Go green, go paperless Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

For businesses considering new ways to “go green”— and today many organizations are looking for ways to reduce their footprint for ecological and economic reasons — one of the main culprits organizations identify during a waste audit is plain-and-simple paper.

Consider how much paper we use daily, how many file cabinets are jammed with invoices, purchase orders, financial records, internal communications and more. The paper amassed while conducting business is daunting. Even more overwhelming is spear-heading an effort to go paperless. But the process doesn’t have to be that way.

“Business owners that create a road map to go paperless and break their strategy down into manageable phases can accomplish their goals for going green,” says Sassan Hejazi, director of technology solutions at Kreischer Miller.

Hejazi talked to Smart Business about how to launch a paperless strategy and why this green effort is good for the bottom line.

What issues should businesses consider as they develop a paperless strategy?

Many elements come into play when an organization embarks on a paperless plan. First, there are decisions regarding what elements of the business will go paperless — and what areas can go paperless in light of regulatory requirements, such as IRS and HIPAA, for record access and retention. There is also investment in software and equipment required to accomplish the process, though the greatest investment is time. Managers must start the project by learning about various paper-intensive processes through asking who, what, when, where, why and how. Who else does the organization interact with to conduct business, and how will the paperless effort affect other entities, such as suppliers or vendors? What aspects of the business should be addressed for converting paper to electronic files? When will paperless efforts ‘kick off’? Where can the greatest efficiency and return on investment be realized? Why go paperless — what are the goals? How much paper will be converted to electronic files? How will the company integrate and implement an information access and retrieval process involving electronic and paper documents?

Answers to these questions are key in structuring the paperless road map and developing buy-in from employees who will help with the effort.

How can a paperless effort be effectively orchestrated?

Many companies find it valuable to enlist an adviser to manage the paperless process. First, bringing a professional on board is one way of committing to the strategy and getting the ball rolling. Companies can get stuck in the midst of the process because other business priorities derail paperless efforts. An adviser with experience in going paperless can recommend software and equipment to make the job easier and help engineer a paperless process that makes sense for the business. Going paperless is a collaborative effort that requires buy-in and support from everyone in the organization. It helps to have a third party leading the effort who has not been ‘living’ in the paperwork for years. Someone from the outside has an objective view of the waste stream and may come to the table with a different perspective to give the project momentum.

What is generally the first phase businesses tackle in their efforts to go paperless?

Once a company designs a road map of target conversion areas of the business, the best approach is to isolate one goal — one part of the organization to transfer that is manageable and will yield high success. For instance, if a company has been sending paper invoices to customers, converting this portion of the business to electronic invoicing will speed up the accounts receivable process, which will affect cash flow. Take baby steps and measure the results of each paperless effort. Celebrate these successes and share with employees how their contributions are helping the business at-large. Treat the paperless process like a checklist, starting with goals that can be accomplished in reasonable time. Build a high level of excitement in the organization that will set the stage for other phases of the project.

What are some key areas that realize efficiency once a paperless program is implemented?

Consider business transactions currently managed ‘on paper’ and how they affect efficiency, profitability and, ultimately, the bottom line. Go paperless in areas of the business that will help you:

  1. speed up cash flow;
  2. reduce the number of hands touching a document;
  3. aid in employees’ access to critical information;
  4. improve inventory accuracy and efficiency; and
  5. ease vendor, customer and internal communications. Ultimately, going paperless can change the way an organization makes long-term business decisions. Information is easily shared electronically in support of a more collaborative and proactive decision-making process.

 

A paperless organization improves efficiency, visibility of key performance information and can even jump-start lagging cash flow by shaving days or weeks off of the billing cycle. In this economy, the flexibility to invoice, receive payments and communicate information with customers with the click of a button is critical.

SASSAN HEJAZI is director of technology solutions at Kreischer Miller, Horsham, Pa. and faculty of management systems at Arcadia University. Reach him at (215) 441-4600 or shejazi@kmco.com.