Technology is rapidly becoming more powerful and less costly, making a paperless workspace much more of a possibility but also a little daunting. Where do you start? Is going mobile a good idea? Should you be using the cloud? What is the cloud, anyway? With all of these questions to consider, a paperless workspace becomes easier to envision when you consider the following aspects:
- The function being served—Is the technology meant to enable document creation, document sharing, or information storage?
- Hardware and software—In some cases, one can replace the other. In others, hardware and software can complement each other. For example, you might consider using web conferencing to run a meeting, versus a projector for a physically present audience.
This post gives you a tour of what technologies exist to support your movement towards a paperless office. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but will give you an idea of how to strategize your paperless journey.
Document creation, sharing, and storage
Even if your business has specialized needs, there are many online options for document creation, such as:
- Prezi, a site for creating dynamic slide shows.
- Omnigraffle, software for creating diagrams.
- Piktochart, a site for creating infographics.
- FluidSurveys, a site for survey creation and analysis.
- Foxit and CutePDF, are examples of PDF creators. You can also generate electronic forms to be signed on a computer.
Some of these tools charge a fee to unlock more features; others are free. Take the time to explore your choices.
When it comes to sharing your documents, forget email or printing multiple copies for distribution. Again, there are specialized options for sharing certain types of documents. For example, Zentation and Slideshare are dedicated solely to making presentations accessible.
Some tools, such as wikis, allow you to share a broader array of document types. Stated simply, a wiki is a website that users can edit and re-organize using a web browser. The beauty of wikis is that multiple users can edit the same document simultaneously. Examples of wikis are SharePoint and Mindtouch.
Other tools offer direct alternatives to email. Consider Asana, a web-based application for collaboration where people can be grouped by teams and projects. Users can view each other’s tasks, track project progress and conversations, and attach files or links. If preferred, users can send task reminders to their email and export tasks to their Outlook or Google Calendar. It’s also worth mentioning the slew of to-do list apps such as Trello, Wunderlist, and Any.do, which also allow you to easily collaborate with others. Of course, phones and tablets have made it more convenient to access information wherever you are located.
When considering paperless storage options, cloud computing may be the first service that comes to mind. Cloud computing is the term for sharing software and hardware resources, for several purposes, over a network to maximize efficiency. There are three types of clouds to decide from: SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service).
- With SaaS, you have end-user capabilities; you are using the cloud itself. The actual computing resources may be located elsewhere.
- With PaaS, you can build the software applications behind the cloud. You can set the end-user capabilities without having to manage computing hardware.
- With IaaS, you manage the servers, network and software behind the cloud.
You can also restrict cloud access to be public, private, or hybrid. Google Drive is an example of a public cloud: it is accessible to anyone who wishes to use it.
But cloud computing may not be for everyone. Its accessibility, regardless of geography, is both a strength and a weakness. Your data may be hosted outside your country, complicating data ownership and encryption, a topic we will return to shortly. For this reason, you may prefer hard drives kept onsite, along with USBs. Gains in technology are making it possible for businesses to store ample amounts of information on these physical devices at minimal cost.
Of course, your paperless solution is only as good as your habits and the habits of your employees. Good information management is important for the work you’ve done, the work you are doing, and the work you will do. Here are some of the top five concerns for a paperless workspace:
- Ensuring data security and ownership: There are plenty of articles about data security, so this blog will not delve into this, but it is vital to know who is liable in the event your data is housed in another country and under attack or subpoena.
- Backing up your data: Your digital files should be archived regularly and in an organized structure, both in case of an emergency or simply because the information is no longer needed in daily operations, but needs to remain on file.
- Maintaining compatible software standards: These can change quickly, making forwards and backwards compatibility an ongoing challenge. It is a good idea to think about compatibility for the next 10-100 years. Another challenge is that software standards are rarely universal. If your business is global, you will need to find an international standard.
- Educating users: People unfamiliar with SharePoint, for instance, may be afraid of “breaking something” if they use it. Take the time to walk them through it and let them experiment.
- Minimizing transfer time and maximizing available network capacity: If your business is in a rural area, your local network may restrict download and upload speeds.
Want to learn more? Head over to the Information and Communications Technology Council‘s Digital Adoption Compass to learn more about the capabilities of paperless workspaces. Remember: there is no one best solution, only what best fits your business’ needs at the time. Different technologies will have different trade-offs. Even if you do not find what you are looking for here, chances are technology will soon have a solution to make your ideal paperless workspace a reality.