I spent 12 months working for a local authority, the crimes against technology I witnessed still haunt me to this day, so I drafted a paperless proposal.
It all started on my first day in the office, I was introduced to the filing cabinet. And by filing cabinet I mean a 5 meter squared area of rolling cabinets, overflowing with paper files and folders.
An alphabetic system was in use, which meant when a file wouldn’t fit, it would be placed on the top of the cabinet or even in the wrong place.
The worst part of my job was the preparation for the weekly case review meetings. This required case files for 10-15 cases, printed and stapled, and then sent out via post to all attendees of the meeting (sometimes 10-15 people). We even had wheeled baskets to help us move all the paper around.
Each envelope was about 2 inches thick and to be sent recorded first class by royal mail and when the meeting was over, I was left with a pile of paper as long as my torso to be fed into a big blue recycling bin with a letterbox sized hole.
This quickly led to my frustration – as a staff member who as using the files the most – and led to a paperless proposal.
An effort to digitalise
The first stage was to tidy up the existing files, sending old ones off for archiving and leaving plenty of space in the racks for new files.
This opened another can of worms – not only were files in the wrong place, some had been mixed up, or even lazily stuffed into one file, meaning files were inaccurate and potentially worthless.
For the ease of my colleagues, emails and other online forms were saved onto a shared hard drive as well as being filed away as a paper hard copy.
This meant replicating the paper files format into digital files for continuity, but also duplicating work whilst I set my main plan in motion of stopping using the paper files all together, which meant convincing my colleagues that they can trust technology to store their files safely.
After a conversation with my head of department, I was told that to progress this any further I needed to speak with the heads of service. I assume this was an attempt to stifle, or even thwart, my plans for new processes in my department.
Of course, arranging a meeting with the head of service took a while, but when it came to it I had a draft business plan to show the cost savings, effect to the environment etc, and a can-do attitude to prove that this would not only work, but be more effective than the current process.
In actuality, I didn’t have to try that hard to convince any of the upper management that this was a good idea. In fact, they must have been glad that it had come from me and not something to be pushed down from them.
Convincing my colleagues, however, was a different ball game.
Stuck in their old ways
The biggest obstacle for this project was the team itself. Digitalising the processes was time consuming, but since the department already had a working project to document the current processes, most of the work had already been done.
This was simply a task of changing the destination of the files from a hard-copy file to a computer file.
Apparently, it is much easier to convince someone that a physical file, in one location, was a more secure way to store an important (legally binding) document than on a digital server backed up in several places.
The thought of a fire wiping out the documents, amongst other things, was enough of a catalyst to get my colleagues thinking perhaps digitalisation of their documents could be a good thing.
The easiest way to relax my colleague’s fears was to hold regular meetings where anyone could drop by and voice their concerns.
This lead to many discussions about the safety of digital storage, and the apparently impossible task of reading from a computer monitor or tablet instead of a piece of paper.
What’s the solution?
With the existing digital database, and adobe reader, there was no software to procure. This project was more of a change in culture, from print and read to read and save.
All staff members had laptops, so the case review meetings I mentioned earlier should never have been allowed to continue with the mass of paper waste, probably visible from space within one year.
As I saw it, the benefits were immense, and undeniable. I would save time spent waiting for things to print. My colleagues would save time looking for files. My employer would save money on paper, printer servicing, staples, postage, recycling costs etc.
We would also be reducing our collective carbon footprint by reducing the amount of paper waste, fuel from the postie’s van and so forth.
Not to mention the space that could be saved by removing the huge filing cabinets that could be turned into a new meeting room or an extension to the office.
All it took to change the processes, save the local authority money, save the staff time, and save the planet from accelerated inevitable heat death, was one lowly assistant who handled so much paper he would dream of printers slowly feeding out reems of paper, and would be so used to the sound of a gigantic xerox that the rest of his life would seem quiet and placid.
Did it all go to plan?
Regrettably, I never saw the project to the end of it’s life.
I had long decided that I would be better off in a more digital friendly work environment and had been offered a job at a company that promotes paperless, digital processes. (Yes, you guessed it, ITESOFT).
I am still haunted to this day by the amount of paper I slotted into those blue recycling bins, however I stay positive and imagine my paperless proposal made it all the way to actualisation.
Although I am sure the minute I left the printers were being fired up again.
In late 2017, ITESOFT ran a survey looking at the key points any organisation will have whilst they are looking into business process automation (BPA).
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