Paperless office

Paperless offices aim to be environment where the use of paper is dramatically reduced if not eliminated all together. This may be accomplished by converting current documents and other media e.g. photographic images into an electronic / digital form. Supporters assert that "by going paperless" they not only save money but boost productivity, save or free up vast amounts of space, make documents and electronic information sharing easier, keeps personal information secure, as well as helping the environment and the organisations carbon foot-print. This model can also be extended to communications beyond the office.

Digitizing paper-based documents

A major characteristic of the paperless office philosophy is the conversion of existing paper documents, photos, microfiche and plans, and any other business paper based systems in to electronic digital documents.

Technologies available for this include:

  • Scanners including wide format and microfiche
  • digital mail solutions
  • book copiers
  • multifunction device (MFD) printers and document management systems.
  • Each of these technologies makes use of software that converts the raster formats (bitmaps) into other types dependent on need. in most cases, this involves image compression technology that creates smaller raster images or use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert document(s) into text. A mixture of OCR and raster is utilised enabling the ability to search while maintaining the original format of the document. This is an important step in the process of paper-to-digital conversion labelling and cataloguing of scanned documents. Various technologies have been devised to do this, but they usually involve either human cataloguing or automated indexing on the OCR document. However, scanners and software continue to progress, with the introduction of small, portable scanners that are capable of scanning doubled-sided A4 documents at approximately 30-35ppm to a raster format (normally TIFF fax 4 or PDF).

    A major issue faced by those wishing to explore the paperless office option has been copyright laws. Such laws currently restrict the transfer of documents protected by copyright from one medium to another, for example converting books to electronic format.

    Difficulties in adapting the paperless office

    A key difficulty for an organisation "going paperless" is that much of their communication is with other organisation, businesses and individuals, and not just internal. The essence of electronic communications requires that both the sender and the receiver have fast and easy access to suitable software packages and computer hardware.

    There may perhaps be a cost and / or a temporary loss in productivity when an organisation decides to convert to a paperless office. Government regulations and business policy may also contribute to slowing down the change. Organisations may come across technological difficulties for instance; file formats may be incompatible, lifespan of digital documents, stability of the system, as well as, the workforce and customers not having suitable technological skills.

    An additional level of complexity in adopting the paperless office is the human factor. Commercially viable technologies are widely available that can digitize documents, at a reasonable cost. Adequate processing power, backup storage and Internet speed are available that can make older paper records immediately available not just from fixed office based computer systems, but from laptops and even phones.

    (A raster graphics image, or bitmap, is a data structure representing a generally rectangular grid of pixels, or points of colour, viewable via a monitor, paper, or other display medium.)

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