Be it smart apps, wearable tech or the cloud, the ‘future of work’ increasingly looks and smells like an automated one – in a digital kind of way. Hyper-connected and always-on technologies are expediting innovation in real-time. Virtual sync-ups, blurring the borders of office and home, are ushering better work-life balance. Knowledge sharing beyond natural workgroups is fostering collaborative growth cultures. From all angles, the ‘digitally automated workplace’ appears like a natural progression from a past that has been dominated by paper. The big question, however, remains:
Does automated mean paperless, or simply less paper?
At one end of the spectrum, the case for going 100% paper-free is growing shriller every day. From greater speed to highly efficient workflows to cost savings to easy shareability & access to accurate monitoring to environment friendliness, the advantages of this inevitable transition seems – at first glance – unimpeachable.
And yet, paper remains a reality in the modern workspace.
A little scratching-under-the-surface explains why. For one thing, the dicey nature of ‘cybersecurity’ (with virus and hackers a constant threat) is a big issue why companies cannot afford to put all their paper eggs in the digital automation basket just yet. A high initial Capex, long learning curves (and the human errors it accompanies) and the cost & complexities of building internal IT expertise all make a case for paper in their own way.
There are other reasons too. Paper is delightfully simple. It doesn’t require passwords, scanning or charging. There are no systems to learn, formats to follow or shortcuts to memorize. Sure it’s perishable, but in a predictable and comforting kind of way (digital files, on their part, may go corrupt or get compromised without warning, with unsettling consequences for the business).
Perhaps the most powerful reason why the paper isn’t going anywhere soon is its psychological legacy: Society’s collective consciousness – and its various arterial processes – is still designed around, and dependent on, paper. Legal Documents & Wills still need to be signed with a pen- with a copy going to each party. A customer still feels uncomfortable walking away from a transaction without a paper receipt in hand. Vendors still raise paper invoices. Human nature, after all, is coded to trust something we can feel and touch – more than something that prides itself on being able to disappear into thin air (read cloud) at will.
So while teams and businesses can certainly stand to benefit from digital automation, it is important to appreciate that change takes time. And till that happens, the wise way out is to simply manage it better.
Reimagining workplace documentation and processes in a way that dovetails paper and machine equitably and intuitively is the best way forward.
There are solutions available today that can be tailored to precise organizational requirements – no matter how unique. The first extract and capture data from a wide variety of paper inputs (such as invoices and challans) with the help of technologies such as multi-copiers, scanners, and OCR. The data collected is then converted into familiar and easy-to-use digital formats (such as MS-Word and MS-Excel) that enable rank-wide adoption and seeds an automation culture. In the final leg, the information is interpreted by mapping it to each step in the process, sequentially aligned to stakeholders involved, and distributed along the workflow.
A happy duality
With physical storage and retrieval systems becoming advanced, and with paper products such as notebooks and pens coming with built-in digital integration features (like auto-scanning or cloud), paper can happily co-exist with digital. As long as each can ‘read’ the other well and switch/interchange avatar according to need, this symbiotic dichotomy can bring integration, balance, and efficiency to the workplace.
Look at the paper and digital as two sides of the same coin, and the transformation to a 100% automated workplace becomes a lot more welcome.