Office automation and document management technologies, also known as Enterprise Content Management systems (ECM) are uniquely positioned to help organizations reduce the impact they make on the environment. Using these tools may allow business processes to be dramatically improved and have a significant impact on the carbon footprint at the same time.
There is of course a caveat. By themselves the technologies won’t make a difference.These ten steps will help in ensuring that the technologies are implemented, and processes amended, in a phased, manageable and sustainable fashion. These tools are not the silver bullet, yet may be used effectively as part of an organization-wide environmental drive. Think “Less-Paper” rather than paperless, and look for those processes in the organization which could be changed to become more environmentally friendly. Adopting an incremental step-by step approach should assist in building trust and acceptance of the value of these technologies, and facilitating roll-out to other areas of the organization.
1. Build a team that is committed to the initiative.
Senior executives should be a part of this team, and need to be committed to making sure that the staff under their employ know and understand the rationale and benefits of the environmental drive. Included in the team should also be members of the compliance or corporate governance unit, legal, IT and affected user departments. If an environmental champion has been appointed, they need to be a key figure in this team.
2. Make sure a robust framework of policies and procedures is in place which supports the drive.
These corporate instruments should send a clear message of commitment, so that “green” becomes embedded in the ethos or culture of the organization. The policy framework is essential if staff members, clients and suppliers are to be comfortable about conducting business electronically.
3. Start with reducing the amount of paper printed.
There are many ways to achieve this, but it all starts with the right attitude. Documents should be printed on both sides of the page, and without the “banner” pages that sometimes print, showing who printed the document. The wasted paper which is often left in bins next to the printers should be reused for draft printing. It may be useful to have separate printers for drafts and for final versions, so that users won’t print onto the back of someone else’s draft.
4. If documents start their lives in digital format, they should stay that way.
A classic example of this is the all-pervasive e-mail. Employees should be penalised for printing and storing e-mails in hard copy. They originate in electronic format, are best suited for distribution in that format, and should be stored in the systems that created them, not in a physical file cabinet.
5. Implement scanning into processes which will deliver clear benefits.
Chose processes carefully so that quick wins are derived, and which improve productivity, lower cost and improve service delivery at the same time. It must be highlighted that scanning alone does not improve the environment, as the source documents are still in paper format. The source documents need to be formally destroyed and recycled for benefits to accrue. Before destroying originals, ensure that rigidly developed and applied policies and procedures are approved by the legal team. Other than recycling, scanning does play an important role in that it gets staff used to conducting business digitally, and may allow staff to telecommute.
6. Find a relatively risk-free internal process, and go digital from start to finish. Once staff members (and the organisation) are comfortable with handling digital documents instead of trusty old paper, find a process which can be completely digital. This will normally be an internal process such as applying for leave, or claiming expenses. Implement e-forms processes, and make it impossible for staff to revert to printing and signing the forms. Many organisations already have e-forms technology as part of their corporate platforms, so the cost of implementation could be slight.
7. Implement digital signatures.
Many complex processes, or those which involve multiple parties, may require signatures of some kind. Note that the regulatory environment surrounding digital signatures needs to be thoroughly understood first. The legal team and all participants involved in the process must agree to the use of digital signatures. Involve major suppliers and customers, and identify where digital signatures can be used. Signing of contracts, and agendas or minutes of meetings may prove to be ideal opportunities to use this technology.
8. Implement e-forms technology where possible.
Steps 6 and 7 above should have provided a clear indication of how a process can be implemented digitally without ever producing a paper document. Take a process approach, and find a process that will benefit all concerned by making it easier to populate forms via the internet. It is unlikely that all customers or suppliers will be willing to move to a purely digital world, but a large percentage is likely to embrace the new processes.
9. Start distributing output documents electronically.
Reduce the volume of paper printouts by offering customers the option of receiving electronic invoices and statements. Once again, involve the legal team to ensure that this meets any regulatory requirements, and then encourage recipients of the output to receive electronic information. Look for opportunities to reduce any internal printouts, by saving the output directly to the document management systems.
10.Monitor, track, evaluate and market the benefits.
If the organisation is deriving benefits, and no-one knows about it, it will have little value. Look for methods of monitoring the effectiveness of the changed processes, and report these benefits to the compliance and environmental officers. Apply the principles and technology to new processes, and roll out across the organization.
The focus of these improvements has been on the environment, and implemented correctly, these technologies can make a difference. Couple this to the fact that customer service, productivity, lower costs of doing business, and compliance will most likely also have been improved, should prove a strong motivation for introducing these new, improved processes into the organization.