The ugly truth: why more businesses don’t go paperless


As a species, humans hate change. Collectively, we resist it even more. So taking your organisation into the future and embracing the benefits of paperless processes requires a deep, and realistic, understanding of benefits, challenges and best practice in making the paperless dream a reality.

It’s no great surprise that the main motivation for businesses to go paperless is the potential for cost saving. According to the IDC an enterprise employing 1,000 workers wastes $48,000 per week, or nearly $2.5M each year, on finding and retrieving information. This figure drops significantly when considering an enterprise with less reliance on paper. Recent figures from a YouGov survey in the UK (for SMEs) tell a similar story, with a combined wastage of over £42.2M per day for SMEs across the UK.

With these levels of inefficiency, it’s staggering to consider that so few businesses are on their way to becoming paperless to address this. In the YouGov survey 65% of UK SMEs still have yet to take this step. And in this same survey it was noted that 31% of the respondents said that if they weren’t looking for documents, they would be spending time on business development. Whilst this is just a UK statistic, we see the same story told across the globe. The implication here is paper-based processes don’t just hurt efficiency, but actively restrict the growth and development of businesses.

Despite this, only 35% of UK SMEs have actually successfully created a paperless office. So the benefits are clear, but let’s dig into the reasons why businesses are holding back. Do these ring any bells for you?

Paperless Concern #1: Compliance with Regulations

One source that sheds some light on concerns is InfoTrends annual survey of 250 businesses, conducted each year in the US. They found that in 2015, of the businesses falling short of their paperless adoption targets, 37% had compliance concerns that impacted their ability to go paperless. 33% of this group stated that they were restricted by regulations in their industries.

These statistics imply a mismatch between compliance with regulations and the paperless paradigm. However, plenty of businesses in strictly controlled industries (e.g. finance) successfully roll out paperless processes. The answer lies in careful planning, and ideally partnering with an expert in delivering paperless solutions that meet the requirements of regulations.

When moving to electronic invoicing, many businesses attach PDFs to emails. In these circumstances, it’s important that the PDFs are signed with advanced electronic signatures in order determine sender authenticity and integrity of invoice content. This is a requirement of European Commission framework for VAT – see Directives 2001/115/EC and 2006/112/EC.

Paperless Concern #2: Signatures on Paper

In a recent YouGov report it was found that 80% of UK businesses are printing documents just to get them signed! This figure rises to an alarming 90% in financial services and public sector businesses. Is this necessary? No.

Pen-to-paper signatures are rarely a legal requirement. Doug Miles, head of AIIM’s Market Intelligence Unit explains “The laws on this have been standardised in most jurisdictions for ten if not 20 years.” Digital signatures can replace ‘wet ink’ signatures, being legally valid, and are arguably more secure, through the fact that they can be made tamper-proof (invalidated if the content of the signed document is altered).

Understanding how digital signatures, or advanced electronic signatures, can provide a legally valid replacement to printing and signing documents. This can be a big step towards reducing reliance on paper. With AIIM research finding that the majority of digital signature adopters report a return on investment in less than one year, this should be an easy concern to address and move forwards from.

Paperless Concern #3: Supporting Paper

Another significant challenge facing process digitisation is those who don’t want to give up paper. In terms of internal staff, when creating a paperless office, this is relatively straightforward to manage with training and support. However, when customers or business partners refuse, or dislike the move to an electronic format, this can present a more significant challenge.

Depending on the type of paperless deployment, there could be an allowance for self-service requests of paper format documents. In some cases, these could be fulfilled through local-country printers, offering significant savings on postage.

Where there is an absolute need to support paper, it’s important to establish an understanding of the potential costs and challenges with integration. Often, this is where business process outsourcing (BPO) to achieve paperless processes can prove extremely cost effective.

Paperless Concern #4: Security

Although security is seen as a benefit of paperless processes, the digitisation of information is not without security challenges. Digital information is more easily copied and shared, so access controls and tracking processes need to keep step with this.

Many of the perceived risks are negated through process and culture change within an organisation. Externally, where customers receive, supply or access electronic information, policies must be put in place to ensure strong passwords and secure connections online.

Different regulations mandate different levels of data security, but speaking broadly, sensitive information needs to be stored in an encrypted manner, so even if it is stolen, there is no risk of it being used. Whereas the equivalent paper records would be immediately readable to anyone who gains access to them.

Valid Concerns About Going Paperless?

Really, there are no insurmountable reasons to digitally transform paper-based processes. Where paper is still required by a small percentage of customers or partners, there are options to manage this cost effectively.

As the cost barriers to going paperless fall, and paper-based process costs rise, more businesses are reducing their paper diet.

If you’re looking for recommendations on how to digitise your document distribution, particularly sensitive or business critical documents such as invoices, then get in touch, so we can have a discovery call and see how Corcentric can help you achieve your paperless goals more quickly and efficiently (including end-to-end AP automation).