Why paper isn’t going away anytime soon

A recent CIO article examines why paper documents still exist in the workplace—and why certain trends may actually increase our reliance on printing and scanning.
business man throwing paper in the air

The Internet, cloud-based tools, mobile devices and other technologies are all transforming many traditional forms of communication into digital media. This, in turn, reduces the amount of paperwork and printing that occurs in most companies today.

Clearly, it’s a positive trend, but it turns out that we have quite a way to go before paper is truly a thing of the past. For example, a recent CIO article cites research from Wakefield Research and InfoTrends that shows that:

Clearly, even with so many digital tools in the workplace, many of us still rely on printers, scanners, and even fax machines to get work done each day, producing an environment where most companies use a hybrid approach to managing digital and paper documents.

Why is this? According to InfoTrends, there are two different categories for printing, scanning and archiving – and neither are going anywhere fast. The first is “in the moment printing,” where we tend to print documents to share spontaneous ideas other ad hoc paper communications. The other category is more “transactional” processes where certain departments, such as HR, finance or legal tend to use printing and scanning as part of their daily workflows. Examples of this would include printing new hire information, scanning purchase orders or printing new contracts.

There may be another reason, too. According to the article, it’s because paper still remains as the universal—and the most familiar—way to conduct “business as usual.” Ken Weilerstein, research vice president at Gartner provides more insight: “Paper is portable, universal and a familiar way to share and annotate documents. It is easier to read long documents on paper than on-screen.” Weilerstein also points out that paper is still universally accepted as valid for contracts, and that signatures on paper are still accepted to a greater degree than any sort of digital signature.

Finally—and in an interesting twist—the article points to the proliferation of mobile devices as a trend that increases our reliance on printing and scanning. This is because employees need a way to move documents so they are accessible on their mobile devices. For example, sale professionals need to scan PowerPoint presentations so they can use them on an iPad or have client forms available on their phone. All of this has increased the need to digitise documents.

Where do we go from here?

The article suggests that many companies are going with a “paperless light” concept where internal processes are mostly paperless, but external processes can still involve scanning and printing processes. For example, companies utilising document capture solutions to help transform paper documents into digital versions and feed existing workflows. Achieving the right balance between paper and digital document management processes isn’t just about reducing paper; it increases productivity, reduces costs and provides a new competitive edge.

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