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Danny James

A Calgary based technophile that loves nothing more than automating processes with technology.

Paperless Safe

Is Going Paperless Safe?

Going paperless has a great number of benefits, ranging from cutting down on clutter to enhanced efficiency in the workplace. But one question remains – is it safe?

What happens to sensitive and confidential documentation? Will such information be 100% secured if you decide to ditch paper once and for all?

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Going Paperless

Paperless offices can expect a number of benefits including:

  • Reduced expenses
  • Easy accessibility and retrieval of documents
  • Time savings
  • Improved communication and customer service
  • More efficient audits
  • Environmental friendliness

So, with all these benefits, why are so many companies still heavily relying on paper? Research has shown that many companies feel restricted by the ‘legal obligation to maintain hard copy records’.

However, the possibility of legal issues is not the only concern. Here are the other most common fears that prevent companies from taking the paperless plunge:

  • Initial upfront costs and difficulties digitalizing the original documents
  • Security issues, malware, and viruses
  • Change Management

Copying machines and printers are still regarded as crucial office equipment. We’ve been using them for decades and, considering that we’re creatures of habit, it’s hard for us to switch to something entirely new. As a result, the paper continues piling up.

The process of going paperless is actually quite simple and can be completed in only 4 easy steps: 

  • Scan your documents
  • Organize them in digital files with suitable, clear names so you can easily find them
  • Store these files in folders
  • Once you’re done, shred the original paper documents.

However, the security issues are far more concerning. Are digitalized documents a more secure way of keeping data or should you stick to locking your filing cabinets?

Going Paperless and Staying Safe

Research has shown that 47% of respondents think that paper negatively impacts on security and trust. The biggest security issue is in the fact that any document can be easily copied without being tracked.

Sensitive information like health information, accounting files, or tax records, needs to be safe at all times. Having these documents digitalized can be perfectly safe, probably even safer than keeping hard copies that could easily get lost.

But in order to be 100% sure that everything is secured, there are a couple of important factors to take into consideration:

When storing sensitive documents in a digital form, make sure they’re encrypted.

When you keep hard copies of documents, it’s harder to control who has access to them. Every employee that gets access to the company’s filing system can look at any document, which imposes a great privacy issue.

Using a cloud or DMS storage enables you to restrict the number of people who have access to certain documents. These systems offer different levels of access, enabling you to prevent copying, deleting, or printing of data.

There are special encryption features you can have installed on your computer. In addition, you’ll need to encrypt all the external drives you’re using for storage and backups.

Make sure to back up the documents, if possible more than once.

In order to make sure you won’t lose any data in case of system failures or any other defects, you should make backups of your documents to multiple locations by using special software solutions. Have one backup at the office, and one at home or on another off-site location.

Storing your documents on a cloud-based system such as Dropbox or iCloud offers a number of benefits:

  • Your documents are automatically encrypted;
  • You can access the documents from different devices, wherever you are and at any time of the day. This is especially important for those working remotely like freelancers or salespeople;
  • You will no longer depend on complicated backups performed by your IT department;
  • If your computers crash, or a document goes missing for some reason, or even if your company building burns down, your data will be safe.
  • Every change you make in the documents is saved automatically and can be seen in all locations without the need to make copies. This spares you the standard filing conversion and simplifies retrieval;
  • Having a document management system (DMS) means limitless storage and you no longer need to worry about space. In general, files take up little space – a whole year of documents can be ‘packed’ in only 100MB, which makes 1GB for 10 years of business!

In Conclusion

Saying goodbye to paper is a huge step but if you’re persistent enough, you’ll soon realize it’s worth it. Sure, scanning everything may take some time but once you’re done, you’ll be able to work out a day-to-day scanning and filing system that will enable your company to start saving money and be more productive.

As far as data safety is concerned, the bottom line is, when implemented correctly, a paperless office system allows more control over your documents, instant backups, as well as better data security.

Are we using too much paper?

Are We Using Too Much Paper?

Even though we live in an electronic age, the consumption of paper worldwide remains surprisingly high. In fact, the demand for paper is expected to double by 2030.

People and companies are beginning to go paperless, but paper is still all around us – packages, books, newspapers, wrappings… Once a rare material, today paper floods our planet and (sadly) humans are still totally dependent on it!

How Much Paper Do We Use Globally?

In 2014, paper production on a global level was more than 405 million metric tons. The largest part of this was paper packaging and cardboard, while the rest was writing and printing paper, which is commonly used in offices and schools. 

The largest paper consumer in the world is China, with over 100 million metric tons a year, followed by the USA and Japan. These 3 countries alone produce 50% of the worlds paper!

Paper Consumption in the United States

The United States consumes more than 208 million tons of paper annually. In the last two decades, paper consumption has increased by more than 125%

With each individual consuming 487 lb. paper per year, the paper consumption per capita in the United States is the highest in the world. Just for comparison, the average per capita paper consumption worldwide is 125 lb. This means that the United States consumes 30% of the world’s paper annually.

In the Office

One office worker uses an average of 10.000 sheets of copy paper per year, or a total of 12 trillion sheets per year, out of which almost half ends up in the trash.

Companies in the US spend over 120 billion dollars on printed forms per year. Most of these forms will be outdated in a period of 3 months. 

Environmental Impacts of Using so Much Paper

Deforestation

The production of paper requires cutting trees. In the USA, the number of trees cut down for this purpose is about 68 million a year. On a global level, almost 15% of the total wood harvested is used to produce paper. 

This means paper production is one of the main causes of deforestation, the second largest factor for climate change.

In addition, the process of producing paper also requires great amounts of water. To be more precise, a single A4 sheet of paper requires 10 pints of water!

Paper pollution 

Another serious problem caused by our mindless use of paper is pollution. Paper makes up about 25% of landfill waste and one-third of the total trash in households. 

The use of chlorine bleaches in the production process makes paper the third biggest polluter of water, soil, and air! Finally, when paper starts rotting, it releases methane, a gas more dangerous than carbon dioxide!

Can We Avoid Using Paper?

Considering that a single tree produces enough oxygen for three people and that trees protect our planet from global warming, we can’t help but wonder – is paper really worth destroying life-saving trees? 

People are only just beginning to understand what the use of paper actually means for our environment and have started developing solutions to reduce waste and pollution. 

Recycling 

Recycling one ton of paper saves about 17 trees, 6.600 gallons of water, and more than 680 gallons of oil.

The good news is that many paper-production companies in the United States have modified the process of paper production in order to decrease the emissions of cancer-causing dioxins. 

Moreover, a number of paper-production companies have also focused on alternative paper sources such as fibre crops, agricultural residues, and textiles in order to avoid cutting down trees. 

Each individual can also contribute to paper recycling. 

Here is what you can do:

  • Start by recycling all the paper waste in your household and in the office. 
  • Avoid using disposable paper plates and cups.
  • Exercise your power as a consumer by supporting companies with environment-friendly products and boycotting brands that are cutting down forests to make their products. 
  • Try to buy 100% recycled and chlorine-free paper products and materials.
  • In the office, try to use email in the communication with colleagues and customers whenever possible.
  • Keep all your files, documents, and notes on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or computer.

Going paperless

Let’s look at this problem from another perspective – the use of paper can seriously affect your efficiency in the workplace:

  • A typical office worker spends between 30% and 40% of their time looking for documents kept in filing cabinets.
  • If there were a catastrophe such as a flood or fire, about 70% of businesses would fail in a period of three weeks!

If you go paperless, losing valuable information will no longer be an issue. In addition, all your documents will be stored, indexed, and well-organized, making it easy to access, retrieve, share, or email all your documents anytime and anywhere. 

You can read more about your company surviving the paperless transition here. 

Mac Desk

What does it mean to be a Paperless Company?

I get asked this question a lot, and my first response is usually the same question, directed back to them. Sometimes, depending on the person asking the question, the answer will change. However, 90% of people will have the same answer, in some form of variation.

The answer will usually go something like this – 

“A paperless company is one that minimizes the use of paper to help the environment”.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this answer, and helping the environment anyway you or your company can is always a great idea! I, however, answer it a little differently. 

To me a Paperless Company is one that is data secure, agile and extremely productive. 

Sounds a little more suave, right? But what does being paperless have to do with being agile, data secure, or even productive? Let’s chat about it. 

Is your company quick on its feet? Can your company adapt to changes three minutes before a meeting?

It’s funny, but transitioning to a paperless environment can actually make your company much more nimble, alert and fight ready. What do I mean by this? Being agile basically means you have the ability to adapt to changes as and when the business needs. Let’s say you’re heading to a meeting with a client, but five minutes before that meeting the leadership you are seeing changes. You’re no longer sitting down with the VP of Sales, Maxine. You’re now sitting down with COO, Bert for this meeting. 

Let’s say your paper presentation has been adopted to include Maxine’s name to help seal the deal. Now what? You scribble Maxine’s name out and replace it with Bert’s? That’s not very professional, is it? However, what if your presentation was being delivered digitally? You got it! Head in to the keynote, make the necessary changes, and voila. Bert, is none the wiser! If anything, Bert will be even more impressed that his name has been included at such short notice.

This process being paperless has ensured that the company delivering the presentation can make quick edits on the fly to ensure a successful meeting takes place. This is the definition of being agile! Being paperless and agile in this instance could be the difference between Q3 profits vs Q3 losses.

You have to remember employees are people, and people are susceptible to making mistakes. And boy do we people make a lot of mistakes. In fact, we read these headlines all the time.

“Employee leaves confidential information on city bus”.

Consumer data is gold. It’s been this way for some time, and consumer data is only becoming more priceless. Facebook wants it, Google needs it, and the government is losing it. Data is the new money! Protecting, and ensuring your customer data doesn’t get in to the wrong hands is paramount for any business dealing with personal information. Laws are changing, and people are becoming smarter about who has access to their information, and what they are allowed to do with it.

Take an old accounting firm for example, one that hasn’t transitioned digitally. Where do they store all of their customers tax returns? Where do they keep all the books for their largest contracts? Right… in boxes down the hallway in that empty office to the left. You know, the one with the vacuum in that the cleaners use nightly. Once a month though they’ll ensure document safety by moving those boxes to a storage facility. Ludicrous, right? Don’t be shocked when I inform you that over 55% of companies still store customers personal information this way.

Do not presume this is down to cost savings either. Cost is actually one of the least impacting variables when it comes to technology decisions. The biggest issue is change management! People get stuck in their ways, and go by the old saying, if it’s not broken, why fix it? Going paperless in this instance would not only free up office space to hire a new person. But would also ensure that their customer information is safely secured in a private cloud, rather than in boxes accessible to the building cleaner every night. 

I once worked for a company that required four signatures before you could action any change. Sound crazy? Actually though, it’s a really smart process! Safe, but somewhat annoying when you have to track down all four parties; in four feet of snow. Streamlining this process with technology will maintain the safety aspect of the process, alongside freeing up the employees time gathering these autographs.

Remember that accounting firm from a moment ago? What happens when they need to retrieve a document from three years past? What’s the process for retrieving a clients files for the previous seven years? You’re all with me on this one right? The accountants will have to head to their secure offsite storage facility to retrieve those documents. Talk about inefficient. Being a paperless company here would be extremely time friendly for the clients of these accountants. It would also make the accounting firm much more productive in a sense of time saved. 

In fact, productivity is probably my number one reason for guiding businesses paperless. The time saved by removing physical paper from an environment can be astronomical. And nothing makes management happier than their employees gaining access to more time. Once upon a time, business deals would take weeks to finalize. Now they can be completed 30,000 feet in the air.

You can read more about the digital world and your company here. 

However, if I were to ask, what does it mean to be a paperless company now? How will you answer it?

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