Although we often hear of schemes to reduce the environmental impact of paper, less tends to be said about the cost of handling it. The introduction of electronic systems for handling documents, records and emails has triggered surveys which reveal some alarming facts, such as 90 per cent of business information still exists on paper, the quantity of paper documents is growing by 22 per cent annually, the average document is copied 10 times, and 85 per cent of archived documents never leave their filing cabinets.
Although there are policy and legislative justifications for adopting a technology that ensures the efficient storage of documents, the most compelling argument is simply one of cost.
The efficiency of an organisation using document and records management software to scan, index and store documents and then to search and retrieve them is measurably better than one which does not. Filing a document costs £10, retrieval costs £60 and reproducing a lost one costs £110. Labour costs of 20 per cent are associated with handling paper, while floor rent for a large filing cabinet might typically be £240 per year, with many housing organisations having hundreds of these spread over different offices.
Over the past decade, document and record management systems have become fairly common within many public sector organisations. However, their implementation within housing associations is more recent, for cultural as well as technological reasons, as many associations lack the holistic information culture required to free both the information stored in documents and records and the associated costs of handling and storing them.
An electronic records management system is only a tool – to be successful, the system must impose good governance, be user friendly and be easily extended to everyone who creates and uses documents and records. In order to embed these systems into the working life of every information-creating employee, they must also be integrated with other information systems, such as CRM, desktop applications, intranet and internet, financial systems and housing management systems.
The handling of paper is not a core capability of housing organisations. The alternative is to outsource the entire paper and post handling service so that staff receive electronic images of documents by workflow, resulting in significant savings on administration costs and the reallocation of office space and storage. For example, one organisation using this type of service from Anite recouped its original costs within three months and freed up resources by improving the turnaround speed and efficiency of document processing, leaving the organisation free to get on with its core business.
We can’t easily do without paper but we can certainly benefit from having less of it around.
Darren Howe is a business consultant for Anite Public Sector.