Why can’t we let go of paper?
By Cássio Vaquero January 6, 2016
- While we’re in the age of digital information, the problem of paper is still binding
- Businesses need to marry digital and physical information efficiently
DID you know, that human brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts?
The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.
The tactile experience of a book aids this process, from the thickness of the pages in your hands as you progress through the story to the placement of a word on the page.
#Fact: Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway's Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”
#FunFact: 45% of the documents scanned today, were born digital.
In today’s day and age, multiple books can be downloaded and read on a single e-reader. In many parts of the world, people can now travel cashless with solutions such as Uber, Visa payWave, digital wallets, and a myriad of mobile payment apps.
With the increase of digital information and conveniences, the need for paper seems to be waning.
But is it really? Have we fully made the leap to a paperless society?
The answer is ‘no.’
Behind the sleek shiny counters of banks, hospitals, retail and customer-service outlets, it is no surprise to find a room full of stacked papers documenting transactions, loan agreements, medical health records, legal documents, etc.
While we’re in the age of digital information, the problem of paper is still binding.
As new non-paper inputs are coming into the organisation (think emails with or without PDF attachments, for instance), we almost by default still print and thus convert them to paper. Notes are scribbled on these printouts, sometimes endorsed with signatures, and then scanned into soft copies.
In fact, it is estimated that 45% of the documents that are scanned are born digital.
While organisations are moving towards making information more fluid and are increasingly hosting digital data in the cloud, we cannot stray from the fact that data is still streaming in from various sources, especially paper.
Only 36% of organisations are making significant progress towards paper-free processes. Businesses cannot fully let go of paper.
Why we can’t let go
1) Signature security
One of the traditional areas for paper use is collecting signatures. Approvals on official documents come with stamps and authorised signatories that need to be accurately scanned to create digital copies.
Many businesses are trying to make the shift from handwritten signatures to e-signatures. In an AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) survey, 79% agree that they should have an e-signature mechanism.
However many are still unable to do this – 56% still use paper for signatures – and hence are reducing their efficiency by requiring handwritten signatures on digital documents.
There is technology enabling secure e-signatures; however adoption, especially in the Asia Pacific region, is slow.
As progressive as businesses are becoming, certain documents still need to be legally kept in paper/ physical format.
Our personal identification cards, driver’s licence, legal case files and court documents, health records, are some key documents that are recorded on paper and scanned for digital records.
However, they have yet to make a full shift to being recorded digitally. Till then, organisations need to religiously create digital copies. Paper documentation remains a necessity for legislature proceedings.
3) Digital data indigestion
It is not that businesses are not receptive to new technology, but it’s just that old habits just die hard.
Taking notes on a printout and authorised signatories on physical documents give individuals greater assurance, and people and organisations will continue to do so for quite a while.
The problem lies not in the digital media itself — how it’s processed or stored, or any other of its qualities. The problem lies in how we consume it and interact with it. The problem is the interface. It is a personal preference.
Whether the ‘paperless office’ will become a reality is a hot topic, but until there is a 100% shift to digital records, data from multiple physical and digital sources need to be merged and placed in the cloud for ease of access, categorisation and information management.
How we can cope
1) Know your paper policy
Organisations need to understand legislations and optimise work executed within legal boundaries.
The information from these paper documentations tend to be essential and confidential, and need to be accurately scanned, to be properly reflected in digital copies for categorisation and management.
Having a centralised information management system further improves traceability and compliance.
Improved data capture quality incorporated into downstream processes further facilitates process standardisation, regulatory compliance and security by creating the same transactional audit trails and controlling access only to authorised personal.
2) Ensure high quality capture
Poor data quality as a result of incorrect, missing, or duplicate data costs businesses on average US$14.2 million annually.
One way to ensure the accuracy of data is to leverage optical character recognition (OCR) technology that can capture, index and eliminate data entry fails from the start. This transforms scanned material into fully searchable electronic documents.
To achieve the full benefits of distributed capture, additional browser-based capture applications can further simplify and increase efficiency of information management. A browser-based interface allows every workstation in the office to be connected to scanning solutions.
3) Cut to the chase
Real-time response is the norm and expected of organisations across banks, retail outlets, healthcare services, and even within the government sector.
A common thread across these organisations, is that customer information sits both in physical forms and digitally through online systems. Organisations need to find the fastest most efficient route to optimise the processing of data, and to smoothen information management workflow.
Accurate scanning with OCR technology is a start, minimising time required for rescanning errors.
Automated categorisation of information through machine learning is another key technology that saves organisations huge amounts of time and further minimises entry errors that are common with manual entry.
Once information is on a centralised system, staff need to be able to readily and easily access information in order to provide real-time response and enhance customer service levels.
Despite improvements in technology, it is not easy letting go of paper. While technology is making progressive steps towards paperless offices, businesses still heavily rely on paper.
Therefore, businesses need to manage paper in order to manage and marry digital and physical information in the most efficient way possible.
Cássio Vaquero is the Asia Pacific and Latin America regional director of the Information Management division of Kodak Alaris.
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