One of the dirty little secrets of the digital revolution as it first emerged during the 80’s, and expanded during the 90’s, was that it marked the beginning of the end of paper as a vehicle for recording and storing information. Create documents on the computer, hit save, and call them back up at a moment’s notice for review. Later, with the advent of the World Wide Web, you could share those documents with a small interested group or with the whole world. Not included in that original calculus was the fact that all those desktops and laptops generally came attached to a printer to allow the physical replication of all those Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents in paper.
Despite significant advances in digital security, cloud storage, and mobile access, paper continues to be relied upon for business transactions, reporting, and maintaining key data and information stores. In 2013, Adobe commissioned a study and released a report, “Paper: An Endangered Species?", in which the majority of the managers surveyed had overwhelmingly negative attitudes toward traditional paper-based processes and cited productivity, security, attracting talent and going green as the benefits of a completely digital workflow.
The study also revealed that paper can have a negative impact on productivity as more than one-half of managers believe that digital approaches simplify work, are easy to use and allow them to be more efficient. Companies slow to adopt fully digital practices also place themselves at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to growing their businesses and ultimately attracting new customers
"Printers, scanners, and fax machines are killing business productivity," commented Jon Perera, vice president, EchoSign, Adobe. "Successful organizations are quickly moving towards paperless-based approaches for their critical business processes. This is about driving revenue, cutting costs, improving security, and reducing environmental impact."
Critically, for business enterprises, the last mile in paper battle is in the area of contracts. When it comes to contracts, paper loses the battle to digital in all categories, from cost to efficiency to ease of use. Even with such evidence and sentiment, the survey reveals an overwhelming reliance on paper:
- 98% of respondents noted they still use paper in their transactions involving contracts;
- Only 18% having made the switch to purely digital methods when signing contracts;
- 72% said a digital tool, such as an eSignature service, would fulfill a critical business need;
- 73% of managers affirmed that life would be easier if all contracts exchanged at work were done digitally.
Paper negatively impacts the trust that businesses have with partners, vendors and customers, particularly in the area of contracts where there is a fear than paper-based contracts remain prone to defacing and/or alteration.
Becoming more digital is also increasingly key to attracting talent and becoming a more sustainable business according to the study.
- 76% of respondents said they are impressed by companies that have a strong digital presence;
- 71% said they wish their company was more digital;
- 68% said that it is important for a company to operate mostly electronically versus on paper when they are deciding where to work.
Importantly, a recent article in Forbes magazine notes that many businesses have found a new flexible, cost-effective, time-saving alternative to paper-based information storage – mobile apps. As more and more employees work from their smartphones and other personal portable devices, displays on these devices that link directly to enterprise IT systems are replacing paper-based documents.