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BLOG: The promise of the paperless office

Von Chan | April 24, 2013
Predictions about the demise of paper in the office environment came and went, but the clamour for less paper use has grown louder. Are we there yet?

Predictions about the demise of paper in the office environment came and went, but the clamour for less paper use has grown louder. Are we there yet?

The use of paper in business for records and correspondence will start declining within five years, and become entirely redundant in 10. This was the bold claim that appeared in the 1975 edition of BusinessWeek where the paperless office concept was first introduced.

Since then, the conversation has moved on. The focus on cloud computing, enterprise mobility, and collaboration tools have done much to educate the market on what a digital world is, and some of the business benefits that it can bring. Despite these technological improvements, studies have shown that the use of office paper is at an all-time high with the worldwide use of office paper doubling between 1980 and 2000.

For me, all these data and points of view throw up an interesting point—how close are we to the promise of the paperless office and will it ever become a reality?

The technologies
According to a recent study by IDC, enterprise mobility spend in Asia-Pacific excluding Japan, is set to hit $6.8 billion in 2013, one of the highest in the world. In addition, the enterprise mobility market has been attracting attention from companies, such as IBM, which has pledged to double its investment in mobile in 2013 compared to 2012. Another key trend, cloud computing, is projected to grow 18.5 percent in 2013 to reach a total of $131 billion worldwide, according to Gartner. In addition to these trends, collaboration tools, such as Google Documents, Dropbox and other file-sharing sites are gaining inroads into the enterprise space.

Companies are now relying on cloud apps like Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint to store content. Whilst the take up is not as strongly or quickly received by businesses, it is becoming a growing preference to engage in technologies to collaborate on information. The promise of a paperless office has long since been re-prioritised to cater to real needs and preference of businesses.

With the momentum and advent of these technologies, the immediate assumption is that printing documents or sending messages on paper should be on the verge of extinction. However, the paperless office has seen little or no significant traction which begs the question of where the disconnect between the advancements in technologies and the promise of the paperless office lies.

Perhaps the real reason businesses are not rushing into the paperless office is good old-fashioned common sense. If one considers the downtime, manpower, and expenses involved in migrating and archiving all existing hardcopy documents, it is not that businesses are not embracing the paperless concept; rather their priority is to adopt and integrate key technologies with the aim of streamlining business processes and reduce operational costs.


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