In a previous blog post, I recounted the depressing reality that global paper usage is increasing and not decreasing. This is occurring despite all the amazing PDF technology that should have relegated paper-based forms to history many years ago. As mentioned in my article, dealing in physical paper is expensive, prone to fraud and wasteful.
Image courtesy of Samuel Mann
So why haven’t more businesses gone paperless? In my opinion, there are 3 big reasons:
1. Businesses are not equipped to deal exclusively in electronic documents
The first issue is the most obvious, and also the easiest to fix. In an office environment, there is an ingrained mentality upon receiving a form to immediately print it. This mentality is due to a few different issues:
- Office workers are generally unaware of the fact that one can sign a document electronically and that an electronic signature carries the same legal weight as a physical signature in most countries (including the US).
- The counterparty to the agreement often erroneously demands paper contracts and signatures, as they are unaware that electronic agreements are equally valid to paper agreements. This issue is surprisingly common.
- Most businesses do not have secure facilities to transport and store electronic documents. This is surprising considering the obvious cost savings of switching to digital documents instead of paper documents.
- Even if they are aware of electronic signing technology, few office workers are provided with an approved tool (such as Adobe Reader) for signing documents.
2. There is a lack of awareness surrounding the full costs of dealing in paper
The excuse to print a document at work is usually “oh, but I need to just this one time”, but data on user behavior does not match the excuse. The average US office worker prints 10,000 sheets of copy per year according to Mashable. The estimated costs from all this printing runs $600 to $1,300 per year, per employee. Even with a handful of employees, your organization’s printing costs will quickly spiral out of control.
In order to tackle this issue, many businesses now limit printing for employees. Yet they fail to provide electronic alternatives that would help employees perform their duties. No wonder workers are so frustrated over this issue!
Finally, the cost of printing is not the total cost of dealing in paper. Consider the following facts:
- Physical documents need to be stored securely (from theft, and disasters such as fire)
- Physical documents need to be archived properly (to enable searching for documents at a later date)
- Sensitive physical documents need to be transported securely (using registered mail, for example)
Adding up the incremental real estate costs, search costs (“now where did I store that employment agreement?”) and transportation costs results in many hidden costs that result from using paper. If you’re using paper in 2015, you’re wasting money!
3. The leading technologies powering the paperless office (HTML and PDF) aren’t that great
There’s no sugarcoating this issue: technologies designed to enable to paperless office (or even the paper-light office) aren’t that great. If they were, organizations would have abandoned paper many years ago as businesses are always looking to lower costs. While electronic solutions have taken hold in some industries (DocuSign is now the standard for most real estate deals in the US), most industries are still light years away from going paperless.
The obvious opportunity to help a broader swathe of organizations reduce their costs by eliminating paper usage is one of the reasons I founded PDF Pro. While PDF Pro still requires many more features to fully replace paper, clients who have adopted our product have been able to reduce their day-to-day paper usage substantially. I’m happy to be part of the paperless journey!