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 Continue reading →
I was recently asked exactly how my background in archives and information technology assisted me with my documentary, The Little Girl with the Big Voice. I hadn’t really thought about it until that point because it was a passion project and I was so wrapped up in telling the story it didn’t seem to matter. In retrospect, my years in Records & Information Management really were instrumental in helping me collect, organize and clear all of the materials for this film.
Filmmaking involves a lot of document management, project management and asset management and always has. Understanding how to organize large collections of materials, authenticate and reference them contextually proved very useful in creating the historical sequences seen in the film.
The Little Girl with the Big Voiceexamines the struggles of women and children in the early 1930’s and 40’s through the eyes of Mary Small, a child prodigy, restless wife and dedicated mother whose resilience in the face of constant challenges made her a defining symbol of her generation.
When it came time to putting together a clip log, the metadata and information I collected and associated with each piece of media made it easy for me to clear each image which is essential to secure a good insurance policy. In doing so, a lot of the principles I’ve learned as an Information Governance Professional came into play in terms of ensuring authenticity. As a result of properly documenting my sources from the get-go I ended up with a treasure chest of digital resources that I can now use over and over. My experiences with digital imaging also helped with rendering the scans and pictures I used and in resolving pixelation issues. The organization of documents and images into (hopefully) logical historical sequences based on various data points, is very much a business discipline.
I also wanted this film to be an example of how filmmakers can use the Fair Use Doctrine to uncover and tell some of the richest, most compelling stories of this era, which were until the advent of the internet, almost trapped in library catalogs and press break scrapbooks.
So I teamed up with Stanford University’s Documentary Film Program and learned how to present these images in context so that they passed muster. Doing so probably reduced the cost of the film’s licensing fees by as much as 90% or more and the research alone gave us a cache of items that we can hopefully use to tell another great story.
We’re all well aware that labor intense records management projects, those in which repetitive, mundane grunt work is required, are avoided like the plague by employees and management alike. When a project does happen to spark interest and garner support, once it moves past the planning stages it can begin to feel like nobody on the team wants to be bothered with the actual logistics. Suddenly everybody is a “thought leader” and “focused on strategy” and that’s okay… but maybe that’s where some of our productivity issues actually originate.
Ironically, what can emerge from these projects are new leaders, because these are also opportunities for individuals willing to actually roll up their sleeves. These are people who drive initiatives and projects forward because they’re more interested in getting the job done and learning something than getting (or taking) the credit.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish with pride and unselfishness—where you have people who don’t care who gets the credit. – Harry Truman
As knowledge workers we are supposed to naturally evolve and graduate into more sophisticated roles but more and more of us are also becoming out of touch with basic business operations, assuming technology will ultimately address all of the tedious processes we’re responsible for. Many employees, even in the public sector, have simply become used to expecting management to throw more money at the problem or to bring in consultants (who will probably just hire temps) to catch everybody up… instead of addressing the real issues. Perhaps, it’s as John Steinbeck once remarked, that we’re all “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” and that in the same vein, by performing grunt work, we are negatively impacting the way we’re viewed by both our superiors and those who report to us. That may be partly true. As Records and Information Management leaders and executives we don’t want to take a step backward, but there is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.
There is a lot to be said for staying familiar with, remaining involved in and practicing the discipline which you claim to have expertise.
It’s been 12 years since I first read Abigal J. Sellen and Richard H.R. Harper’s book, The Myth of the Paperless Office. It remains one of my favorite no nonsense analysis into the subject.
This bold and insightful analysis by two Microsoft employees into the psychological and practical reasons why certain business processes continue to rely on paper remains relevant even a decade after its publication. The book is especially helpful for records and information governance consultants more intent on providing their clients with a true understanding of the nature of their processes than selling them software solutions driven by buzz phrases including “The Paperless Office.” Continue reading →