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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?

Today, he says employees print an average of 400 pages per month. He says many companies have figured out the easiest ways to “go paperless” by digitizing storing documents online, but it wasn’t possible to eliminate all printing and scanning completely. 

“Paper is portable, universal and familiar way to share and annotate documents,” says Weilerstein. “It is easier to read long documents on paper than on-screen. Paper is universally accepted as valid for contracts and other legal documents, and the signatures are familiar and accepted to a greater degree than any sort of digital signature.” 

Keith Kmetz, program vice president for imaging, printing and document solutions at IDC, says that many companies have implemented a “paperless light” concept. It means, almost all internal processes are entirely paperless, but external processes still involve printing and scanning as a way to integrate into a digital storage system. 

Another trend that Brother’s Sandler points out is that the rise of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets has made larger companies more dependent on printing and scanning, not less. Employees need a way to move documents easily onto mobile devices. 

Sandler says companies are still scanning insurance forms, turning printed slide-decks into a PDF you can use on an iPad, and importing signed contracts. The proliferation of mobile devices has created a new need to digitize documents and make them easily available. 

The fax machines lives 

Along with the printing and scanning trends, faxing is still another part of the corporate workflow, although it is diminishing rapidly. Weilerstein says there is still a divide between larger organizations and SMB, and that faxing is still used to bridge that divide. 

“Before you can do away with fax, both parties have to agree on how they will communicate, and enterprises lack the clout to force their customers to abandon fax,” he says. “As is the case with other ways eliminating paper, they just don’t always find it worth the trouble.” 

Last year, IDC’s Kmetz conducted a survey to find out why companies are still using fax machines. Overall, he found that some companies are faxing a little less and some a little more, but the trend has stayed relatively flat. In most cases, faxing is still part of a workflow because of the low costs, simplicity, ease of tracking, and security. It’s definitely not going away, he says. 

That could mean rethinking some strategies about centralized document management. Employees in those structured settings such as accounting and legal might still rely on faxing and need a device that supports that, while “ad hoc” activities might not use fax. 

Sandler says that’s why it’s important to do a yearly review of processes within a company and find out whether that MFD in the corner is sitting idle most of the time, if employees are still faxing and scanning in most departments, and if printing is increasing or decreasing. 


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