The Future Imagined… Why Go Paperless

In the future imagined back in 1975, we would have computer screens that allow us to read our mail, interact with people and systems, access reports and run processes. The result, it was thought, was that paper would go away. Although it hasn't happened yet, it can and should. Not only would eliminating the reliance on paper have a positive effect on trees, landfills and identity theft, the cost savings are enormous.

Digital Signatures

One of the largest impediments to going paperless is the need for ink or 'wet' signatures on paper. A wet signature has been ingrained in our society and culture for hundreds of years as the way to verify that someone is committed to the transaction written on the paper. Actually we've been performing digital signatures for a long time. Electronic contracts were being accepted electronically over 100 years ago via morse code and gained wider adoption in the 80's when business began being conducted via fax.
Although electronic and digital signatures were approved with the ESIGN Act by US President Bill Clinton on June 30, 2000 (25 years after "paperless office" was coined), many people continue to view electronic signatures with reluctance. By law, electronic signatures must be accepted:

ESIGN Act Definition

"A contract relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because an electronic signature or electronic record was used in its formation."
Electronic signatures are possible to use directly with electronic documents in multiple forms including signatures that resemble physical signatures, encrypted keys that represent a specific person and trust authorities who host public key infrastructures (PKI). It's not important to understand all the different signature technologies, rather, it is more important to understand that signatures can be obtained electronically and the paper form can be eliminated altogether. Digital signatures were the last legal hurdle to going paperless and that obstacle was overcome in the year 2000.
The benefit of electronic and digital signatures is the speed in which a transaction can now be accomplished. Instead of waiting days for physical documents to ship, documents can be signed online and returned immediately.

Cost Savings

Have you heard that it costs $25,000 to fill a filing cabinet and $2,100 per year to maintain it? Did you know that rejecting a document based on poor penmanship, missing information or missing pages costs an average of $75? Or that filling out just 5 pages of forms per day costs an average of $12,000 per year (at $25 per hour or $40,000 salary)?
Sure automating 80% of a process probably saves a company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, but the remaining 20% may be hiding even higher costs depending on the number of people who are still filling out the forms. Even 10 people filling out forms could be costing a company $120,000 or more per year in labor costs alone.

Revenue Enhancements

What would you do with 10% to 30% more time? What would your sales team, service team, operations staff, etc. do with that much more time? Ultimately, your company could spend more time generating revenue (or lower other costs and improve profit). A 10% to 30% increase in revenue would improve every business while simultaneously lowering costs and improving moral with those who fill out forms.

Estimating Your Revenue Enhancement

You can quickly estimate what this is worth to your company by dividing your total revenue by the number of people in your firm to get your average revenue per employee. Then multiply that number times 10% to get the amount of revenue you'll generate for each person who fills out forms in your company.

If Saving Trees Were The Only Benefit

It seems that every company wants to be more eco-friendly and reduce their carbon footprint. Going paperless can help in many ways:

  1. No more printing. One tree yields 8,333 sheets of paper which means 10 people filling out 5 pages per day will save 1.5 trees per year.
  2. Less waste. Less printing means less toner, ink and paper. It also means less transportation, fewer chemical bi-products in the production of toner and less material filling landfills.
  3. Less shipping. If you eliminate paper by using electronic means to complete and sign the paperwork there is no longer a need to ship the document, saving fuel and labor costs.

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