Early in my career, I was part of a collaborative research effort that identified the impending rise of the “paperless office.”  From our vantage point in the 1980s, when office automation and IT were converging, we boldly predicted we'd be stapling our last document by the turn of the century.

Well, it’s been 10 years since the century turned, during which time we've killed many more forests' worth of trees.

That's why it was interesting to see a new survey out of AIIM that suggests that paper consumption within organizations has finally crested, and automation is finally turning the tide. The survey of close to 500 AIIM members finds that the consumption of paper and the number of photocopies is still growing in 27% of organizations, but is starting to fall in 39%. Among organizations with more extensive document scanning and capture operations, 53% are seeing a reduction.

As Doug Miles, AIIM’s director of market intelligence, put it: “We have been surveying these topics for many years, and this is the first time that we have seen a net reduction in paper usage. Nobody is expecting the paperless office any time soon, but we are beginning to see the less-paper office.”

The AIIM survey also explored what was driving the move toward the “less-paper” office: improved searchability and knowledge sharing, followed by productivity improvements in document-centric business processes.

Nearly 40% of the organizations surveyed reported investment payback within 12 months of implementing systems for scanning, capture and business process management (BPM), rising to nearly 60% achieving payback within 18 months.

“What is more interesting is the move from simply scanning-to-archive towards scanning-to-process,” Miles says. “Modern recognition technology means that document data can be captured on arrival and fed directly into the business process, facilitating electronic workflows and speeding up response.”

The survey shows that around half of organizations have capture-enabled their main enterprise systems for storage and retrieval of scanned documents, and a quarter have integrated document data capture with the business process itself. The survey also finds growing interest in scan-on-entry, using digital-mail room scanners.

Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Joe using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at joe@mckendrickresearch.com.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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