The paperless office: A 2016 enterprise resolution?

As the backlog of post-holiday admin is digested in workplaces around the globe and the pace of 2016 begins to intensify, now is probably as good a time as any to look around your desk and see how much paper is stacked nearby. If you are like one of the three in four UK businesses surveyed by enterprise information management (EIM) provider M-Files, the answer is probably a lot.

According to the report, 77% of the 400 small businesses questioned by M-Files and the Sage Small Business Panel say they still store and manage paper records. One in five (19%) say they keep all records on a hard copy.

The move towards a completely paperless office has been long foretold and, for the time being, summarily dismissed. The amount of mobile technology pervading the enterprise continues at pace – recent industry figures suggest the global enterprise mobility market is set to hit $500bn in value by 2020 – but the question of paper-free working environments is more one of people than technology.

In some cases, however, it can be modified. When Amsterdam Airport Schiphol moved to a BYOD program in 2014, the presence of tablets and smartphones in meetings instead of the trusted notebook and papers did contribute to a change of employee mindset. Printing levels went down by 80% as a result.

Improving business process and enhancing operational efficiency was cited by 83% of respondents as the main reason for storing documents electronically – and this is key, as Julian Cook, M-Files director of UK business explains. “The transition from paper to electronic document management has not solved the issue of being able to quickly find the documents we need,” he says. “All too often companies have just migrated their existing paper filing systems into digital form, and as a result are still suffering from the same drags on productivity.”

The security piece is also of importance, according to Simon Allen, digital services manager at information management provider Crown Records Management. For organisations to reduce their paper output in 2016, he argues that developing a retention policy, shredding unwanted information securely, and digitising information which is rarely used but legally needs to be kept, either off site or in the cloud, is key. 95% of respondents in the M-Files survey said their business needed to keep documents securely for several years because of regulatory reasons.

So can the paperless office happen in 2016? Cook says: “The research clearly shows that UK businesses are more than aware of the productivity gains that can be made by migrating to an electronic format. They are constantly facing pressure to improve efficiencies, optimise business processes, ensure compliance and reduce cost.

“The challenge for many is to cut their dependency on legacy paper-based processes and deliver real business transformation.”