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The Paperless Office – Enduring Myth or Soon to be Reality?

By Darren Cassidy, Managing Director, Xerox UK

The paperless office has been touted since the mid-1970s at least, with advocates envisioning minimalist, futuristic spaces that exude efficiency. In reality, however, office printing has been rising for close to 40 years.

There are signs that this trend may be on the downturn, with industry analysts such as Gartner and IDC showing office paper use to be flat or slightly declining. But, worldwide, people are printing a staggering 3 trillion pages every year.

Why do we keep printing?

There are five main reasons that people print at work:

• To read documents;
• To annotate documents or organise content;
• To share documents.
• To sign or authorise documents.
• To save documents — either as a reminder to do something or to add to a paper archive.

Printing documents is a familiar, long-established habit for many. We’re used to having physical reminders of work at our desks, and many don’t see the advantage of changing their habits.

But consider the reams of untapped data sitting dormant on paper documents. What if you could bring all of that information into your digital processes? This is the promise of ‘Big Document Data’ and, as we’ll see, technologies are well on the way to making this a reality.

Resisting the urge to press PRINT

Organisations with large numbers of baby boomers and ‘Generation Xers’ recognise that these groups prefer to work using paper-based processes. Even with the influx of the millennials who’ve grown up with mobile phones and the Internet, people aged 35 and older still make up the majority of the workforce.

So, can we really remove the reasons that people print — either completely or at least partially, or are we too set in our ways?

Paper does have a few advantages that are difficult to replicate digitally with current or near-future technology. For example, there’s the advantage of immediacy when a document is handed over or picked up.  And we use very simple tools to work with paper.  Anyone with a pencil can annotate information on a printed page, for example.

For people to happily adopt paperless processes, the digital equivalent needs to replicate the universality and portability of paper. Paperless processes need to work across devices, platforms, applications and document formats because today, people use multiple devices and expect to work seamlessly across them.

Making paperless possible

There’s no doubt that information technology consumerisation affects employee attitudes and enterprise approaches to information technology.  According to a recent IDC survey, 92% of respondents use a laptop for work, 70% use smartphones, 32% use a tablet and nearly 37% use cloud-based, file-sharing services.

Scanning technology, developing fast, makes it easier for people to capture ‘Big Document Data’ (as I like to call it!) and stop the paper cycle at that point. AIIM Market Intelligence notes that the combination of the camera, processor and communications functions of smartphones and tablets now transforms them into powerful portable scanning devices.

Battery life also continues to improve, becoming less of a worry for those who want to read on the move. Electronic displays also continue to improve. Displays using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology can be thinner and lighter than LCD screens and achieve a higher contrast ratio in low light conditions. In the not-too-distant future, we may even have displays as thin and flexible as paper.

The will to change

At the same time and somewhat ironically, the consumer focus and proliferation of these devices, products and services can be a headache for any organisation wanting to move away from paper-based processes.

To implement consistent, enterprise-provided digital ways of working, solutions will need to bridge the many silos that now exist in the digital workplace across devices, operating systems, applications and document formats.

Mobile and cloud technologies are undoubtedly bringing genuine opportunities for changing workplace behaviour but success will be subject to engaging properly with employees about change.


Darren Cassidy, Managing Director, Xerox UK

About the author:

With over a decade at Xerox within the Managed Print Services division, Darren Cassidy has an excellent track record in business management, technology and communications.  He recently took over the role of Managing Director of Xerox UK & Ireland Ltd.



  • avatar image
    Reply Scott, 11 November 2013

    According to Frank Romano of RIT WANG Computer (remember them?) published a report in 1975 that predicted offices would be paperless by 1985. Ironically by 1985 offices still generated paper but were completely WANGless!

  • avatar image
    Reply Jennifer Shutwell, 13 November 2013

    Unbeknownst to many, our industry is riddled with “die hard copier reps, and a strong “anti-paperless” movement.

    “It is no secret that thousands of owners, managers and copier/mfp/printer reps thrive on six and seven figure incomes all derived from selling office machines to produce as much toner/ink on paper as possible. The die-hard copier teams have goals to sell copiers/printers/mfp’s to businesses “without regard”. That is without regard except for the numbers. The higher the number the better the number whether its in units, price or pages.”

    Success will be about engaging “properly” with employees about change on both sides of the engagement, the sellers and buyers. After all, what is “core” motivation? Being paid handsomely to increase numbers is not proper or good form in business today.

  • avatar image
    Reply Paperless office, 16 January 2014

    We have an advanced Digitizing process for going paperless office through our paperless office software and business card management software.

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