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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paperless Office

Paperless office lifestyle is a place where a particular way of work environment at which the use of paper is eliminated or wisely used. "Going Paperless" is recommended to save trees but also to make electronic documentation easier, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By keeping a paperless lifestyle it can have the power to benefit the environment and the community. This type of work style is not only used on a business level but it can also be used on a personal level. Paperless office can bring a variety of ways of saving paper and money. This method is commonly used in big companies in which their employee headcount is relatively high. For example, in a large company of more than 200,000 employees, if each and every employee would get paid electronically the company may save millions of dollars and reduce printing and mailing costs.

The paperless office was a publicist's slogan, meant to describe the office of the future. The basic idea was that office automation would make paper redundant for routine tasks such as record-keeping and bookkeeping. The idea came to prominence with the introduction of the personal computer. While the prediction of a PC on every desk was remarkably prescient, the 'paperless office' was less prophetic. Improvements in printers and photocopiers have made it much easier to reproduce documents in bulk, word-processing has deskilled secretarial work involved in writing those documents, the ease of communicating over email has greatly increased the number of documents printed and the result is the proliferation of paper.

An early prediction of the paperless office was made in a Business Week article in 1975.[1]

How paper use evolved

Paper making is a Chinese invention. 105 A.D. is often cited as the year in which papermaking was invented. Paper was soon widely used in China and spread to the rest of world through the Silk Road. In few years, the Chinese began to use paper for writing. Around 600 A.D. woodblock printingwas invented and by 740 A.D., The first printed newspaper was seen in China. For a long time the Chinese closely guarded the secret of paper manufacture and tried to eliminate other Oriental centers of production to ensure a monopoly. However in 751 A.D. the T'ang army was defeated by the Ottoman Turks at a mighty battle at the Talas River. Some Chinese soldiers and paper makers were captured and brought to Samarkand. The Arabs learned the paper making from the Chinese prisoners and built the first paper industry in Baghdad in 793 A.D. They, too, kept it a secret, and Europeans did not learn how to make paper until several centuries later. The Egyptians learned the paper making from the Arabs during the early 10th century. Around 1100 A.D. paper arrived in Northern Africa and by 1150 A.D. it arrived to Spain as a result of the crusades and established the first paper industry in Europe. In 1453 A.D. Johann Gutenberg invents the printing press. The first paper industry in the North America was built in Philadelphia in 1690.

The Effect of Computers

Contrary to the predictions of the paperless office, the introduction of computers increased paper use, with worldwide use of office paper more than doubling from 1980 to 2000.[2] This has been attributed to the increased ease of document production[2] – rather than needing to type a document up, one may easily print out multiple copies, email it to someone who then prints out a copy, print out a web page, and so forth. However, since about 2000, global use of office paper has leveled off and is now decreasing, which has been attributed to a generation shift,[2] younger people being less inclined to print out documents, and more inclined to read them on a screen.

Paperless Versus Traditional Office Philosophy

A traditional office consisted of paper-based filing systems, which may have included filing cabinets, folders, shelves, compactuses, microfiche systems, and drawing cabinets, all of which take up considerable space, requiring maintenance and equipment.

Meanwhile, a paperless office could simply consist of a desk, chair, and computer (with a modest amount of local or network storage) and the user could use and store all the information in digital form, including speech recognition and speech synthesis.

Three easy steps to start a paperless office are to think before you ink, preview your documents, and print to PDF.[3]

Metaphor and Philosophy

Paperless office is also a metaphor for the touting of new technology in terms of 'modernity' rather than its actual suitability to purpose. McIndoo; Todd (2009)"Paperless Office in Perspective A Document Management System for Today", pp. 5-11

The paperless office is now considered to be a philosophy to work with minimal paper, employ processes and systems that eliminate the need for paper altogether and to convert all forms of documentation to any digital form. The ideal is driven by a number of motivators including productivity gains, costs savings, space saving, the need to share information and reduced environmental impact.

Eliminating Paper Via Automation and Enterprise Forms Automation

The primary way to go paperless is to make use of a system or set of systems that work entirely online and without the need to print paper. Many examples of this are already in use by businesses including financial systems that replaced general ledgers, databases replacing index cards and rolodexes, email replacing type-written letters and faxes, the internet replacing reference books (e.g. phone books, vendor catalogs, encyclopedias, etc).[4]

Another way to eliminate paper is by automating paper-based processes that rely on forms, applications and surveys to capture and share data. This method is referred to as 'Enterprise Forms Automation' and is typically accomplished by using existing print-perfect documents in electronic format to allow for pre-filling of existing data, capturing data manually entered online by end-users, providing secure methods to submit form data to processing systems and digitally signing the electronic documents without printing.

The technologies that may be used with Enterprise Forms Automation include -

  • Form Technology (e.g. Adobe PDF) - to create, display and interact with documents and forms
  • Enterprise Forms Automation software - to integrate forms and form data with processing systems
  • Databases - used to capture data for prefilling and processing documents
  • Workflow platforms - used to route information, documents and direct process flow
  • Digital signature solutions - used by end-users to digitally sign documents
  • Web servers - used to host the process, receive submitted data, store documents and manage document rights

One of the main issues that has kept companies from adopting paperwork automation is capturing digital signatures in a cost-effective and compliant manner. With the E-Sign Act of 2000 Congress made it a law that a document cannot be rejected on the basis of an electronic signature and all companies must accept digital signatures on documents. Today there are sufficient cost-effective options available, including solutions that do not require end-users to purchase hardware or software.

Transforming Paper-Based Documents to Digital-Based Documents

Another key aspect of the paperless office philosophy is the conversion of paper documents, photos, engineering plans, microfiche and all the other paper based systems to digital documents. The technologies that may be used include -

Each of the technologies uses software that converts the raster formats (bitmaps) into other forms depending on need. Generally, they involve some form of image compression technology that produces smaller raster images or the use of optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the document to text. A combination of OCR and raster is used to enable search ability while maintaining the original form of the document.

An issue faced by those wishing to take the paperless philosophy to the limit has been copyright laws. These laws restrict the transfer of documents protected by copyright from one medium to another, such as converting books to electronic format.

An important step in the paper-to-digital conversion is the need to label and catalog the scanned documents. Such labeling allows the scanned documents to be searched. Some technologies have been developed to do this, but generally involves either human cataloging or automated indexing on the OCR document.

However, scanners and software continue to improve, with small, portable scanners that are able to scan doubled-sided A4 documents at around 30-35ppm to a raster format (typically TIFF fax 4 or PDF).

Issues In Taking Paper-Based Processes Paperless

  • End-user adoption of the new process
  • Cost savings to go paperless must be justifiable and reasonable
  • How to leverage existing legacy systems, documents and processes
  • Integration of systems from generating and prefilling documents to submitting and signing them digitally
  • Workflow must not be worse or more involved than the paper version

Issues In Keeping Documents Digital

  • Business procedures and/or government regulations. These often slow the adoption of exclusively electronic documents.
  • The target readers' ability to receive and read the digital format.
  • The target readers' ability to manipulate, i.e. highlight, annotate, or edit data in a digital format.
  • The longevity of digital documents. Will they still be accessible to computer systems of the future?
  • What to do when the electronic systems are somehow unavailable

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