As the owner of a software company, I’ve created systems for a variety of clients designed to automate their daily operations. Prior to moving into the 21st century (or 20th, for some), I’ve seen organizations try to solve problems with rooms of filing cabinets, or having a “log book” for just about every scenario you can think of.
For most, building a case for computerizing a paper system is pretty easy, since those mired in piles of paper realize, “this isn’t going to work much longer.” When I start talking to a new client about new technologies available to them, I never mention the word “paperless,” I’m a bigger fan of the words “automation” and “efficiency,” but going paperless is often more hype than anything else.
“This is great, we’re going paperless!” I’ll often hear. These are the ones so excited because they’re moving into a science fiction environment where everything is brought “on-screen.” They often just returned from a conference where some self-proclaimed expert discussed the benefits of a futuristic, green, utopian society. They’re looking to run before they crawl.
On the other hand, there are those who get nervous when hearing the word “paperless.” Ironically, they’re nervous because they picture the same environment as the excited ones. But they don’t see themselves being able to fit into an environment with no paper.
The reality is, automation and better technology are not synonymous with paperless. Online storage of documents and data is a great idea for various reasons: It creates a central unit of storage so that no one is searching for a lost document or updated log book. Duplication of documents and double entry is eliminated. It also guards against physical disaster. If a system is backed up off-site (a very easy thing to do these days), it is completely protected in the event of a fire, flood or other damaging events.
Even if an organization succeeds in going completely paperless (a rarity indeed), they cannot control variables outside of their own organizational unit. Here are some examples:
►A real estate company that negotiates short sales uses a system I designed to produce all of the paperwork needed for a short sale proposal that gets submitted to the lenders. If a lender also uses a paperless system, documents can be sent electronically from their office directly to the lender. What if a lender requests the documents to be mailed with an original handwritten signature? How about the buyer or seller who doesn’t have Internet access and needs to receive the documents in a more traditional format?
►Another system I designed is used by firms who try to reduce property taxes on behalf of the homeowners they represent. The system produces all the necessary documents electronically. However, most taxing authorities (school districts, towns, counties, etc.) are far away from such automation. One appeal process requires the tax reduction firm to produce five copies of the same document to be distributed to various different taxing authorities. In an effort to improve this, an “e-filing” system was created. This system made a number of programmers happy by giving them work to do (for the tax reduction firms and taxing authorities), but only resulted in the elimination of one set of the documents. Case in point, the firms are still required to print the same documents, but now have an additional requirement with the e-filing.
If your office’s system is not computerized to the extent where all documents and data are centrally stored and securely backed up, find a way to do so sooner than later. “Off the shelf software” may suit your needs for surprisingly less than what you’d expect. If you need something developed specifically for your organization, software developers (like any other business) are likely to charge less now than what they’d charge in previous years simply because their business is slow too. Don’t wait for disaster in the form of a fire, flood or gross inefficiency to motivate you to make the move. But if you already are at that point, and you want to go paperless because that’s the buzzword at a recent conference, think again. In fact, think three or four times and make sure it’s going to benefit you in the end.
Erik Wind is president of EWDC, a software company based in Farmingdale, N.Y. Erik has created various software applications for the real estate industry for the purpose of short sales, property tax reduction, and is one of the developers of GeoData Plus, a leading real estate data company in New York State.