today have really adopted a paperless society with the technology that they use – even homework and studying is paperless.

In South Africa we certainly are moving in the right direction. More and more schools are introducing technologies to counter the usage of paper.

The University of Johannesburg recently announced that it will be compulsory from 2014 for all first year students to own either a tablet or a laptop. This is a bold move in the right direction by the university. According to UJ, the plan is to make these devices an empowering tool, one that will encourage and facilitate engagement among students and academic staff, as well as provide information.

The devices will have access to assignments, timetables, marks, module guides, e-books, and other study and administrative requirements. Interactive functionality will also form part of the curriculum, and surveys and quizzes in lectures will be included as part of the educational tools at UJ.

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