In his excellent article IBM's pragmatic solution to migrating and managing paper based information, Bill Motram presents a mind-blowing reality. Nearly 10 years into the 21st Century, in an era when everybody uses computers daily, when many normal people carry more computational power in their pockets in the form of smartphones and PDAs than the first digital computer, Eniac, had in a huge room only 63 years ago, the volume of paper in business is so huge that just its storage is a $52 billion business. Twenty-five years after the Paperless Office demonstration at the Watergate in Washington, DC, large companies and government agencies are actually printing out their emails and then later scanning them back in for archiving. And the amount of paper generated every year is growing, not shrinking.
And apparently IBM's answer to this is to help businesses “manage” this paper. Manage it – get rid of it!
Personally this whole situation frosts me. I have long moved away from paper to the extent that the computer I use for all my personal and work activities, that I am writing this on, is not even connected to a printer. I print a total of about 10 pages a year, and that has been steady for at least 10 years. But beyond my personal preferences, all that paper costs companies a lot of money, to the extent that we could mitigate the present financial mess and make a significant contribution to saving the planet if we could get everyone off paper. Some of these costs include:
- The cost of reams of printer paper, printer cartridges, and the printers themselves.
- The time employees waste going to and from the printer, waiting for the document to print, and then sorting, searching, filing, etc., all by hand.
- The inefficiencies in business processes that require handling paper, passing paper around, filing, etc.
- The huge waste of time of searching for some piece of paper with vital information that, if it were digitized, could be found in seconds with a simple search.
- The storage of all that paper.
- Disposal of those reams of paper when they are no longer needed.
- The grave security risks of keeping sensitive information on paper which can easily be lost, destroyed in a fire, shredded by a mouse for next material, left in a public place where anyone could read it, etc.
From the ecological standpoint the costs include:
- The impact of cutting down huge numbers of trees annually.
- The notorious pollution issues involved in the paper manufacturing.
- The carbon footprint of all the transportation involved in moving logs and the paper made from them from place to place.
- The energy and chemical pollution costs of making the printers, paper, and ink, and of course of printing, itself.
- The problems of disposing of huge amounts of used printer paper, supplies, and worn out printers.
These costs are so huge that CIOs who want to have positive impacts on both their enterprises and the world ecology will do well to focus on eliminating paper from corporate operations. The problem is that humans are notoriously resistant to change, even when the change is obviously beneficial to them personally. Getting organizations off paper requires much more than an interoffice memo. Here are some suggested strategies:
- Develop a set of estimated costs of the organization's paper addiction and present these to senior and line-of-business management. As part of this, definitely develop an “elevator speech” synopsizing your arguments is a two-minute talk.
- Set a good example. Make the ITO paperless and then give business leaders tours to show how eliminating paper has boosted efficiency and saved operating expenses.
- Charge functional units in the organization for the cost of the printers, paper, and ink they use.
- Once senior management is on board, have them enforce corporate policies making requiring specific justification for any printing. Top down is the way to go with any enterprise-wide change as everyone wants to please their boss.
- Create a campaign with posters and giveaways to educate enterprise employees to avoid using paper.
- Redesign operational procedures throughout the enterprise to take advantage of the efficiencies provided by the elimination of paper.
- Cut back on the number of printers and move them to inconvenient locations.
Action Item: Work with senior and functional division management to eliminate paper from enterprise operations to save both money and world ecology.