So-called office automation and digital communications has been with us for decades, but our reliance on paper persists. As far back as 1982, technology analyst Amy Wohl famously stated that "the paperless office is as useful as a paperless bathroom," and that quip has stood the test of time.
But a recent survey by the non-profit, information management group AIIM, indicates the tide may be finally turning against the need for paper output.
Paper consumption and the number of photocopies continues to grow at 27 percent of the over 400 organizations AIIM surveyed. But 39 percent reported a drop in paper output. AIIM also notes that among organizations with more extensive document scanning and capture operations, some 53 percent hope to reduce their paper output further.
While there is a growing environmental or "green" awareness that using less paper is good for the planet, there's a bottom line benefit as well. AIIM said 40 percent of the groups it surveyed said that they received "payback" or a return on their investment, within 12 months of implementing systems for scanning, capture, and business process management (BPM). Extended to an 18-month timeframe, 60 percent reported payback.
"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," Doug Miles, AIIMs Director of Market Intelligence, said in a statement. "Nobody is expecting the paperless office any time soon, but we are beginning to see the less-paper office."
Miles said the "less-paper" trend is being driven by technology advances that go beyond traditional scanning-to-archive towards scanning-to-process.
"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," he said. "Along with the improvements to information access and sharing, this produces a win-win situation."
AIIM said that users surveyed showed a strategic preference for in-house scanning and capture rather than outsourcing. The results show about an even split in investment intentions for centralized operations versus distributed capture on MFPs (multi function peripherals). AIIM noted "a growing interest" in scan-on-entry, using digital-mailroom scanners.
AIIM's report, "Capture and Business Process: drivers and experiences of content-driven processes" is available for free download. It was underwritten by ASG, EMC, IBM and Kofax.
David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of