The “paperless office“: a concept that dates back to the 1970s (before I was even born) with promises of the “office of the future” where record-handling would be electronic.

We’ve come a long way since then, with the commercialisation of the Internet and the introduction of massive scale services such as facebook and twitter there has been an increase in demand for “cloud computing”.

Cloud computing is essentially computing as a service, provided on-demand as you need it across the Internet.

Once you begin to understand the technology that is now available to us, the concept of a paperless office is now a reality.

I’ve recently been asked how much I print in the past month.

I rarely need to print anything for home use, but I used to print quite a bit for business use.

I had a fairly old reliable mono laser printer that I used for everything, from invoices to records of postage to records of bills paid.

The reason I’ve never updated it is because it keeps on going, but from time to time it does have a hiccup, which in any business is not ideal.

I had to do something about it.

A new printer?

I came up with a couple of options to replace the printer, such as buying a new laser or an all-in-one inkjet printer. I couldn’t work out what I would get the most use out of and I don’t have the space for both, nor can I justify the cost of purchasing both.

My biggest issue is the cost of ink: the most expensive liquid on the planet (if you purchase your ink from the manufacturer). Laser toner, although cheaper isn’t an ideal on-going cost either, plus the cost of paper.

I’m not just talking about the financial cost of paper either, I’m talking about environmental. Every mistake made, every bad print, every piece of paper that ends up in the bin is a waste.

I parked the idea for a while until I could make a decision.

Paper office

A little time later a client was explaining to me about their situation in their office. Their office had become over-run with paper and they began to question the need for all of it.

The client concluded that there wasn’t a need, they realised they could email their invoices, save bank transfer statements and store any other documents on their computer. Not only that but they knew that with the help of cloud storage based services such as Dropbox, all their documents would be backed up online too, so no need for a paper copy.

I didn’t need to even prompt them, they had come to this conclusion themselves. Their only issue was that they still had and received paper that they needed to digitalise to completely rid their office of paper.

They needed a scanner, I needed a scanner.

Going paperless

At this point I’d decided that it wasn’t a new printer that I needed, what I needed was to print less (if at all) and scan more.

In my humble opinion, there’s very little excuse for printing.

  • Need to print and send an invoice? Save and email it.
  • Can’t save, but can print? Install CutePDF and print it to your computer as a PDF file.
  • Need a permanent copy in case of system failure? Cloud storage (such as Dropbox or Google Docs).
  • Need to take it out of the office? The cloud again, a memory stick or send it to your destination.
  • Need to reference to it on the go? Put it on your phone, tablet or laptop.

Once you change the way you think about printing and paper you begin to realise that you don’t need to print anything really.

There are (of course) always exceptions. A recent one was I had to go to an event which required me to print their tickets.

But then surely as long as the gate operator can scan a bar code, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on paper or perhaps your mobile phone. Perhaps this can be tried and tested.

Either way, it’s hard to justify the cost of a new printer for edge cases like this.

A scanner however is essential not in a paperless office, but in a paper world. How do we expect to go paperless if you’re still handling paper from third parties?

Buying a scanner

I had a scanner years ago, it was an old LPT flatbed scanner, when that finally gave up the ghost for the odd time I used it, I opted for a USB flatbed scanner. In my experience they were terribly cumbersome to use.

It wasn’t just the scanner either, it was the awful software.

I was really reluctant with the “scanner” solution to the paperless office, since that is accepting that the paper exists in the first place to scan, but after reading numerous articles about the so called “paperless office”, I agreed that it was the only logical way.

The downside to this was that the I was reading articles that were written last year and some even older. Technology and scanners had moved on even in that short time.

Finding a “good scanner” to go paperless is a challenge in itself.

I went ahead and took a look at the scanner reviews on the PC Pro magazine website.

The most recent review was for the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100, which I was pretty much sold on as soon as I read that it could “scan directly to the cloud” combined with the 5 out of 6 stars and compared to the Plustek MobileOffice S400 the ScanSnap was the obvious choice.

I cross referenced the review with some of the comments on Amazon for the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1100 before making the decision.

However, it wasn’t until I watched their introduction video that I was truly sold on the device…

Introducing the ScanSnap S1100

After watching the video I promptly ordered the ScanSnap S1100 from dabs and patiently waiting for it’s arrival.

For £160 it arrived in a box that was smaller than I had imagined, but still so long as it lived up to the exceptions in the video I was happy. It did!

The future is here

This scanner is brilliant, I take it everywhere with me along side by netbook it’s brilliant for scanning documents anywhere and it’s really easy to manage them in the organiser.

There’s a few neat ways you can use the organiser to ensure your documents are safely stored in the cloud, the primary choice is probably Google Docs, all you need for that is an account with Google and away you go.

Personally, not only do I use Google Docs but I also set my “My ScanSnap” folder to be in my “Dropbox” directory so that everything in there is stored with Dropbox too.

A third option is to use Evernote which I remember looking promising when I signed up to their beta, but having used it a couple of times I was fairly disappointed with it’s interface and have never really used it since.

However, one of the cool things about Evernote is that it is cross platform compatible, so although you can scan your documents on your PC, if you have Evernote installed of your mobile, you can access them there too.

Do a little and do it often

If you’ve managed to get this far, there’s not much else to say really, apart from share some wise words that apply to any paperwork and record keeping processing:

“Do a little and do it often”

Don’t try and tackle a huge mountain of paper in one go as you’ll burn out before the motors in the scanner does. Instead, be sensible about it.

I went ahead and only started scanning new stuff as it came in, while sometimes I would scan other stuff as I needed it. But if you need to backdate, try and do a reasonable date range at a time.

That’s not all though, Microsoft has some tips to help you achieve a paperless office.

Now what?

You’re on your own for now.

All that remains is to get others to “buy in” to the concept which in turn will reduce the amount of paper you receive.

Just remember to ask: Can you scan this? Do you need to print that?

Good luck!