SMEs and the Transition to a Paperless Office
As the business world continues to embrace a growing field of digital solutions, devices, and agile business models, the concept of a paperless office has been gaining traction. In a paperless office, the use of paper is significantly reduced by creating and managing business documents in their digital form.
Though many large corporations have begun operating in a near-paperless environment over the last few years in order to cut costs and improve efficiency, many Irish SMEs have yet to make the transition. While going paperless may seem pretty daunting for a smaller company, the shift to digital data management can actually be eased with the right approach and the use of suitable digital solutions.
Ireland’s Digital Dichotomy
Ireland is currently one of the most digitalised countries in the world, coming in at number seven on the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). But according to a recent report on the state of digitalisation among SMEs in Ireland, the country’s digital economy is really divided into two distinct groups: 1) a few foreign-owned multinational corporations that employ sophisticated digital solutions, and 2) a large number of native SMEs which have been slower to adopt the digital tools that can help them improve operations and reach a wider market. In fact, the same report goes on to state that 40 percent of SMEs in Ireland completely lack digital technologies, while an additional 30 percent of businesses utilise only a handful of common digital solutions, in areas such as document management, invoicing and financial reporting, and customer relationship management.
Why Going Paperless Can Help SMEs
Having a paperless office isn’t just good for the environment, it can significantly improve the way a business operates while simultaneously reducing operational expenses. Here are just a few reasons going paperless makes good business sense for any company:
Reduce costs – Keeping paper records means a lot more printing, photocopying, filing, and mailing. This typically results in a significant amount of money being spent on paper, toner, shredding, as well as dedicating or renting a physical space to store it all. There are also the numerous minutes and even hours needed to update and manage all of these paper records. This generally means labor costs are higher and staff may also need to take time and attention away from other vital business operations.
Make vital business information more accessible – When an SME relies on digital records, the ability to search for them or through them dramatically improves. Collaboration among employees also increases, since business data can be shared and edited among employees within the business’ private network. Finally, relying on paper records means that only one person can access the records at a time.
Keep essential data safe – For the majority of SMEs moving towards a paperless office will mean relying on cloud-based software, and in some cases, even cloud-based infrastructure. One of the biggest benefits to these off-site solutions is that it makes data backup much easier. SMEs are thus better protected from fire, flooding, or any disaster that can destroy their physical paper records.
Three Steps to a Paperless Office
While a paperless office may be the ultimate goal for a lot of SMEs, getting there will be a process– especially for businesses that have been using paper records up till this point. Changing the current workflow to accommodate digital records should be carried out thoughtfully. To that end, SMEs wishing to ease into a paperless environment should start with the following three steps:
1. Choose accounting software and document management software.
One of the very first, and generally easiest areas for SMEs to digitalise their operations is their accounting and financial reporting, and this generally goes hand-in-hand with a document management software solution. There are many, feature-rich digital accounting and document management solutions on the market that can either be operated in-house or in the cloud. Both of these systems can significantly reduce a business’ reliance on paper-based documentation as well as manual data-entry that is not only time-consuming, but prone to human error and needless redundancy.
2. Making a digital filing system that mirrors the physical one.
SMEs don’t have to re-invent the wheel when digitalising their document management system. If they have a physical filing system that works for them, then wherever possible its structure and set-up can be replicated in a digital form.
3. Digitalising invoices, receipts, and other documentation.
With the first two steps in place, SMEs can now focus on digitalising the various forms of documentation that come in and get sent out of the business. For example, vendors and suppliers can be asked to send electronic invoices instead of printed ones, and contracts can often be digitally signed. When any important paper documentation is received, it can simply be scanned, tagged and filed into the system. Finally, SMEs can create a private internal network where new employees can access an employee handbook, training materials, and a library of archived projects and other useful data.
In short, moving to a paperless office may be a process, but it is an achievable goal for the majority of SMEs– one that will pay for itself many times over.