If your organization has cabinets full of unorganized paper files, faxes, invoices, customer contracts, and other reports, you should strongly consider making the switch to paperless.

Paper documents and filing cabinets have been the way to organize information and documents for decades. But that doesn't mean it's the best option for businesses.

Nowadays, many organizations are transitioning from physical documents to electronic document management systems with the hopes of building a paperless office.

In fact, making paperless possible for your organization isn't as hard as you might consider it to be. And by the end of this guide, you'll have a better understanding of making paperless possible for your organization. 

Here's what we'll cover:

  • Why go paperless?
  • What A Paperless Organization Looks Like For Operations Teams
  • How Going Paperless Works Practically
  • Using Inkit As An Automated Document Management Software For Making Paperless Possible

Why Go Paperless?

While the paperless concept itself is nothing new, most business owners cannot look past its eco-friendly benefits. 

This in itself is not a bad thing, as being pragmatic gets the job done. However, there are more practical benefits other than eco-friendly prospects that going paperless brings to the table.

The rapid development of technology has made transitioning to paperless even easier than ever before too. 

Improved security, increased work efficiency, and an optimized workflow are but a few benefits that can help drive value in your organization, should you go paperless.

Let’s explore these benefits quickly before talking about the practical steps you can take to go paperless.

Improved security

Traditional paper-infused frameworks offer little to no security assurance compared to their paperless counterparts.

The physical paper could be a potential source of vulnerability for your company. Employees can easily misfile or misplace sensitive paperwork, potentially costing your company its credibility as perceived by customers.

According to Gartner Research, on average, it costs American companies $120 to find a misfiled paper document. If the document was not found, however, it costs around $220 to reproduce it.

The paperless initiative provides a robust collection of relevant security solutions. These solutions range from basic content control to more advanced encryption-grade security protocols.

Additionally, a document management system helps in all steps of your document management lifecycle system.

phases of document management and lifecycle

Optimized workflow

Extreme cases of paper clutter in your operations workflow can be detrimental to your company. 

Time otherwise spent on value-added tasks is diverted to completing repetitive and tedious tasks like filing, organizing, and tracking paperwork.

Going paperless essentially means you get rid of these problems. 

Paperless technology - electronic document and record management system (EDRMS) and automated document generation offer a digitized version of services that you can assess in just one click. 

Reduced costs

As you might already know, going paperless ensures that your company saves costs incurred on paper purchase and utility (printing - ink, postage, toner, physical storage)

However, you might not know or easily overlook the comprehensive cost reduction that going paperless will feature. 

The more efficient and optimized workflow features will reflect your company's cost savings. This is because employees are now enabled to focus on value-driving tasks.

Additional benefits that could drive operational cost reduction in your company include savings from reduced office space.

Here’s what paper-based management looks like by the numbers:

  • Companies spend around $20 to file and store paper documents (Ademero, 2020).
  • Businesses waste around $20,000 on document issues (Nitro, 2020).
  • Workers spend around 18 minutes looking for documents, and on average, 50% of their time creating and preparing documents (Nitro, 2020, Tech Crunchies, 2018).
graphic showing the document management challenges in 2019

Easier information access

Transitioning to a paperless system enables you and your company employees to access relevant and important information remotely - from anywhere and at any time.

Moreover, easy, almost instantaneous access to relevant information significantly improves customer experience. 

Digitization of your company's framework will ensure the easy collation of relevant user data. And this data can be used to develop personalized and targeted campaigns tailored to match customers' preferences. 

Safe document regulations and compliance

Businesses are responsible for their customers' information. 

Regulations and compliance guidelines are put in place by regulatory bodies like HIPPA and SOX to ensure that companies safeguard proprietary and customer data with integrity.

HIPPA and FERPA regulations and their purposes

It is easier to be regulations compliant when your company incorporates document management systems

Ensuring compliance in a paper-based system is complicated. A neglected file or a misfiled paperwork could easily cause your company to be non-compliant.

The advanced security and electronic safeguard measures featured in a paperless system ensure full autonomy on what content is made available and to whom

You can also automate HIPAA-compliant document archival or deletions, based on your data lifecycle.

One of the biggest problems with secure data deletion is knowing what to destroy, when, and who’s responsible for it. With an automated document management system, this becomes a breeze.

See how Inkit helps healthcare organizations for more practical info on this.

Now, let’s take a look at what making paperless possible is like for business teams.

What A Paperless Organization Looks Like For Operations Teams

A paperless organization digitizes most of its business processes and operations. 

This means that in the organizational workflow, any process that utilizes paper will be automated to use electronic document formats from the previous hardcopy format.

To make this a reality, a paperless organization uses different tools, from the simplest note-taking applications to more advanced ones like document generation software.

The importance of going paperless cannot be overstated, especially for operations teams in an organization. 

An ideal operations team working in a paperless environment completes its workload via a series of automated software services.

  • Email, spreadsheet, and word processing for efficient handling of orders and service delivery.
  • Accounting software to securely handle payments and correctly document transactions.
  • Digital databases to securely aggregate relevant and important customer data, purchase requests, etc., for easy access.
  • Automated document generation for converting physical hard copies of information to a processable digital format.
  • Communication and sharing tools for communication and collaboration among employees and team members.
  • Project management software for planning and tracking work progress, syncing orders and deliveries, managing production rhythms, etc.

There are various tools (cloud-based or otherwise) that provide these required automation and digitization services, with each tool providing an extensive range of innovative solutions.

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How Going Paperless Works Practically For Your Organization

The practicality of the paperless concept is majorly underpinned by automated document generation.

Just like it sounds, automated document generation is automatically creating the various types of documents involved in your company's operational processes. 

You can achieve the automation of document generation with relevant automation software. 

Which then automatically extracts data (alphabetic, numeric, and alpha-numeric) from provided sources and inputs it into predefined segments of custom or dynamic document templates.

Here’s an invoice template example by HubSpot.

invoice template example by Hubspot

A custom template features static, unchanging information while information that constitutes the dynamic template changes based on data fed by your company database.

These template formats range from simple text formats to more sophisticated elements like tables, graphs, and images.

Essentially, this is based on a document generation API that works by converting HTML data sources to PDF file formats. Since PDF is the acceptable industry format for all official communications, claims, requests, and agreements. 

API docs generation affords higher customizability and seamlessness than an online manual document generator. This makes them suitable for any industry to go paperless.

See our full guide on document generation APIs for more info on this. 

5 Practical Steps To Switch To A Paperless Business

Now that you know what going paperless looks like for operations teams, let’s explore some practical steps you can take to switch to this model.

Essentially, when going paperless, you’ll want to follow these steps:

  1. Determine your organization's needs.
  2. Establish a paperless strategy.
  3. Educate your employees and create standard operating procedures.
  4. Implement paperless workflow and steps for your operations teams.
  5. Deploy, document, and measure analytics.

1. Determine company needs

While transitioning to paperless might seem mundane and one-directional, this is not the case in real-life practice. 

Do not assume that what works for another company might necessarily work for you.

Depending on your company's workflow design, you need to critically analyze and determine what your company needs based on digitization. 

You can do this by identifying and mapping out tedious, repetitive, and redundant processes that impede normal workflow, require much human input, and keep employees away from high-value work.

For example, see our guide on automating paperless billing for banks to learn how you can approach automation for your business.

2. Establish a paperless strategy

It would be best to plan how and where to start your paperless transition. Your understanding of your company's needs and processes that require transformation will be heavily leveraged when strategizing.

Your paperless strategy should sufficiently cater to how to achieve:

  • Information capturing - how your company captures documents entering the mainframe.
  • Information routing - how information sharing inside and outside the company is achieved, especially during approvals, reviews, or other relevant actions.
  • Information retrieval - how you access needed documents.

When establishing your paperless strategy, tackling all the previously highlighted processes at once is not advisable. 

Instead, you should pick a singular, high-value process, say accounting, to work on in the initial phase of transition.

Another thing you should consider here is approximately how many pages you work with yearly.

This will determine how much you’ll be paying for your paperless software.

Most document generation software ranges from as low as $20/mo to $100/mo to $2,500 or higher.

See Inkit Render’s pricing page for a pricing calculator based on the number of pages you’ll be managing yearly, to get a general overview.

3. Educate employees

Once you've determined your rules of engagement for going paperless, you’ll want to bring employees on board next.

Educate your company's employees on what it means to go paperless and what it will do for them and their work environment. 

You don't want to spring a paperless surprise on them. Instead, you should carry them along every step of the way and get relevant training for them where necessary.

4. Implement paperless workflow for operations teams.

The fastest and most efficient way to go about this is to choose and utilize a relevant electronic record management tool. 

To achieve this, you should list the core necessities your operations team requires to field a seamless and efficient digitized workflow. 

These usually involve data backup, storage space, automation, synchronization capabilities, audit logs, and employee permission.

See our key tactics for streamlining business operations for more info on how to streamline your business workflow operations.

5. Deploy and document

Once you've chosen your optimal solution, you can now deploy the solution across your organization. 

The deployment process will vary depending on your preference, organizational framework, and solution vendor.

Your transitioning to going paperless doesn't end with the deployment of your solutions. 

Because to replicate and improve the paperless transition journey in other business areas, you must adequately document the whole process.

Using the accounting department as a basis, documenting the paperless transformation will enable you to reference the knowledge to transform other departments to go paperless seamlessly. And you can also optimize the process.

In terms of paperless KPIs, you should be aiming to track:

  • Total monthly spend.
  • Cycle time.
  • Gross profit margin.
  • Employee satisfaction.
  • And total project errors.

Where To Go From Here

If you’re reading this, chances are, document automation is the right solution for you.

But going paperless and deciding on the right software isn’t an overnight journey.

The right document management platform should be:

  • Easy to use.
  • Have the relevant features for your organization.
  • Align with your cost expectations and budget.
  • Be able to work with different file formats.
  • And more.

That is, in addition to helping you organize, track, store, and retrieve digital documents.

So, if you’re not sure where to go from here, see our full guide on how to evaluate document management systems for a more detailed breakdown!

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