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Quit Your Addiction to Pushing Paper

SAP targeted a KPI driven 20% reduction in the use of paper

We're fortunate enough to have three kinds of waste collections in our area: regular trash, garden refuse and recycling. For those that have always had this kind of facility available, this doesn't seem particularly extraordinary. In fact, in some parts of the world, waste can involve as many as a dozen different categories or more. You can in fact spend a lot of effort and time sorting your waste to make sure that you are disposing of trash in a most efficient way.

The reason I brought this up is that a recent visitor to my house commented on the fact that it was amazing how much recycling material we generated since we keep a carton in the kitchen with all of the jars, bottles, boxes and packaging material that needs to be kept separate from the garbage. The comment now resonates with me every time I take that carton to the wheeled bin in the yard and  it got me thinking about the amount of paperwork I have at home. It's time to consider purging since more than seven years of record keeping has elapsed and I want to clear out some of the filing boxes. In going through some of those boxes last year I was astonished to determine just how much important paperwork gets generated by the various processes of daily living. I have moved many of my accounts to paperless and this has alleviated the paper volumes, but surprisingly there's still a banker's box full of paper that needs to be filed every year.

In a domestic household this small mound of paper is relatively insignificant, but in the office and work environment the mounds still seem to be growing. Admittedly, many businesses have taken some significant steps in reducing the paper consumption footprint of daily operations, but we're still a ways off from eliminating the wasteful practice of generating temporary paper forms for data capture and entry processes.

While it may seem a little late in the day to be considering New Year's resolutions, your resolution for 2012 should be to try and identify as many opportunities for reducing paper use as possible. In any given SAP-centric business environment it's likely that there are already a number of measures in place for the creation of electronic documents rather than paper requests and forms that will be transcribed meticulously (or carelessly) into the main system of record and then either shredded or filed.

Some of the most obvious ones are purchase requisitions, leave requests, time sheets and expense reports but you can consider others like internal orders, a host of reports and of course many accounts payable functions. Back in 2009, Tom Raftery of GreenMonk TV spoke to Peter Graf, who is the Chief Sustainability Office at SAP. Graf said SAP targeted a KPI driven 20% reduction in the use of paper. Some of the key areas that were targeted were things like using scan to fax instead of printing, taking electronic media instead of printouts to meetings and reducing the ratio of printers to people and making the printing process smarter by using double-sided printing and keypad pin invocation of the spool cycle. Another interesting idea was setting up a peer pressure mechanism that tracked departmental printing habits. Making a reduction in printed paper use part of the employee compensation matrix is another interesting idea that Graf introduced. MIT also provides some great ideas on how to reduce waste on their workinggreen site and one of those ways that was explicitly called out was the increased use of Online Forms in SAP. Of course printer vendors can also help in this process, although printing and printers is their business they too are interested in compelling sustainability stories and these days most printers have a multitude of roles that include faxing and scanning capability.

"Paper pushing," as MIT calls it, is probably the most fundamental concept of workflow in the office space context. Unlike a production line, the document that you handle can sometimes have workflow elements built inherently into itself. Similarly, using electronic forms like those that you can build with Winshuttle Workflow and InfoPath forms on Winshuttle Central and Microsoft SharePoint can also have those inherent workflow characteristics. More importantly, you can have that workflow tightly integrated with existing SAP transaction based business processes or data queries at the start, in the middle and the end of the entire workflow process.

Simply using your favorite OCR or Image scanning technologies, you can reduce paper consumption by storing, managing and associating external data as scanned images together with key SAP data entered into an electronic form without cluttering your SAP system file storage. These artifacts can also be archived independently of any archiving initiative you may have for your core SAP infrastructure. Microsoft SharePoint supports sophisticated document versioning and Winshuttle Central and Workflow can assist in adding additional status assignments. Digitized invoice document and archiving will help reduce paper use, reduce the risk of transcription errors and improve document management by largely eliminating manual document-handling while appeasing all of the audit and regulatory concerns that your data governance and stewardship organization might have.

I'll end by summing up some statistics of the 2011 PriceWaterhouse study on the costs of "pushing paper" and best practices for AP management. PW called out some sort of Document Management as a "must have" with up to 90% of all corporate information still residing on paper or some type of unstructured format. Their findings indicated that in the average office 90% are merely shuffled and on average gets copied 19 times. Companies are spending around $20 per document on filing, $120 on misfiling and $220 on reconstruction efforts to recreate lost documents. 7.5% of all documents get lost and 3% get misfiled. Estimates run to about 4 Trillion paper documents in US business alone, growing at a rate of 72% per annum.

Processing 100 documents a day as paper at a rate of 6 minutes per document, amounts to 600 filing minutes per day or 10 man hours per day. At a nominal rate of $9 per hour that quickly adds up to $90 a day, just for filing.

It is time to consider moving as much of your paper and form processing to electronic media as you can, and simple form-based data processing is an easy and effective way to start.

Sources for continued reading:

More Stories By Clinton Jones

Clinton Jones is a Product Manager at Winshuttle. He is experienced in international technology and business process with a focus on integrated business technologies. Clinton also services a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance. Before coming to Winshuttle, Clinton served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP. Twitter @winshuttle

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