For individuals and businesses alike, waste reduction is not just a lifestyle or passing fad. It is a real investment in a cleaner, less polluting society. This involves the digitization of paper documents. In order for businesses to reduce their ecological footprint and become ecologically responsible, the paperless office challenge was born a few years ago thanks to companies willing to contribute to this movement.
The dematerialisation of documents in companies
Companies are increasingly adopting the ‘paperless office’ trend to reduce the use of paper within their offices as much as possible.
Going paperless provides both economic and ecological benefits for companies, for example, by reducing waste, printing costs and removing the process of archiving documents. Digitisation makes administrative processes more secure and fluid while allowing companies to save a significant amount of time, increasing both productivity and performance.
The concept of digitisation started in the 1980s with the development of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), allowing the automatic exchange of data between different computer systems, in electronic format and without human intervention. EDI is notably used in some countries for exchanges between companies and tax authorities.
Along with other advantages, this first form of dematerialisation enabled companies to increase productivity while reducing the risk of errors and the costs of manually processing requests. It prompted multiple new initiatives, extending the transition to a paperless office to all internal and/or external administrative procedures.
Dematerialisation encouraged by law
Electronic documents now have the same probative value as handwritten documents, subject to the conditions specified in Section 7C, Electronic Communications Act 2000:
“In any legal proceedings an electronic document shall be admissible in evidence in relation to any question as to the authenticity of an electronic transaction."
In other words, UK law now permits companies to digitize paper documents. It is now possible to create digital copies of handwritten originals, meaning anyone who wants to can digitize all handwritten documents such as contracts, invoices, newsletters, among others, and to archive them electronically.
Of course, the questions that follow are: How do we implement a paperless strategy… Where do we start?
Dematerialisation: where to start?
The digitization of all handwritten documents that can be digitized is the starting point when going paperless. The second step is to set up a Document Management System (DMS) allowing the different actors to find a specific document when necessary.
The electronic management of records is done by an Electronic Documents and Records Management System (EDRMS). For all documents that require a signature, the solution lies in the electronic signature. The electronic signature allows you to invite people to sign documents online in a secure manner, associating a legal value with the signed documents.
When implementing electronic signatures, it is strongly advised to use a software and/or hardware, or to partner with a third-party archiver that will carry out all the operations related to these documents, i.e. acquisition, digitization, validation, archiving, filing, etc.
The automated nature of this process makes the documents, their management and your operations more reliable and allows employees to devote their time to other tasks, increasing productivity. These automated processes also greatly reduce the risk of human-related omissions and errors.
Dematerialisation: Significant economic benefits
There are numerous advantages associated with the digitization of documents. Firstly, from an economic point of view, bear in mind that all printing costs will be eliminated. This includes the many units of paper used each month to print these documents, as well as the ink cartridges and printers. Printers are often very expensive and require regular maintenance to avoid breakdowns, malfunctions, etc.
Postage costs will also be eliminated by sending documents digitally, via e-mail or instant messaging.
Another significant source of savings is from the process of archiving paper documents. This process requires a lot of time and organization and therefore reduces productivity. The storage of these documents requires management, sorting and maintenance. It also requires space: one or more locations to store the documents as well as locations for printers, other machines and stocks of paper which are cumbersome and expensive. To put a figure on the amount of savings linked to archiving, studies have shown that, on average, a company devotes between 5% and 15% of its turnover to this process!
If we add to this to the time employees spend searching for physical documents, which might be mistakenly archived in the wrong folder or altered by time or other factors, the margin for savings is enormous.
Digitization is also synonymous with speed. While posting a document requires at least one if not several days from sending to the receipt, sending a document digitally is instantaneous. This saves time in the process and improves responsiveness.
Dematerialisation: Go green
Aside from the economic benefit, dematerialisation also a huge ecological impact. Global awareness is emerging about the preservation of our planet and its resources. Paper and all its uses are unquestionably harmful to the sustainable development of our planet, because of the resources and processes of transformation that it requires.
Here are some key figures to illustrate these points:
- One employee uses an average of 70kg of paper per year.
- One tonne of paper is equivalent to the deforestation of 17 trees, the consumption of 26,500 litres of water, 3 barrels of oil and 4,100 kilowatts of energy, as well as the production of 3 cubic metres of waste.
These figures are alarming, and all companies should take note. We can realistically assume that in a few years' time, various national and international regulations will emerge to penalise the consumption of paper, alike those applied to the automotive industry.
These advantages mean that the steps towards a paperless office is more than ever important and should be a commitment from all companies to fight against the waste of both time and resources. These solutions are entry points to going paperless, such as the implementation of a DMS, an EDRMS and/or the electronic signature of PDF files: three aspects of digitization that have both economic and environmental benefits.