How to Become Paperless?

Authored by Paul Gorman, Account Executive at ImageSoft 

In 1997 I was the CIO for a State agency and I implemented my first Document Management System. It was an electronic file cabinet that allowed the agency to store documents about our program recipients in organized folders. This high-tech achievement was made possible by an amazing product called Windows 95. In reality the document management software was little more than a dressed-up version of Windows with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to disguise the fact that the recipient’s folders were actually just Windows folders. 

We needed the product because our ‘file room’ was misnamed. It was not a room anymore; more like a file building. We had file cabinets in every open area, along hallways, the break room, the file room itself was full. We even had warehouses where files were shipped when we thought we did not need them anymore. There was a Department in the agency that did nothing but move files and file cabinets around. If senior management got mad at you, they would transfer you to that Department as punishment. 

The reason for the paper overload in 1997 was missing technology. To avoid the paper, we needed the following technologies: 

  1. Shared repository with the system of record copy of every document
  2. A way to ingest electronic documents no matter how we received them  
  3. A way to save documents we created on Word, Excel, Autocad, etc… directly into the repository 
  4. A way to route electronic documents through our business process (besides email) 

Without this core technology functionality, databases and systems are just creating document and data silos and just making the search for information more complex and time consuming. Today I rarely encounter people who need to be sold on the value of eliminating paper from business processes. Instead I encounter agencies trying and often failing with paperless initiatives because the tactic they are using is missing one or more of the four key technologies described above. 

A quick aside:  A solution which only provides scanning is NOT going to help you go paperless. I should not have to point this out but in order for you to scan something you had to first receive paper. Receiving that paper is the problem. You also will not go paperless by scanning all of the documents your agency created going back to its founding in 1873. While there is a value in doing this, you need a strategy not just for your back file, you need a strategy to prevent the creation of paper going forward. 

A day forward strategy will require creating an institutional consensus in the value of achieving a paperless agency; and the value to the agency is immense. Imagine an agency with perfect knowledge of every process.  Agency processes are quick and knowledge workers can find any piece of information they need instantly to address constituent questions.  All agency programs and processes are electronically initiated by the constituents. Inspections, permits, licenses, site reviews, regulatory reviews are all paperless and stored in a single unified repository.  Constituents can look on-line through public records to find what they want without consuming agency staff time. 

The vision is enticing but getting buy-in is often the issue. In IT we have over promised and under-delivered for so long that often management is not buying what we are selling. If you can get an agency-wide initiative for paperless systems approved for your agency and buy-in from the stakeholders who will have to participate in the implementation you are a leader with awe-inspiring sales and leadership skills. If that seems like too large a lift for you, try scaling back to achieve your success in smaller increments. 

Here is some advice on where to start: 

  1. Start where you will get the most visibility in your agency.  For example, do not start on back office processes if they have limited visibility. If you can start in your agency program areas that is ideal. 
  2. Make sure that the solution you pick covers the four (4) key technologies discussed above. Getting the platform in place to allow you later to inexpensively expand the solutions you develop on the new platform. 
  3. Start small enough that you can get the budget you need. 
  4. Early in the process, after you have stood up the first solution; train an in-house staff to assume responsibility for developing new solutions. 

There are probably dozens of areas in your organization that fit these criteria. We humbly suggested seven quick wins for the IT agency in local government to quickly show the value of an ECM solution. No you will not be a paperless agency after implementing one of these, but management will start to listen to you if start showing value with these small wins!   Visit our website and look at some of the technologies that can be applied to help you achieve your vision. 

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