Government // Enterprise Architecture
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7/18/2014
11:10 AM
Kuang Chen
Kuang Chen
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5 Reasons Going Paperless Won't Work

Paperless processes have their virtues, but don't confuse the means with the ends.

White House Maker Faire: 10 Cool Inventions
White House Maker Faire: 10 Cool Inventions
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Technologists have been striving to go paperless for at least 30 years, but it still hasn't happened. (The idea sounded good on paper.) The reality is that, for most organizations, there are multiple places in their workflow where the analog meets the digital, and where technology still hasn't been able to replace important legacy processes.

Instead of throwing out legacy processes that are working, however, organizations would be wise to look to new solutions that include paper as an option in their digital workflows, embracing the old while ushering in the new. Here's why:

1. Paper is often still the best tool for the job.
Although a lot of our tools and systems are now digital, many of the touchpoints that businesses have with their customers and constituents remain analog. In many settings, paper will long remain the most practical choice for capturing information. In some situations, it is the only choice: paper does not break, run out of batteries, risk security breaches, or need upgrading.

2. New systems are not designed for all possible users.
A recent survey of health insurance enrollees shows that a Web-only self-service experience is not sufficient, and many still have to spend time in person or on the phone to purchase insurance. Systems that are meant for everyone must be designed for everyone, not just folks with iPads or late-model computers with high-speed Internet access. The goal should be to meet customers where they are, not ask them to change behavior that has been ingrained -- and trusted -- for decades.

(Source: Amy Kay Watson)
(Source: Amy Kay Watson)

[Want to be a budget guru? See Predict The Future (Without Looking Like An Idiot).]

3. Paperless is not a smart goal.
Smart IT decision makers know that evolution, not revolution, is the sensible path forward. But when it comes to paper, there has not been a reasonable evolutionary path available. The choice has felt black or white -- paper or no paper. In fact, the best solution is both/and. New technologies now make this possible, enabling a gentle, evolutionary path forward.

4. Throwing out legacy processes often results in project failure.
The VA created the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to replace paper processes. When the system fails, which is regularly, patients turn back to paper, and the legacy paper processes are burdened more than ever. Systems that incorporate both paper and digital workflows, and integrate the resulting data in one backend store, can greatly increase both organizational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Rip and replace systems, like the VBMS, often force too much change too quickly throughout the organization. The failure rate is high.

5. Lots of valuable data remains on paper.
The paperless mindset often overlooks a critical fact: vast stores of valuable information are still housed on paper. When we think of big data as only including the information we can easily access -- like Web logs and click streams -- we are missing a huge opportunity. Both commercial and public sector organizations need solutions that help them analyze paper-based data with big data tools. This view embraces data in all its forms.

The idea of "paper vs. paperless" is a false dichotomy. Data comes in both forms, and we need to think more about how to get the data we need rather than about the form it comes in. As the digital and analog worlds increasingly meld together, we need to center our thinking around "going paperless" as a means to using digital data, not an end.

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Kuang Chen is Co-founder and CEO of Captricity, the only SaaS, multi-channel, data capture platform that converts information from static documents into 99% accurate, machine-readable data -- and the first service of its kind to handle handwriting. He holds a PhD in ... View Full Bio
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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 10:39:30 AM
Re: paperless
Nicholas A Basbanes wrote in  A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World  Harper Collins 2003:

Anyone whose first computer used 5.25-inch floppy disks, anyone who wrote correspondence, reports, or journalism on Wordstar or kept business records on VisiCalc, anyone whose attempt to access a website is greeted by an "Error 404" responses ... has a sense of the crisis being faced on a far more massive scale by librarians, archivists, and curators all over the word. While books printed 300 years ago work the same way as those bound today, data recorded just 20 years ago can be indecipherable on today's equipment,' David M. Wealt wrote in an article for Information Week. 'What use is a perfectly preserved Word File, if a thousand years from now, nobody has a copy of Microsoft Office or a Windows machine to run it on?'" The dilemma was brought into sharper focus by Peter Lyman and Howard Besser, two participants in a 1998 conference sponsored by the Getty Conservations Institute in Los Angeles. "In fact, out digital cultural heritage is disappearing, almost as fast as it is recorded," they wrote in the introduction to the final report. "Atoms, as in ink on paper, tend to persist. Digital records tend to become inaccessible, rendered unreadable by media deterioration, or obsolete by the pace of innovation in information technology. (p. 274)

danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
7/20/2014 | 5:31:09 PM
Re: paperless
Interesting article. I think that there will be something to be said in the future regarding a comeback for paper. 

It's true: Paper doesn't run out of power, and it is not susceptible to hacking. Maybe there is hope for paper after all. But let's at least not forget that it isn't so great for the environment, although neither is the short hardware cycles of devices that often do not get recycled properly. 
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/20/2014 | 8:34:28 AM
Re: Paper Abides
@LUFU and add to your list whenever you are asking anything from bank they always ask you to send a paper with your signature or a fax not an email. For paperless me need to amend lot of ways and functionalities of many firms which is very much difficult in some time soon.
nomii
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nomii,
User Rank: Ninja
7/20/2014 | 8:31:17 AM
Re: paperless
@Gary I think absolute paperless envirnoment is not achieveable in forseeable future. Why? I think the most safest think which relates to any documentation is the hard proof not the soft one. I believe that we can cut down the use of paper till we use only one copy of a document as a safety precaution. but totally going paper less has its own disadvantages.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2014 | 10:34:32 PM
Re: Paper Abides
@LUFU your office sounds fairly typical. As for faxes, actually, some do work without actual paper. I didn't have the latest insurance information on my card for my pharmacy, so I asked it to be faxed over. I expected it to come right away but was told it can take a while. I was rather surprised at that. One of the pharmacists explained that they don't receive paper faxes -- only images on the computer. I suppose that accounts, in part, for the delay. 
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2014 | 10:34:31 PM
Re: Paper Abides
@LUFU your office sounds fairly typical. As for faxes, actually, some do work without actual paper. I didn't have the latest insurance information on my card for my pharmacy, so I asked it to be faxed over. I expected it to come right away but was told it can take a while. I was rather surprised at that. One of the pharmacists explained that they don't receive paper faxes -- only images on the computer. I suppose that accounts, in part, for the delay. 
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
7/19/2014 | 3:23:53 PM
Paper Abides
We have one foot in the paper world and one foot in the digital paperless world. In the office/work environment we try to minimize paper usage but it is still inescapable. By my desk I keep a scratchpad to jot down messages, phone numbers, notes, reminders, and doodles while I work. It's just easier. Think paper is going away any time soon? Work with a lawyer or doctor/hospital and they still ask to "fax" something to them. Fax? Doesn't that still need a piece of paper?

Then it comes to the major events. How does one RSVP to a paperless wedding invitation? Doesn't the pending nuptials seem less important if it is an evite? And what about the first birthday card from my wife years ago that I've saved? Is a digital birthday card worth saving?
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2014 | 1:55:04 PM
Re: paperless
I agree with the article.  The trend of going paperless depends on whether it meets the needs of the organization.  The processes that do not work should be replaced.  I think tech enthusiast want to shift everything to electronic form as if it was a panacea to improving all the problems in an organization.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
7/19/2014 | 8:18:00 AM
I work in electronic document management...
and have implemented and supported a document management system for the last 13 years.  The whole point of our system is to convert customers to paperless.  Our most popular automation is still Autoprint, meaning sending electronic documents to printers for users.  So yeah, I agree with you first hand, we will never be 100% paperless, and I don't think that's a bad thing (unless you happen to be a tree...)
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 2:39:08 PM
Re: paperless
I agree. The last mile is always the hardest, and sometimes it's just not worth the effort. As digital devices get cheaper and cheaper, and as they are more universally introduced earlier in each individual's life, the goal of going totally paperless may someday be reachable. But, not yet.
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