Paper Wars 2014 - an update from the battlefield

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It feels like we have been fighting the paper wars for a very long time. These days the technological weaponry is cheaper, better, faster. The office troops are mobile, agile and highly computer-literate. The rules of engagement have legitimized scanned copies and digital signatures. Yet, most organizations are still fighting everyday battles with paper that clogs up offices and slows down processes.

The arguments for keeping electronic records to save office space, improve findability and reduce waste are well rehearsed, and yet billions of unnecessary paper copies are still printed around the world every day. Meanwhile, we have moved on to another battlefront – paper-free processes. This presents a more resounding rallying cry for the corporate troops. Let’s join forces across the enterprise and fight for paperfree processes, rather than pursue that seemingly elusive paperless office.

A very strong case can be made for all-digital processes in improved productivity and lower costs, but the biggest impact is on speed of response - response to inbound mail, response to bottlenecks, response to regulatory changes, but above all, response to the customer, citizen or client. Business-at-the-speed-ofpaper is not an appealing maxim and is likely to be completely unacceptable in a few years’ time, in what will be an increasingly mobile, remote-working, just-in-time world.

In this report, we take an in-depth look at the amount of paper in the office, the battle plans to remove it, the take up of digital mailrooms and multi-channel capture, and the influence of mobile and cloud. Above all, we look at the progress towards paper-free processes, the triggers and decision-making processes, and the issues, benefits and ROI.

Key Findings

Paper in the Office

  • 68% of respondents agree that business-at-the-speed-of-paper will be “unacceptable in just a few years’ time”.46% consider that the biggest single productivity improvement for most of their business processes is to remove the paper.
  • Only 35% of organizations have a maxim to drive paper out of the business, with just 19% having endorsement at board-level.56% have an environmental impact policy including reduced use of paper, but only 24% proactively promote it.
  • Overall paper consumption is decreasing in 44% of organizations compared to 35% three years ago.However, it is still increasing in 21%. Paper flowing through processes is decreasing for 46% of organizations, increasing for 25%.
  • Over half of respondents print personal paper copies to take to a meeting, or to add a signature.They also use printed copies for reading offline or out-of-the-office (50%), and particularly to review and mark-up (45%).
  • The average space taken up in offices to store paper is 13.5% (down from 15.3% in 2011).Respondents suggest that with electronic-only filing, this would halve to 6.7% in 5 years’ time.
  • Lack of management initiatives and the (perceived) need for physical signatures are given as the top reasons why there is still so much paper in business processes.There is also felt to be a general lack of understanding of paper-free options.

Driving Paper Out

  • Improved searchability and sharability of business documents is the biggest driver for scanning and capture.Faster response to customers, improved process productivity and reduced physical storage space are also big drivers.
  • On average, 35% of scanned documents are 100% born digital i.e., unchanged from printer to scanner.16% of scanned documents are photocopied before scanning, and 65% are not destroyed after scanning.

Capture at the Point of Entry

  • On average, 44% of invoices arrive as electronic (PDF, Fax, EDI).59% of these will still end up as a paper copy, mostly printed prior to manual processing (39%). 13% print a copy and then scan it back in. Only 8% pass it directly to the capture system.
  • 27% “scan-at-the-door”, including 18% using distributed capture across multi-channel inbound content and 9% using a digital mailroom.9% scan in advance of the process and 19% scan-to-archive after the process. 45% only do “ad hoc scanning”.
  • 38% of users showed an ROI from digital mailrooms within 12 months, and 60% within 18 months. Respondents list faster turnaround to customers and more efficient data capture as the main benefits.

Outsourced Services

  • Our respondents generally expect to spend more with service providers on scanning preprocess, both with and without data capture.Post-process imaging for archive is still growing, and there is still an appetite to spend more on back-scanning of paper records.

Paper-Free Processes

  • 44% of organizations are only 10% towards their goal of paper-free processes.23% have yet to achieve any, including 22% of the very largest organizations. 17% are updating processes at a rate of five or more per year.
  • Legal and finance departments are considered to be the most resistant to paper-free working.A mandate from above is the most likely trigger for implementation, but cost saving in specific areas is the next most likely.
  • 60% of users have seen ROI on their paper-free projects within 12 months, and an impressive 77% within 18 months.Faster response to customers and higher productivity are seen as the biggest benefits, along with improved remote and mobile availability.

Mobile Capture

  • Two thirds of respondents recognize the importance of mobile devices for content access and data capture.25% are keen to exploit mobile and 9% see it as a “required option for all processes”.


  • 15% are already using cloud or SaaS for capture (including expense receipts), and 10% have immediate plans to do so.42% are still setting cloud strategies.


  • Spend intentions are strong in all software areas, particularly workflow and BPM, mobile, OCR/ ICR and AP/AR.Intended spend on scanners is largely neutral, except for mailroom scanners in Europe, where spend is set to grow.

Paper in the Office

The good news from the battlefront is that 44% of the organizations we surveyed say that overall paper consumption is decreasing. Only 21% consider it to be increasing, so the net is 25% decreasing over increasing, albeit that a third see no movement in either direction. This compares with our survey three years ago where things were much more balanced – 35% decreasing and 32% increasing, so progress is being made. The largest organizations (5,000+ employees) are leading the way, with only 15% indicating an increase in paper compared to 43% seeing a decrease – a net of 28%. For the smallest (10-500 employees) the net is 21%.

When it comes to policies that drive a general reduction of paper, things are a little more disheartening. Just over a third have a policy to drive paper out of the business and 24% have a proactive environmental policy that includes the reduced use of paper. Even where these are in place, the policy will most likely have been set below senior board level in all but 40% of cases, which explains the 21% with environmental policies that are largely ignored. Perhaps more commercial organizations should align themselves with the government sector where many follow a government mandate to reduce paper – nearly half in that sector for the US and UK.

Consumption of paper in the office is decreasing for 44% of organizations surveyed, but still increasing for 21%. Two-thirds have no effective policies to drive out paper or reduce usage for environmental reasons.

Personal Paper Use

Out of interest, we also asked our respondents why they personally might resort to paper copies. 59% print papers to take to a meeting This is good to avoid the distraction of laptops and tablets being used for email during the meeting, but bad in terms of additional copies – especially if the meeting secretary also prints copies just in case. Then comes the need to add signatures, despite there being perfectly secure and legally acceptable digital and electronic signing systems available. Half print copies to read offline or out of the office, indicating that use of tablets while traveling is not as prevalent as we think – or that paper copies carried in briefcases or read on the train are considered to be more secure than password-protected mobile devices. Of course, formally reviewing documents and marking up changes has been a challenge on most consumer-orientated mobile devices.

One aspect that we found interesting was the 20% who print a copy of a document (especially a form or invoice) in order to have a reference while entering data into an on-screen process. As a side question we asked how many employees are equipped with two screens – and more than half have only one-in-four able to work dual-screen, and in more than half of organizations, a quarter of employees mostly work from laptops – not an ideal situation for complex, multi-application working.

Paper and Processes

When it comes to the process battlefront, progress is being made, but it is slow. Overall, 46% report that the amount of paper flowing through their business processes is decreasing compared to 25% where it is increasing – a net of 21%. This compares to our survey last year where 41% reported a decrease, but with 19% then seeing an increase, the net was 22% - a very small change.

Larger organizations are making much greater progress, with a 55% reporting a decrease, and a net of 41%, compared to the smallest with 36% reporting a decrease and a net of just 10%. Although it could be argued that smaller organizations would struggle to justify extensive investment in capture systems, scanners and MFPs are ubiquitous, and as we will see, many transactional documents arrive electronically in the first place. On top of that, more than half of this group are 100-500 employee organizations, where significant numbers are employed in administration and process-based operations.

However, there seems to be a huge variation in the largest organizations between the most progressive and the laggards, with 35% reporting (Figure 5) that paper-free thinking is at a somewhat immature stage – much the same number as amongst the smallest. Only 9% of all-sizes actively evaluate every process with a view to making them paper-free.

46% are seeing a reduction in paper flowing through their processes, but the rate of moving processes to be truly paper-free is slow. A third of even the largest organizations have yet to focus fully on the potential of paper-free working.

Drivers for Paper Reduction

Scanning or imaging documents for archive has been in place for over three decades. The business case based on savings in office space is easily made, although the widespread availability of box storage, and smooth collection and retrieval logistics has dented that case somewhat. Having said that, many records and files need to be held locally for immediate reference, and hot-desking, teleworking, and business flexibility have added to the premium on office floor-space.

The amount of current office space taken up by paper file cabinets varies quite widely, but the average in our survey is 13.5%. This is down from the 15.3% we measured three years ago, confirming the previous results of reduced paper in the business. When asked how they felt that might be reduced over five year’s if an electronic-only filing regime were introduced, our respondents forecast a reduction to on average 6.7% - almost exactly half. This would represent an annual saving in office floor-space costs of 7%.