Paperless office is a myth

Contrary to the ‘paperless office’ belief that paper will be obsolete in coming years, regulations such as RICA and the emergence of tablet devices spur business to generate more paper than seen in previous years.

This is the view of Gianmarco Lorenzi, MD of Cleardata, a paper shredding and recycling company, who says South African businesses lag behind Europe in terms of reducing their reliance on paper.

“With paper in varying forms still playing an integral role in our daily lives, it seems the format is here to stay and the paperless society remains a distant realisation of a fully-digital future,” says Lorenzi.

Financial, healthcare and the manufacturing sectors, in particular, are globally producing over 4.5 trillion pages of hard copy annually, according to Lorenzi.

“Technology has played a significant role in ‘mythicising’ the paperless society rather than diminishing the use of paper. Technology has actually enhanced it, as witnessed by the creation of e-mail – which alone has increased the global use of paper by 40%,” he notes.

Legislation not ‘green’

Lorenzi also notes that the Internet, as well as tablet devices such as the iPad and wireless printing applications, has made document editing on PDF and e-mail simpler and easier to print, and the rise of tablets has contributed to the interest in printing.

“Paper consumption was actually far less in the days of the typewriter when typists carefully considered each letter, as one mistake meant retyping the entire document.”

Lorenzi says business processes and interactions are still heavily driven by paper. “Paper-based documents simply carry more authority as once something is committed to paper, it is deemed final and it cannot be changed or modified as easily as an electronic document.”

He points to paper-based copies of contracts, ID documents, proof of physical address, which is often required when a person performs basic transactions such as opening a bank account.

New regulations such as RICA have added to the paper consumption problem, as original documents are required as proof of identification.

“Unfortunately, this means the potential environmental benefit of a paperless society is not being felt.”

Smart thinking needed

Lorenzi advises businesses to set additional security on their printers. “If an employee prints a document, they would need to enter a code to print a document.”

However, he says while companies can reduce their paper consumption, there is no getting away from the fact that business needs paper.

He says recycling is not only an environmental consideration, as new data protection legislation such as the Protection of Personal Information Bill will enforce companies to adopt information destruction practices that are aligned with recycling.

According to Lorenzi, nearly four billion trees or 35% of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries the world over.

Lorenzi indicates that SA’s paper recycling ranking is still poor, trailing behind countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Norway. “In a drive to encourage recycling, the US paper industry has set a goal to recover 55% of all the paper used in the country by 2012.

“More South African businesses need to follow this example by adopting a culture of paper recycling, which is sometimes as simple as placing paper recycling bins in high paper usage areas, such as near a printer or photocopy machine.”

Some merit

On the other hand, Tim James, MD of SustainableIT, believes technology exists today which will make the ‘paperless office’ a reality.

“Unfortunately, due to ways of working, legal requirements around records retention, and immaturity in technology adoption, we are still some way off. I think future business will dictate that it will eventually become a reality.”

James says legislation needs to support e-formats and e-signatures. “In many instances, this is not the case and legislation dictates the business requirement. There is no reason why legislation couldn’t insist that an e-format was the only legal form of storing information. In fact, the exact reverse of what is happening today.

“SARS has made significant progress with the e-filing platform and is a shining example of what is possible through using the e-channel. Quite simply, government needs to provide the correct business environment to support this.”

Research by the World Wide Fund for Nature says the total paper consumption is expected to rise from a current 400 million tonnes to between 450 million and 500 million tonnes by 2020.

Source: ITWeb 5 July 2011

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