What is the promise of the paperless office? Well, a paperless office could save trees, because paper is made from trees. It could also make office workers fat as they don’t have to move from their workstations to get paper documents. From the company’s viewpoint, a paperless office could save expensive office space needed for filing cabinets, and the costthe filing cabinets, paper folders and the salaries of an army of filing clerks
More importantly, however, a paperless office could speed up business processes. Business processes typically involve considerable movement of documents. While paper documents move at irritatingly slow speeds, electronic documents in a paperless office move at electronic speeds, i.e. near the speed of light.
In practice, the documents are stored in a central server that can be accessed from workstations connected to the network. Programs can trigger alerts drawing the attention of concerned persons to pending documents.
The Mirage of a Paperless Office
Paper is not going to disappear from offices, however. There are several reasons for this.
- Some office workers might not be computer-literate or comfortable with computers even if they know how to use computers.
- For certain kinds of work that require a relaxed and/or thoughtful style of work, printed documents might be preferred to flickering computer screens. Examples include design prototyping of come kinds, serious study of a topic (that might involve adding comments in the margins) and such. It is not easy to match the visual interface provided by paper in such cases.
- Extremely confidential documents can leak out if they are stored on computer.
- Courts of law might not accept digital documents as evidence unless they are convinced that systems and practices are in place that prevent faking these documents, a comparatively easy process in a digital environment.
For these and other reasons, paper will continue to be used in offices. The completely paperless office is likely to remain a mirage.
Moving towards a Paperless Office
Though a completely paperless office might be mirage, it is possible to reduce the use of paper documents through certain practices. These include:
- Online capture of data where possible. POS terminals used in retail establishments are an example. So are handheld devices used in inhospitable environments such as offshore drilling platforms to record data that can be transmitted wirelessly to the office computers.
- Automated capture of data through the use of sensors that can count, read and measure. Barcode readers in warehouses, electronic counters monitoring production lines and temperature sensors in process plants are examples.
- Scanning paper documents at the point the paper documents arrive and using OCR and indexing software to transfer these into the electronic workflow.
- Implementing systems and practices to authenticate digital documents in a manner that would be acceptable to courts of law.
In an environment like the above, the generation of paper documents can be minimized and most of the remaining paper documents can be shredded after transfer into digital format.
Work Flows and Document Management
As related to documents, workflow means moving documents through a sequence of actions that help complete business processes. This typically involves moving the document from person to person, with each person being responsible for completing certain actions, such as:
- Reviewing a received document for making any suggestions
- Approving a document for authorizing the relevant action, such as submitting a proposal to a client
- Getting signatures of persons who must sign a document before it becomes an authorized document
- Tracking progress of projects or problem solutions
- Doing any other action with a particular document, as when it needs to be translated into local language
- Approving final disposal of a document after its expiry date
Workflows in the Paper Documents Era
Paper documents are moved physically from person to person, with a person typically designated to attend to this task where the volume is large enough. Such physical movement poses several risks such as:
- Misplacing the documents resulting in the documents becoming untraceable
- Losing a document during transmission in the absence of foolproof transmittal processes
- Documents reaching unauthorized persons as when it is stolen by an interested person
- Delays in completing business processes as when a document has to be retrieved from storage
These problems made managers welcome digital workflows when technology made it a possible alternative.
Digital workflows involve creating documents in a digital format and converting paper documents into that format. Digital documents become part of an electronic workflow that has several advantages such as:
- Physical movements are eliminated as the documents typically reside in a central server of a network that can be accessed by all workstations connected to the network. This can minimize the possibility of loss and damage
- The progress of a document can be tracked from one’s own workstation as when a sender checks whether the recipient has taken needed action on the document. This can often be done simply by retrieving the document and checking it
- Recipients of documents can be alerted about pending documents by the computer program itself, through emails when the documents arrive and through system generated alerts when a document has been pending beyond a certain period
- In a busy work environment, a person might not be aware of whom to send the document or what to do next. Electronic workflows can attach rules to document categories that enables the person look up what to do next
- Routing documents becomes a flexible and convenient task. You can select a recipient and then send the document to that recipient along with any necessary instructions. This can prove a significant benefit where a document needs to be routed in a different way than usual.
- Simultaneous access to the same document is also possible as the documents in the central server can be retrieved by more than one person at the same time (though modifications might be restricted to only one of these concurrent users).
The above is only some of the major advantages. In practice, electronic workflows can improve business processes dramatically. Many of the tasks can even be automated, for example.
Use Scanning Software Features
Scanning is not just a simple physical process. Unless you are scanning a standard document that is crisp and clearly printed (preferably in black ink on white paper), you might need to make some adjustments to get just the result you want. The result you want can be:
- A scanned image that is more legible than the original document in a poor condition or with poor contrast (say, blue ink on a dark colored paper)
- Scanned images to be used for subsequent printing, or for Web pages or in emails
- Scanned images that reveal greater detail than what the human eye could see on the original
Let us look at the kind of adjustments that can produce desired results.
Adjustments to Improve Document Quality
Adjusting brightness and contrast can often produce results that are better than the original. Adjustments are also possible for colour, exposure etc. that too can produce better results.
You can also work with the original document to get better scanned images. For example, you can iron out the folds in a much folded document so that it lies really flat on the scanner bed. This can avoid distorted characters.
Other precautions include scanning with the correct orientation appropriate for the document. Scanning a landscape oriented document with a portrait orientation and then rotating the image for correcting the orientation can lose some detail.
Details can also be preserved better if you scan only those portions of the original document that you need for your purpose.
Selecting the Output Type
You can set the scanning software to produce scanned images in different formats. A TIFF format reproduces details and is suitable if you want to print the scanned image. The price for this kind of detail is larger file size.
If you are planning to upload the scanned image to a Web page or use it in an email, you can do with much less detail. A compressed file format such as JPEG is adequate in these cases.
Selecting the Resolution
Resolution is measured in dots per inch (DPI). The more the number of dots, the greater the detail you get. The following is a rough guide to help you select the right resolution.
- Select a 1200×1200 dpi (or 1.44 million dots per square inch) resolution if your intention is to use the image in emails and or Web pages. Some loss of detail is okay in these cases.
- A 1600×3200 dpi (or 5.12 million dots per square inch) resolution shows the image in the same way that the human eye sees the original.
- If you want to enlarge and study fine detail, select a 2400×4800 dpi (or 11.52 million dots per square inch) resolution.
Web Pages and Emails
Actually, it is ppi – pixels per inch – that matters when you work with Web pages. Divide the screen width in pixels by the picture’s length in inches to get the ppi. Then save the picture with that ppi.
For emails, very small size files are important, and it is best to save any pictures at 72 or 100 dpi.