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Electronic Documents & The Paperless Office

Is your office filled with paper?

Do you and your team spend hours printing, filing and retrieving documents and then even more money or time destroying these records?

Maybe it is time to think about the paperless office.

Before considering the options it is worth mentioning that the paperless office often takes a while to implement – old habits die hard and it will take time to master the new technology.  However, there are no rules defining how quickly you have to implement these changes, choose the ones that will give you greatest benefit and then move to others.

Why choose electronic over paper?

There are two main reasons to choose electronic over paper.

1. Cost.  The cost of toners and other printer consumables such as photoconductors can be a significant office overhead cost. But in addition to the overhead seen on the P&L report there is the hidden cost of staff time in filing, retrieving and destroying paper records.

2. Security.  Paper records are vulnerable to loss from fire, theft and just being mislaid.

Planning

In order to have an efficient paperless office it is necessary to plan how it will look when it is done.  What will happen with incoming paper documents? Where are the electronic documents going to be stored? Who has access to them? What about backups to protect against loss. It all sounds a little overwhelming but spending time on planning can make a real difference to the time you save when you implement the paperless office.

Equipment

There are some items that you might want to put on your shopping list in order to make the migration to paperless more simple and robust.  The items you chose will somewhat depend on your existing equipment, the volume of paper, the number of staff and many other factors.

Scanner: Cost £150 – £1200

A scanner is required to convert incoming paperwork into electronic copies.  The cost of the scanner to some extent determines the functionality and there are six main areas to consider.

  1. Speed of scan – generally the more expensive the scanner the faster the speed of the scan.  However, consider the volume of scans and weigh this against the time spent.
  2. ADF – The auto document feeder (ADF) is an important function to save time as it feeds sheets into the scanner for you.  Consider the page-count of your average incoming paperwork and ensure the ADF is capable of taking this amount of paper.
  3. Flatbed – a flatbed scanner looks similar to a photocopier and is very useful if you need to scan odd shapes and sizes of paper such as receipts.  Some ADFs will take receipts but the vast majority have a high failure rate.
  4. Duplex – duplex basically means double sided scanning.  One area of real frustration is having to manually turn sheets over to scan the second side.  Many of the cheaper scanners have this functionality so ensure it is listed on the one you are looking at.
  5. Scan to folder – if you have a person responsible for opening mail and distributing it to the right people then this will be a great function to look fo.  It allows scans to be sent to specific locations based on preset buttons on the scanner menu.
  6. Network or USB.  A network scanner allows people to access the scanner from any computer on the network.  A USB scanner has to plug directly into a computer and as a result it is generally more difficult (and most of time impossible) to share across the network.

Storage: £0 to £1500

It is possible to use an existing computer to store the scanned documents or alternatively you might want a specific device.

  1. NAS – A network attached storage device is a great place to store scanned images.  It generally has multiple hard drives, which increases robustness, and many now have user authentication allowing you to restrict users to specific folders.
  2. Server – if you have a server then this can be a good place to store scans.  Two concerns in doing so is firstly speed, how many scans and file accesses are going to be made?  Is the server fast enough.  Secondly, how much storage space does the server have.  Server storage is one of the most expensive options and unless it has a large unused chunck of space I would opt for a NAS rather than buy more server storage.
  3. Computer – it is possible to use a computer to store scans.  This is not the best option as user authentication is not possible (some security can be put in place but it is limited) and generally file access times can be much slower.  Having said this, for a small business this might be a solution whilst the business remains small.

Monitors: £100 to £250

If you are not using paper it is often very useful to have a second monitor.  This allows you to view one screen whilst working on a second screen.  I would always recommend having an identical monitors so the size and brightness will be very similar and easier on the eyes.  To accommodate a second monitor it may be necessary to add a graphics card to your computer with a second output.  The cost of the graphics card is around £40 and with monitors around £100 each this can be a very productive upgrade for staff.

Backups

I have written several articles on backing up your data and I would recommend you take a look at the options available.  The only real advise I have to add on this article is make sure you back up in some way, shape or form.  If you are not keeping paper copies then you need to ensure that you have some record if the storage fails.

Help Me

Do you need some help in getting those final few thoughts together so you can move to paperless?  Why not give me a phone and discuss your plans and I will be very happy to give you some impartial advice based on doing this many times for clients over the last few years.

It would be great to get your view on this article and whether you see potential or problems from implementing paperless systems?

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