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The growth in the economy of a country immediately raises the demands for several products to make business work. These demands will in turn influence the growing production and increased output which requires additional energy to run the production machines.
Both issues, while common in business, have potential to cause long-term problems; especially when dealing with environmental issues. In product development for instance, corporations are driven to develop and produce new products that comply with environmental requirements like environmentally-safe packaging and fuel-efficient vehicles using hybrid technology. These issues highlight that the future of business is so challenging that innovation becomes the key focus to win business.
The development of technology spawns new trends in our business environment. One of the emerging technologies in the information era is a paperless office that benefits from the digitalization of documents. Most of these trends, like any other, possess both advantages and disadvantages.
In this paper I am discussing the popular concept of a paperless office. However, the discussion will focus on its issues and disadvantage rather than its benefits.
History of Paperless Office
In the 1970’s there were predictions regarding an office which doesn’t require any use of paper. One of those predictions can be viewed in an edition of Business Week in 1975 (The Office of the Future, 1975). It was a dream of an office in 1975 that, in the future, paper would be obsolete. According to some predictions, offices would not require any paper because everything was processed and stored digitally through various technologies. The predictions stemmed from the birth of Personal Computers (Selen, 2001).
In reality however, these predictions are still the stuff of cinema. A paperless office as predicted above has never been fully implemented. On the contrary, for most offices today, the presence of the personal computer has not radically reduced using papers as output. People have been swayed away with the easiness of writing or drawing within a personal computer only to then print them on a piece of paper; forgetting the dreams that were present before.
Current Expectations Regarding Paperless Office
Today, when the need for efficiency has been called for, we return to the hope of a paperless office. The concept has been slightly modified however in the realization that paper has been a part of our daily lives and that the use of personal computers in the 1990’s has produced the need for more paper. The concept of Paperless Office is now a philosophy; one of working with minimal paper, using processes that eliminate the use of paper, and to make documentation in digital form whenever possible. The main focus is no longer on how much paper is used, but on the efficiency that is gained from the process towards a Paperless Office (McIndoo, 2009).
Processes of Paperless office
There are two methods of transforming a company into paperless office. The first is by automating the processes that generally use paper as an essential tool. Technologies that exist in facilitating that process are:
Enterprise Data Automation Software. Software used to integrate forms and data with systems that processes them.
Form Technology. Software used to design various types of forms. Using forms is no longer necessary if people performing business transactions have personal computers with form technology in it.
Databases. Device to replace the function of a filing cabinet. Data is made into digital form and then stored in a database with sufficient security technology in it.
Digital Signature. Software allows evidence of signature in digital form. Papers are generally used as business evidences. This is required in business transactions to generate legal binding between two or more parties.
Workflow Platforms. Process flow of an office. Paper documents are generally used to transfer a data to other departments so that it can continue doing what is needed next. This flow of work can now be documented and transferred in digital form, using the workflow platforms.
The second method of pursuing the paperless office is data storage transformation. In a general office, the data is conventionally stored and protected in a filing cabinet or in warehouses. This generally ends up creating piles of useless scrap paper rather than useful files. Using the “Paperless Office” technology, all this data can be transformed to a digital form very easily. Some of the tools available to support this process are scanners, book copiers, photo scanners, microfiche scanners, negative scanners, fax to PDF converter, and document management systems. (The Economist, 2008).
Issues in Implementing Paperless Office
Despite the benefits that are offered by the presence of the concept, the paperless office also generates several problems in implementation that have not yet been overcome. In order to make ease of our understanding, these issues will be divided into the two methods below.
Issues in Digitizing the Work-Flow
In digitizing the office processes, issues that arise include:
Difficulty in Submitting and Signing Digital Documents. It is foreseeable that we can process documents digitally with sufficient practicality. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to image a digital station that can be transferred to our client’s desks, so that he/she can sign it. This process is made more complicated if we are to think about the legal implications of digital work processing. It is still a huge question whether digital signature can be used as legal evidence or not.
End-user Adoption of the New Processes is Difficult. The issue of getting all divisions of a group of large companies on board regarding the digital processing system can be complex. The system concept may be accepted easier by high ranking officers. However, for end users and executors, the concept of digital work processing might be difficult to adopt. Additional planning and modifications become essential.
Changing from the Legacy Processes Can be Problematic. An issue that arises in terms of transforming paper-based processes into digital processes is with dealing with parties that have not adopted the digital processing method. As the world has globalized, we are to think about how to serve and deal with practically all people in the world. Expecting all of them to accept and apply the digital processing system now is practically wishful thinking (Gladwell, 2005).
Cost Saving Justifications are Sometimes Not Fulfilled. Another important issue to consider is whether the digital processing system can all be financially justified or not. The basic purpose of digitizing most of the working process is to get significant cost savings out of it. It might work on a smaller scale in areas that we have initially chosen. The question is, whether it will remain cost beneficial when it is implemented in a wider scale or in all areas without exceptions.
Issues in Transferring Existing Documents into Digital Form
Despite the pros and cons in practicing the paperless office, there are several requirements to take into account when making all documents digital. The issues are as follows:
Legal Ramifications. The legal and governmental aspects of a technological development often grow very slowly compared to the technology itself. This should also be rationally expected in a paperless office. Will digital contracts be as lawfully binding as paper agreements? Can document manipulation be considered a heavy violation against the law? Questions like these need to be pondered over by the business society.
The Target Reader. Even today, forming a financial report requires a sufficient consideration of the target reader’s ability to understand the report. The same applies to digital documents. Will the reader accept the new way of doing business or are they more likely to feel comfortable with the old ones? The reader’s ability to adapt is an important factor for consideration.
Changed Longevity of the Documents. This is a similar consideration to our paper-based documentation. Will the technology exist to maintain the longevity of digital documents, at least 5 years into its future? 10 years? 20 years? This is necessary to abide with the rules of business and accounting (Walker, 2009).
Companies Going Green. Some companies still perceive that the idea of being green companies is merely to comply with government regulation that forces them to do so. But, in fact, it provides the company with strategic opportunity to take benefits of the consumers’ increasing awareness of using green products. Since being green companies right now has become part of a corporation’s marketing strategy, it is now common that they start using traditional performance evaluation measures such as return on investment (ROI), net present value (NPV), market share, and other factors to assess their “go green” initiatives. In general, the driving forces of “going green” concept are the result of two forces: external or internal pressures.
The Transfer Process. Figure 1 shows that by relying on paperwork, we spend a great deal of time on the process and also waste many sources.
Figure 1 Paperless Office Schematic Process
In hindsight we can now conclude, the concept of a paperless office may not be even feasible. However with growing demands, the need to reduce our dependency on paper and its inefficient storage constraints can be analyzed to meet the growing demands of business. The main focus is no longer on moving to a completely paperless process but to a more efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly paper reduction process.
Many factors need to be taken into consideration during the economical growth cycle of a business and the people who support that growth. Word processors, scanners, software advancement, algorithms, hardware developments, etc. continue to improve the ability of businesses to be able to plan and implement the digitalization of accessible documents. Combined strategies help move the business forward by reducing paper reliance and improving efficiencies of data access while still maintaining security measures. Cost, ease of use, and legal issues continue to be a driving factor in determining when processes can be digitized.
Transforming a business to a digitized process can be difficult and complex. Cost, timing, and longevity of the process need to be analyzed to determine if digitization is even a feasible concept for a particular process. State and federal regulations need also to be considered. Despite the benefits offered by the concept of a paperless office, several problems in implementation have not yet been overcome. Digitalization may work on smaller scales and may never be able to materialize on a wider scale. Cost and ease of use for all people continues to be the driving factor in preventing a paperless system in all areas without exception. There will always be issues and disadvantages of moving to a paperless office. The key focus is to define all the issues and disadvantages of moving to a reduced paper office along with the advantages and timeline constraints.
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