Tanks for all the paper, but we're okay

How two very different companies are coming closer to achieving the goal of the paperless office.
  • Sim Ahmed (Unknown Publication)
  • 16 May, 2012 22:00

Accountancy firm TvA takes the paperless office concept seriously, so much so that company director Peter Tolan thought it necessary to drive over its old filing cabinets with a 52-tonne tank. “We were committed to never using the cabinets again, so we showed it,” says Tolan.

The Blenheim-based accountancy firm has been working on its paperless office project for the last three to four years, says Tolan. Bookshelves, paper trays, and other vestiges of TvA’s past have been locked away in the basement.

Before going paperless, TvA would store the documents that it could not fit onsite in a storage unit. If staff or clients needed those documents they would have them couriered, an inefficient system which was costing TvA and its clients dearly.

By having digital copies available to TvA staff through their computers and iPads, the company has become more confident about the time it takes for administration. Through this confidence, TvA has been able to change its charging policy, so clients receive quotes ahead of work done and are able to budget appropriately.

“Instead of not knowing how long it could take to track down a document, we have a new benchmark of 30 seconds. It’s done wonders for us and our relationship with clients,” says Tolan.

Since implementing the paperless policy, Tolan says the company has reduced its paper usage by around 70 percent.

“Our old paper supplier came and asked us who we were buying paper from, thinking we had changed suppliers. I had to tell them we just weren’t using that much paper anymore,” says Tolan.

“I guess not everyone can be happy with this kind of change.”

Not all paperless office solutions need to be costly licensed document lifecycle management systems, TvA saves its documents in .PDF or .DOC formats. Newer documents requiring signatures are scanned in, and older ones have been gradually scanned in over a two year period by a temp worker. All these documents are named according to a common convention, describing the client, date, and type of document - then backed up to an internal server accessible by all staff.

Tolan says the relatively simple system works well for a company of TvA’s size.

“As long as everyone keeps up the naming conventions it works great,” he says.

Paperless systems come with its own problems, some of which Tolan only became aware of after starting the project.

The biggest painpoint in the transition from a paper-centric working environment to a digital one was in education, says Tolan.

Some staff were initially reluctant to move completely to digital, Tolan says. Younger members of the team were quicker to pick up on the idea than some of the senior workers, but eventually there was buy in from the whole team.

One habit that was hard to discourage was people printing out emails and documents to read while working on their computers. Tolan says the company combatted this by providing its workers with a second screen.

TvA currently hosts its own files, but the cost of maintaining a server internally has become restrictive, says Tolan. The firm is currently in the middle of migrating to a hybrid-cloud environment for its documents server.

“I think as with a lot of internal services we’re finding a hosted, or hybrid hosted system is the cheapest and most effecient. It’s what I recommend to our clients, and we will be following our own advice,” says Tolan.

A tale of SkyCity

The paperless enterprise environment is not a new concept. Many large companies have tried to reduce paper wastage and make their document processes more efficient, with varying levels of success.

SkyCity Entertainment Group is one such company exploring the paperless dream, with CIO Mike Clarke confident that paperless is the way to go.

SkyCity is ahead of the curve when it comes to a paperless environment, already a number of critical processes are managed completely digitally.

Only a few critical pieces remain, and up until recently this included the approval process. Important projects or initiatives could require a number of signatures from different stakeholders in different parts of the business. Transferring them manually took time, and there was always the risk that paper could be lost or forgotten, creating bottlenecks.

SkyCity has deployed Adobe’s LiveCycle Process Management system to tackle the problem.

LiveCycle lets users track documents and their statuses, and gives details of what steps in the workflow a document has passed. The system allows documents to be reassigned if a stakeholder is unavailable to approve a document.

Clarke says it was important that LiveCycle could be integrated with SkyCity’s existing HR system, PeopleSoft, and this influenced the decision to take on the system.

SkyCity is planning on rolling out the system for other processes across the group, he says.

“We started with one of the more complicated approval processes in the organisation, and the system has been ideal in allowing us to tweak and improve along the way, so we are seeing the results we set out to achieve. We also knew that once we had completed this first process management, similar future projects within the business will be much easier to develop and deploy, as they aren’t quite as meaty as this one,” says Clarke.