So where is this paperless office I have been hearing about for the past 20 years?

All the “experts” and “people in the know” said paper would be gone by 2010.

So what happened?

I’m part of the digital industry. I help people move from paper documents to digital documents. I build office workflows that don’t rely on the movement of paper. Instead, I replace paper with electronic documents and electronic movement.

Digital is the way to go. It’s cheaper, more efficient, and the trees are on board.

So why are we still using paper then?

As someone who knows a bit about this phenomena, I can tell you the four areas that need to change,  if we ever want to go truly digital.

High Schools and Colleges – believe it or not, there are still bastions of education that promote the paper world. Teachers and professors still hand out syllabi as paper documents, assign coursework that needs to be turned in on paper, and administer tests on paper.

But why?

Imagine a professor assigning a term paper by simply creating the necessary instructions in Word and emailing it to his students. Once a student has completed his paper, he simply emails it back to the professor.

When the completed paper arrives at the professor’s office, it is logged in and stored electronically. The professor can then grade it, online of course, and email it back to the student. Meanwhile the student’s original paper, graded paper, and grade are all stored in a database for future retrieval. The grade has even been calculated into the student’s current course grade, as well as the metrics and curves for the entire class.

It’s a no brainer.

The Workplace – Every office has at least one copier, and God knows how many printers. In fact, in most offices, having a printer on your desk is a sign of power – it means you’re important .

But are so many printers necessary?

Not really. These days, close to 60% of correspondence is via email. The biggest foot-draggers are the people and industries who charge for paper, like lawyers, insurance companies, and banks. Charging for items like printed information, faxes, and copy fees add quite a bit of money to the bottom lines of these industries.

They won’t give up this practice anytime soon.

Receipts – At this point in time, just about everyone has a computer or an email address. There is no reason to print out receipts any longer. Your receipt can simply be emailed to you, and stored on your computer. If someone at Best Buy needs to see your receipt, you can show them a copy on your phone, or email it to them.

If you’ve been to an Apple Store recently, you know an electronic receipt is an option. And Apple does it perfectly. You sign a digital pad, and the receipt is emailed to you. It’s that fast and that easy.

Checks – Who the hell uses checks anymore? You can use a credit card or a debit card or even PayPal. There is no reason to write or carry checks any longer. In fact, it’s safer to carry a credit card than a check. Plus, you can pay almost all your bills online anyway.

So why do you carry checks?

I still cringe when people pull out the checkbook at the market. I cringe even more when they fill out the check AFTER everything has been rung up.

Holy crap! Fill out the damn check while you’re standing in line, then all you have to do is fill in the amount.

Sadly, people don’t like change and it takes a great deal of effort to change them.

Once we address the four items above though, we might actually make progress toward a paper-free world.

Written by stevemargolis

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