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Why paper still rules the enterprise

John Brandon | Jan. 26, 2016
A new study shows just how much business is still being done on paper via printers, scanners and other office equipment. But is that such a bad thing?

paperless office
Credit: Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr

Printing, scanning and other paper-based activities are alive and well in the corporate office. While there’s been a shift away from the gargantuan multi-function device for some companies, mostly because employees prefer to stay in their work-pods, we’re still reliant on paper for our daily routines, according to a study by Wakefield Research and Infotrends

The concurrent studies, released this month, show that 73 percent of the “owners and decision-makers” at companies with fewer than 500 employees print at least four times per day, according to Wakefield, which focused on small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The Infotrends study focused more on corporate workflow and found that onboarding, invoicing, and printing notes are still common occurrences, especially in paper-centric departments like human resources, legal and accounting. 

Infotrends found that a company might spend as much as $27,000 per year on document-management systems and maintenance for an average of 5,000 pages per month. 

Workplace trends 

One of the most interesting trends when it comes to printing, according to Brother International spokesperson Jeff Sandler, is that corporations are relocating printers from the central hub across the hall and from the employee’s own desk and making them more accessible in workplace pods for a smaller group of workers. 

“In a lot of cases, folks eliminate local devices at their desks and the centralized multi-function device (MFD) because they don’t want to travel that far to get to those devices,” says Sandler. “We’re not advocating that you get rid of all copiers and MFDs. We’re seeing smaller groups of employees using smaller devices closer to where they work.”

Randy Dazo, group director at InfoTrends, says that paper is still a major part of a corporate workflow. “Companies use paper as part of their workflow and transactions for legal processes and compliance with internal and external standards,” he says. “Paper is the lowest common denominator to capture and store this information.” 

He says the modern workplace falls into two distinct categories. Employees use printing and scanning for unstructured activities and ad hoc businesses processes. They might use a centralized MFD for this because it is more “in the moment” to scan a receipt for expenses, convert a printed business document to text for a meeting, or even scan a printed email. 

The other category is for “transactional” processes in a more structured setting, such as HR, accounting and legal departments. In those settings, printing and scanning tend to be part of a daily workflow, such as scanning purchase orders or printing out invoices. 

Going paperless? Not so fast 

Another interesting trend when it comes to printing, scanning and copying is that there was an initial rise in all of these activities when online access became so prevalent. Ken Weilerstein, research vice president at Gartner, says that printing levels in particular went higher because there was so much more content available online. 

 

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