The Paperless Office

By Rafael Moscatel

The extent to which any organization can reduce its dependency on paper is largely determined by laws and the industry regulations it faces, the technology available to it and how well its leaders manage change, internally as well as for customers.

Here are some thoughts on how to begin solving the paper problem around your office:

Understand the affordances of paper  One of the most thorough examinations of the issue of paper and its role in our lives and workplaces came in 2002 when MIT press published The Myth of the Paperless Office.  The book’s findings make a case for the “affordances of paper” and stress that to reduce paper production and consumption we must understand the underlying habits and processes driving how our clients and colleagues work.

Attorneys for example often require a contextual or “case at a glance” perspective that a chronological or issue focused file offers… a “story telling” approach to presenting information which can’t always be matched even with the best software. Similarly, auditors or project managers will often work with and create aggregated records which serve a specific purpose for which imaging might be overkill or too costly. And contrary to popular belief, there still exist quite a few scenarios where it remains more affordable, practical and efficient to even store information in paper form. Conversion costs and risks required to maintain the digital lifecycle of infrequently referenced documents and avoid bitrot* can often exceed those associated with retaining the same materials in paper form.

Make the right policy changes with executive level support  Every Records or Information Governance policy initiative or project your business undertakes should have senior level executive support and reflect the best practices within your industry.

Here are some policy and procedural ideas to consider that can act as catalysts for change.

  • Get a Retention Policy / Schedule, implement it and regularly enforce it -A Retention Schedule (often in line with a data map) is the most effective tool for properly managing records and information and its necessity cannot be understated.  It not only protects an organization and keeps paper and electronic storage costs low, it gives executives a tool for understanding and navigating the massive network of silos and records their businesses create.
  • Institute an E-signature Policy for all contracts under a specified financial threshold
  • De-duplicate emails and all other electronic content repositories systematically
  • Identify where duplicates are created, determine why and what can be done to prevent them going forward
  • Take a “final draft and / or executed version” approach to your document lifecycle rules
  • Establish “uniform” email retention rules.  For example –  enforced retention period, tools and rules for what to do with attachments
  • Standardize e-mail signatures corporate wide
  • Discourage personal chronological or “work” files
  • Place restrictions on file shares and acceptable file formats within repositories
  • Evaluate all forms and documents in all files to identify consolidation opportunities and streamline workflows
  • Train employees to properly recognize records and understand legal holds and custodianship

Match your technology to your people and your people to their processes  Streamlining workflow starts by truly understanding your people and their processes. A proper workflow analysis helps when searching the marketplace for technology that fits your budget and meets your regulatory needs. Here are some more tips to keep people happy while achieving efficiency and staying compliant.

  • Perform an analysis or engage a Certified Records Manager to review and refine your records management related processes
  • Invest in an effective, user-friendly electronic document and records management system and budget-in the human resources necessary to manage it
  • Centralize information management services, forms and resources within a secure, yet accessible SharePoint portal or other intranet servicing tool
  • Provide dual monitors to employees and other technology to support the same “story at a glance” perspective that their paper files facilitate
  • Implement “direct to database” tools on multi function printers (MFP’s) in copy rooms and shared spaces using products like Nuance’s E-Copy
  • Automate form intake and document distribution using Infopath or other webforms
  • Implement PDF-A standards
  • Configure MFP’s to default to full-text indexing for scanning
  • Consider using uniform locators and document footers
  • Establish naming conventions and standardize filing rules

Continue to refine your processes and technology  – Here are some excellent ways to continue to streamline your information management operations over the long run.

  • Consider centralizing document management support, scanning and offsite storage resources in one location, under one manager or team
  • Reevaluate your existing imaging projects and look for opportunities to cross-train or repurpose employees to support those needs
  • Monitor file room reference activity and adjust work schedules to improve customer service levels, accuracy and worker satisfaction
  • Provide records management analysis and assistance to all employees and divisions as a basic service
  • Utilize offsite storage to reduce square footage of file cabinet space
  • Conduct periodic inventories and data integrity projects to purge records and enforce the retention policy with regularity

Don’t forget to respect your limitations  Keeping goals in context and maintaining a healthy perspective with respect to your limitations can save you both money and peace of mind.  Don’t waste time on initiatives rooted in unproven technologies or which seem too good to be true.

  • Don’t oversell technology capabilities to management or users
  • Follow best practices and don’t cut corners on information security
  • Understand your server backup and disaster recovery policies, strategies, tools and recovery plan
  • Coordinate with your business partners to increase your collective paperless options as a lack of coordination may limit them
  • Know that a lack of integration with mail services and new business intake will limit the ability to streamline document ingestion and profiling

Most importantly, be prepared to face some resistance and new challenges as a result of changes to your policies, processes and technology. Remember the risks associated with the decisions you make and the consequences they might have on current and future employees as well as customers, but don’t be afraid to take measured risks to achieve less paper!

Rafael Moscatel, CRM, IGP, is an accomplished executive with over twenty years of experience implementing world class records retention, data governance and compliance programs for large enterprises. He has an extensive background in driving long-range corporate planning strategies and spearheading change management initiatives within complex and highly regulated industries. His expertise includes development of document management strategies, decommissioning of legacy systems, performing risk assessments and audit remediation. Rafael partners with executives in helping them to optimize their legal technology investments, add value across business lines and embrace their business challenges and opportunities.

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