Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Nov 28 2011   9:05AM GMT

Overcome the challenges of going paperless

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

We have been speaking about going paperless for many years now. People initially were very skeptical and said that this can never be achieved. However, as technology progressed, a paperless scenario looked more real. The advent of e-mail facilitated putting many a memo, word files, and excel sheets in e-forms, thus, avoiding a print on paper. However, the drawback was that it left a lot of organizational information scattered, and worse, lying on individual PCs.
I have experimented with technologies like document and content management, work flow, microfilming, etc. which have brought in a lot of relief and the attendant advantages. The implementation journey and the transition were however not easy and we had to face several hurdles. But even today it remains quite a challenge and it certainly is not a cakewalk in most places. Let us look at some of the factors that hinder progress on this front.

Removing the roadblocks

1. Breaking the habit: People who have been used to keeping papers in files cannot easily give up the habit of storing records physically. They still print the documents with the plea that they are uncomfortable reading large documents on screen.
2. Inertia in classifying and organizing documents: We usually ask users to group and classify their documents subject-wise so that they can be organized and stored in a central repository. Many do not cooperate saying that their classification changes often as they handle new subjects often. Some are so used to creating ad-hoc directories in their PCs that they are not amenable to taking a holistic view and creating a new order. This one stage I have seen taking inordinately long.
3. Plea of flexibility: Keeping records with themselves seems so easy that they argue against centralization. Organized filing centrally will obviously entail following of rules and an end to ad-hoc modification and deleting of files. Therefore they claim a loss of flexibility.
4. Perceived loss of control: If we have the records with us, we experience a sense of power. People who want information would ask us and that gives us a feeling of importance. If I am keeping the records, my boss will have to call me for information and would be dependent on me. Agreeing to move the records to a central location would amount to giving up my rights.
5. Resisting destruction of physical records: This was another challenge that I had to contend with. Even when we had scanned documents and lodged them into the document management system, users were reluctant to destroy their old physical records. It required a lot of persuasion. Similarly, when we had converted old records into microfilms with an additional copy as a back-up, users resisted destruction of physical records. I then had to temporarily halt further conversion and wrote to the management seeking directions. Then came the diktat for destruction of records and that enabled the company give up the hired document storage-warehouses thus bringing down expenses.

Though a move towards a paperless environment is a reality, it still faces roadblocks and these need to be handled well and with certain measure of firmness. In most cases it is about instilling a discipline and bringing about an order. Once users experience the benefits of electronic handling of documents, they push for more and never look back.

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