In our series on going paperless in your business, we’ve taken a look at why you should do this along with the benefits of a paperless office. Now, it’s time to look at some of the tools that can help your business transition into a paperless environment.
We’ll start by taking a look at document management software. Then we’ll switch our focus to paperless hardware, specifically scanners and shredders. Finally, we’ll take a look at optical character reader, or OCR, technology and how this fits into the overall scheme of going paperless.
Before we begin to look at specific document management software solutions, we first have to discuss some of the things you need to keep in mind when considering what software is right for your business.
It’s important to think about how your particular business currently uses paper. Think about the workflow of the paper in your office, examining both in-house generated documents and documents that are received from third parties. Who uses what and when do they use it? Who generates what and when do they generate it? Physically trace the routing of all the paper in your office.
This is an important step that many businesses miss when making the transition to a paperless environment.
You have to remember that when you go paperless you are NOT replacing paper. All the paper you generate and receive is still there. It’s just in a different, more efficient and more economical form. Therefore, the people in your business who use documents need to still have access to those documents in their electronic state. The failure to fully consider this is what trips up a lot of businesses when they go paperless.
The software category is called document management for a reason. Electronic documents have the same need to be efficiently archived, stored and retrieved as their physical counterparts. They simply take up less space. So, remember you are not replacing the paper in your office. You are converting it to another format.
Once you have a handle on the various ways that paper flows through your office, you need to look at the various paper related functions that each individual in your office performs.
Look at who does what with the documents that your business uses.
Each paper related function that you identify will need to be connected and have access to the document management system that you select.
In addition, depending on the function, each person’s authority within the system needs to be considered beforehand. Some individuals will need to have full control on the document workflow and others will only need specific and/or limited power over that flow.
Next consider price. Many document management services are offered as a monthly subscription. The price of this subscription depends on the volume of documents being managed and the number of people who have access to the service. If your business is large, the cost of the monthly subscription can quickly add up.
Also, decide if you want to kick the tires before you make a purchase decision. Does the software that you’re considering offer a trial period so that you can decide if it’s right for your business?
Finally, consider the functionality of the software. How are you going to use it?
In terms of document generation, how important is collaboration to your business? Do you want to be able to use the software remotely? If so, is the software mobile friendly? Do you want to be able to share documents with external users like contractors, clients and other individuals who are not a part of your business? If so, is the software flexible enough to accomplish this task easily? How about ease of use? Is the software user friendly with an easy-to-use interface?
Always consider if more robust functionality comes at the cost of difficulty of use. After all you don’t want to have to spend weeks training people on how to use the document management system.
When it comes to document management, alternatives continue to come onto the market. Here is a link to a Business News Daily report titled ‘Best Document Management Software and Systems of 2022’. It is worth doing some research to find options that may suit you.
Having said that, let’s take a look at a couple of popular options that have been around for a while and offer a free option along with their paid alternatives.
Zoho Docs is a subscription based document management software system that comes in three user levels. At the bottom is ‘Zoho Docs Free’ which, as the name implies, costs nothing. The free version allows up to 5 users per account, with each user receiving 1GB of discrete storage. Each user also has unlimited file and folder sharing, the ability to sync to the desktop, standard document editing tools and a version history of each document created or stored up to 25 file versions.
The 2 paid levels provide extra storage plus additional features and extra flexibility with task management and group sharing.
You can check out the different features for each level along with the pricing, at https://www.zoho.com/docs/comparison.html
Zoho is very robust document management system with levels of performance that fits the smallest business to the largest. Its user interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use. The ability to sync to your system means that you can efficiently manage which of your existing documents or folders are added to your Zoho account. All in all, it’s an excellent choice for a business on the road to going paperless.
A lot of people use Evernote and it’s a great piece of document management software. Evernote has a number of plans including Free, Personal and Professional plans for individuals. You can check out the different features at https://evernote.com/compare-plans
Evernote Teams is the version for larger businesses.
Evernote started out as a notetaking app, so the way you use and store documents is a little different to other pieces of document management software.
Essentially, you create notebooks, which are analogous to folders. You then create notes in the notebooks. Pre-existing documents can be attached to the notes in the notebooks and are capable of being shared and edited by any collaborators who have access to that particular notebook.
A great feature of Evernote is that you have access to all the documents in your notebooks even when you are offline. This is a feature that makes continuous collaboration a breeze. Users who find themselves without internet access can still continue working. Any edit that they make while offline will be instantaneously applied to the documents in question once they go back online.
Evernote also offers a free trial, so you have sufficient opportunity to see if it will be a good fit for your business. If you have a smaller business, Evernote might be the perfect choice for you.
As we mentioned above, paperless hardware generally consists of two pieces of equipment – a scanner, to convert paper documents into electronic documents, and a shredder, to completely destroy physical documents once they have been scanned into your document management system. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of both.
There are a couple of things that you need to consider before choosing a scanner for your business.
First, what are you going to be scanning? If you are primarily going to be scanning single sheet documents, then a sheet fed scanner is right for you. However, if you’re primarily or even occasionally going to be scanning other items, like fragile originals, photos and bound items then you’re going to need a flatbed scanner.
Next, what is the biggest size document that you’ll be scanning? For example, if you deal with documents on legal sized paper, you’re going to have to select a scanner that handles that size paper.
Finally, if you’re going to be scanning larger numbers of documents at one time, you’ll want to consider a scanner that has an automatic document feed so that you can do something else while the scanning is underway.
As with most technology, scanners are continually updated with new models and new features. So, I suggest you research the available alternatives, starting with this link to an article titled ‘10 Great Scanners for Professional Documents, Photos, Books, and Notes’
Shredders destroy documents by shredding them into small strips. You want a shredder that can handle anything you throw at it. Paper, of course, but also CDs, paper clips, staples, credit cards, etc. You also want a shredder that can operate for a relatively longer period of time before need to shut down to cool off.
With this in mind, the Ativa Professional Plus HDPro 2000 is a good choice choice for the shredding needs of the average business. It can handle all of the tough stuff mentioned above with ease. It can also operate continuously for up to two hours. This means that it can handle large shredding jobs quickly and easily.
Here is a link to an article titled ‘The Best Paper Shredders [Complete Product Reviews]’ for further research.
At this point, you might be saying “Hey! Didn’t we already cover software?” Yes, we covered document management software.
OCR software was intentionally kept separate for two reasons. First, we wanted to explain to the uninitiated exactly what OCR technology is and how it fits into a paperless document management system. Second, we wanted to avoid confusion. While OCR software does manage documents, it differs from standard document management systems in that it does not create a simple one to one replica of the paper document in question. Let’s take a moment to clarify.
Optical character reading software takes a physical document and converts it into a searchable and editable piece of electronic text. It can do this with any kind of document, for example newspapers, magazine and books. It can also do this with photos. In general, the more paper documents you have, the more likely it is that you would benefit from using OCR software.
OCR software runs on your scanner. It uses a character recognition engine to convert the information on the page you are scanning into a fully searchable and editable PDF.
You can choose to have it run automatically or interactively. When you run OCR software interactively, you choose which documents will be converted. You then have an opportunity to enhance and sharpen the image, block out parts of the page that you don’t want converted and perform proofreading prior to conversion.
There are two instances where you would use OCR software. The first use would be to archive and store existing paper documents. The second use would be to repurpose the information contained in older existing paper documents.
A perfect example of the use of OCR technology is the Guttenberg Project, where public domain books, magazines and newspapers are scanned and converted into searchable PDFs that are then accessible to the public on the internet.
One of the great advantages of OCR technology is that it is extremely mobile friendly. You download an app to your phone. The app allows you to snap a picture of a document using your phone which is then saved to the cloud as searchable and editable file.
Here is a post on the ‘10 Best OCR Apps for Mobile Phones (Android & iOS)’.
Also bear in mind that some of the Scanner options also come with OCR software.
When it comes to the tools needed to go paperless in your business, we are talking about 4 things, namely:
Use the links provided to research what will best suit you and your business in achieving this goal.
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