Flying Cars and the Paperless Office

By Jeff Shuey posted 03-01-2011 15:53


Which one will you see first?

Not so many years ago people were saying we’d have flying cars, phones without wires and a paperless office. Well, one out of three is not too bad … I guess.

How many of you believed the promise of a paperless office?

There’s nothing wrong with a vision for a paperless office. In fact, it’s quite noble. However, the reality is … paper will be here for a long time. And that’s OK. This is not just because I work for a company that makes scanners or that this is the industry I have been in for the past 20 years. It’s because paper serves a purpose.

The Comfort Factor

Paper is comfortable. 
Paper is predictable. Paper is Portable.

Paper has heft (some more than others), paper has physical dimensionality. You can touch it. You can wad it up and toss it. Try doing that with a pile of bits and bytes. There will always be some satisfaction in checking something off your to-do list … on a piece of paper. Kids, and perhaps more than a few adults, will pass the time making a paper football or a crumpled paper basketball game. Paper is comfortable.

The Future

Paper will continue to dwindle in use. As this happens the paper that “survives” will serve two opposite functions. One will be pure nostalgia (e.g The Book of Eli) and the other will be processes that take longer to convert to all electronic.

Future Processes

A few examples. Some processes are very slow to convert to all digital – Mortgage and Loan Processing is one area that is ready for the change. I’ve seen several attempts to convert the industry. So far, all have failed. Eventually Mortgage Loan Processing and Car Dealerships will go paperless.

The technology is certainly available – inexpensive collaboration tools and sites, digital signatures, and the hardware & software to support it. It’s just not cost effective yet. Or it’s not causing enough pain (i.e. cost – fines, lost business, compliance, etc.).

Survey Says

Who’s tired of the paper survey? Every event I go to … even events within the technology industry do all of their surveys on paper. I can think of a lot of reasons why --- portability, no login access required, easy to share your thoughts (sort of) and the ability to provide anonymous (candid) feedback.

The flip side of this is when the surveys are collected there is a painful and manual process of collating the feedback. Of course, in addition to people that don’t use a #2 pencil there are the ever present challenges of reading the persons handwriting (aka chicken scratch) too.

Questions for you …

  • Do you fill out paper surveys?
  • Would you provide more detailed feedback if the survey was electronic?
  • Do surveys need to be anonymous?

Paperless Tickets – The Good and the Bad

Some you will like and perhaps some you wont.

  • Airlines are Embracing Paperless
    • I use the paperless ticket option on United Airlines and Continental all the time. I like the portability. Sure, there are risks. What if my phone battery dies, what if I cannot access the internet when I need to pull up the site that has the barcode, what if the reader at the airport is malfunctioning. But these are minor to me.
  • Driving Infractions
    • No one wants to get a ticket, but to add insult to injury you need to take physical possession of the paper ticket as the officer hands it to you. Wait … this might be one for the wadded up basketball game. Would you rather receive the ticket in your inbox?

People Are Keeping Their Eyes on the Paperless Prize

The examples above are but a few of the processes that have not gone paperless and will take some time to do so. This is not all a bad thing. Ultimately people, governance and businesses will make the decision to go paperless.

What’s your favorite process
that still requires paper?

I’m a member of a LinkedIn group called The Paperless Office. I’m completely on-board with the idea of less paper. However, I’m also a realist. I expect some processes to move much faster than others. I also expect some people will always like the nostalgia of paper while others simply don’t have access to the necessary technology. The points I’m talking about here are related to industrialized nations. Paper will exist for a very long time in non-industrialized societies. That’s a topic for a different blog post.

As mentioned above the technology is available. There are inexpensive collaboration tools and sites, digital signatures, and the hardware & software exists to support the shift to a paperless office. The driving factors will the same factors that drive (or should drive) every business decision.

Companies will ask these three questions:

Will going paperless:

A) Reduce Costs

B) Improve Productivity

C) Maintain Compliance Efforts


What do you think?

What will we see first …

A flying car or a paperless office?

Drop me a line here in the comments or send me an e-mail or tweet me.

Image Credit: Hanna-Barbera


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