The Paper Light Office

Topics: Store and Protect Information

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A Realistic Roadmap to Digitization


Why is the paperless office still such an elusive dream for so many businesses? It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to harness the full value of information when so much of it remains locked up in paper documents, and when these documents are left floating around the workplace or hidden away in a file cabinet. Since information is one of the most precious assets in business, a paper heavy workplace doesn’t make sense. Evidence suggests, however, that companies should seek the more valuable and realistic goal of going “paper light” rather than attempting to go completely paperless. The following report considers the challenges that paper heavy businesses face and provides practical guidance on why and how to make the journey to a paper light future, with a focus on security, access and harnessing the value of information.

The concept of the “paperless office” was popularized in 1975 and was intended to describe a vision of the future where businesses no longer used hard paper documents. This is far from a reality in offices today. Despite the ubiquitous use of computers, tablets and smartphones and the creation of software solutions that can capture all kinds of information, we, as a society, simply cannot wean ourselves off paper.

In Fact:

  • The use of paper is actually increasing in a staggering one third (32%) of firms
  • Three quarters (77%) of invoices that arrive in PDF format get printed
  • Only half (45%) of paper documents scanned by businesses were created digitally

As companies look to become more efficient, cost-effective and information secure, they are required to improve the way they manage and use these hard copy documents. Many businesses have developed a “hybrid” process, in which both digital and paper documents can co-exist.

The Challenges to Paper Reduction

If we accept that paper is not going away in the foreseeable future, how can we make paper more useful and accessible? Paper light provides a solution. A paper light approach embraces offsite storage and document digitization, which helps you access documents quickly, saves you time and space, and allows your people to work smarter. It likewise provides better service to your customers.

“According to a recent AIIM study, there is good news and bad news for companies burdened by an overload of paper. The good news is that, for 41% of organizations, the use of process paper is decreasing. The bad news, however, is that for 19% of businesses, it’s still increasing. How can this be? Most likely additional regulatory requirements or a need for further management feedback have added extra forms and check-lists to the daily workplace environment. And yet, these added business needs are precisely why we need to remain vigilant about not allowing too much paper to clog the business system. ”


We believe that a commitment to paper light should go hand-in-hand with a commitment to harness the value of information.

A range of independent studies as well several undertaken by Iron Mountain and AIIM over the last 18 months suggests the following main obstacles to paper reduction:

The Paper Legacy. Iron Mountain research found that approximately 22% of decision-makers see reducing their legacy records as a key priority. Yet organizations typically don’t have the proper tools, technologies, processes or methodologies in place to effectively manage and reduce their paper overload. While 80% of companies may have formal policies for records management, 63% report being unable to apply those policies consistently. Perhaps not coincidentally, 63% of organizations likewise report having experienced a trigger event that damaged their paper records irreparably and cost them money.2

The Significance of Signatures. A study by AIIM1 found that the top concern about introducing paper free processes was the need for a physical signature on a form, despite the fact that in many cases electronic signatures are now legally valid.

Lack of Understanding of Benefits of Paper Reduction. In today’s business world, companies are failing to understand how reducing the amount of paper can actually help them achieve other business objectives, such as improving information security. One study found that a establishing a paper-free environment ranks very low when compared to other business priorities, such as using information as a business asset (a concern that topped the list for organizations studied at a whopping 67%), information security (49%), and the implementation of social media (also 49%). The reality is, however, that paper reduction, digitization and offsite storage can maximize the value of business data, free up office space and streamline business efficiency, all while allowing for fast and easy access of documents. This new way of thinking about records management can help put businesses on a track towards increased profit and productivity.

The Hybrid Paper-Digital Information Landscaper. There is considerable confusion and concern about how to handle the ‘hybrid’ paper-digital information landscape. This is further complicated by the fact that information often moves freely between paper and digital formats, sometimes with the same information simultaneously existing in both forms, while being amended or updated in one format but not the other. Our research found that approximately two thirds (62%) of business firms are concerned about the disconnect between paper and digital formats, and that a third (34%) worry about the resources required to manage accuracy, security and information consistency across both formats.

Employee Behavior. Another overriding obstacle to paper reduction is the everyday reality of the modern office – a world where printers and photocopiers hum away in every corner and shelves are overflowing with sheets of paper. In one study, it was discovered that fewer than half (42%) of office workers report a centrally-managed and secure archiving system for paper within their organization. Similarly, a fifth (22%) of workers suggest there are no rules in place for paper and that everyone just manages their own information as they see fit.

If these are the challenges holding organizations back, what are the opportunities that can drive them forward?

The Business Goals Driving the Commitment to Paper Light

The desire to move from paper-heavy to paper light often begins when the business decides to embrace digital technologies on a more general scale. This involves the introduction of the digital scanning of paper documents, or a digitization program.

The most successful digitization programs are those that are designed to meet a wider business objective, such as:

  • Faster processes and accelerated access to information
  • Reduced costs and more profitable use of office space
  • Reduced risk and well-managed security
  • Harnessing the value of information

A need for faster processes and accelerated access to information. Such positive changes are critical for improving customer service. They can, for example, enable speedy processing of insurance claims or allow access to a customer’s entire history in real time for issue resolution.

  • Research shows that customer service levels and response times could be improved by nearly 32% if staff could immediately access customer and case-related information.
  • Another study found that driving paper out of a specific business process could quadruple response rates and boost staff productivity by one third.

A need to reduce costs and increase the profitable use of office space. The hidden costs of storing and retrieving information can be significant, and can include not just the cost of the physical space, but the costs of time and resources used for filing, managing and retrieving information.

  • Studies show that most businesses (58%) store the majority of their paper records on site.
  • An IDC survey finds that the time spent searching for information averages 8.8 hours per week, at a cost of $14,209 per knowledge worker per year.
  • Analyzing information consumed an additional 8.1 hours, costing organizations $13,078 annually.
  • An organization employing 1,000 knowledge workers loses nearly $6 million annually in time wasted when employees reformat information as they move between applications.

Case Study - Cost Reduction

Jacobs Engineering


Jacobs Engineering identified its records management policy and practice as an area for potential cost savings. Lack of standardized archiving processes at the firm resulted in difficulties accessing important documents, a variety of disorganized storage locations and unknown archiving costs.


By consolidating its records with an Iron Mountain Records Management program, the professional technical services firm achieved process consistency and improved document security and access.


This reduced the administrative burden of managing information and streamlined processes, which have since exceeded expectations in terms of cutting costs.

A need to reduce risk and manage security. Many organizations are unaware that an office is probably not the best place to store necessary documents. Instead, comprehensive information management allows for improved compliance and can reduce risk of data loss or exposure. In addition, a records management program that incorporates digitization and offsite storage of paper documents can give your company added piece of mind and protect against unforeseen disaster. For example, offsite storage can reduce opportunities for unauthorized access or theft, while digitization allows end-to-end document tracking and authentication.

A need to harness the value of information. The ability to access and analyze all types and formats of information allows an organization to turn data into intelligence. This is important news, considering companies are only just learning that the consolidation and indexing of records can help identify money-saving trends in customer behavior. Such analysis can also improve customer relations and supply chain management, and can likewise make the business more agile and responsive and allow employees to make more informed decisions.

  • Our studies show that the perceived business benefits of harnessing information value include a greater understanding of customer segments in marketing (52% of firms surveyed), improved services and systems in IT (49%), enhanced problem resolution in customer service (53%) and an ability to respond more quickly and effectively to legal challenges (61%).
  • Gartner analyst Doug Laney has shown that organizations that are ‘information-centric’ and that make the most of their information can double their market value.

“The most important thing was having a service plan that worked for us. Iron Mountain proved very flexible in adjusting its processes to take account of our unique needs. The net result is a cost reduction of [about $125,000] over the first two years, with recurring savings going forward.”


Case Study - Harnessing the Value of Information



SunGard Availability Services provides operations support to IT departments that need to keep mission-critical information up and running. The company was looking for a more consistent automated processing and tracking solution to help eliminate the inefficiencies associated with manual, paper-based Accounts Payable invoice processing. At the time, 90% of SunGard Availability Services’ invoices were paper-based.


Iron Mountain introduced a new AP invoice processing solution which eliminated paper and routed e-invoices via automated workflow to authorized approvers for matching and exception handling. All of this is now managed from a single dashboard with self-service for users, offering information on demand, an online audit trail and workflow status and transaction history.


SunGard now has clear visibility into invoice status and real-time reporting capabilities that allow for customized reports that provide the required level of detail to capture early payment discounts and realize the savings negotiated by procurement. In addition, SunGard staff can now work to review and approve invoices and update budgets at any time, avoiding a crunch at the end of the month. What’s more, 90% of SunGard’s invoices are now entirely paperless.

The Journey to a Paper Light Future

Help your company to better understand where your business is now and determine what you need to do in order to achieve your business and information management objectives in future.

The road to paper light is often not a linear one. Organizations start from different places and have different needs along the way. The important thing is to begin. Focus on the most important information first (it is expensive and unnecessary to digitize everything) and ensure that your employees are with you all the way. If your staff members don’t understand or will not accept the change, the change simply will not succeed.

The scenarios below illustrate the typical voyage to paper light. Try to identify your company’s place in the journey and, once that’s done, draw on the steps outlined in the advisory section to help define how you can best move from where you are to where you want to be.

“The Iron Mountain solution gave us workflow, approval authority and self-service capabilities. Not only are we saving time but there is greater visibility and accountability company-wide.”


See The Light

Tackling the paper-heavy office

Does any of the following sound familiar? Your workplace is paper-heavy and you’re surrounded by documents: on desks, in drawers and in filing cabinets. All this paper is taking up valuable office space and leaving your information vulnerable to theft or damage. You probably store a lot of information that’s no longer immediately necessary somewhere onsite, which could also put your company in danger of exposure. If you need access to documents, it may take you days – if not weeks – to find the proper records.

If this scenario resembles your workplace, then your business could be putting itself at risk, and such risk could lead to inefficiency, loss of competitive advantage and loss of brand reputation. The damage in these cases could be so farreaching, it could take your firm years to recover. It’s time to take control and reduce the amount of paper in your workplace. A professional records management program will not only reduce risk, it will also provide your organization with faster access to information.

The first thing to do is to identify and collect all of your ‘inactive’ paper – the documents you no longer need or use regularly – and move them somewhere secure and offsite. These can be kept for later use or securely and compliantly destroyed once they’ve become obsolete.

Lighten the Load

Getting to paper light

Now that you’ve started re-thinking your business in terms of a paper light office, it’s time to transform how you handle ‘living’ documents across your organization. People tend to keep information close at hand because they want to refer to it regularly or get to it quickly. According to AIIM, 72% of companies claim that it’s harder to find information they own than information they don’t, yet many businesses find it difficult to implement standardized processes for indexing and accessing critical documents within their organization. Storing documents in file cabinets and desks across the office isn’t the best way to protect and access critical information. There’s an easier and more efficient choice.

This alternative involves scanning the documents your employees need or use most into a digital format. Smart document retrieval systems allow information to be collected instantly so that documents can be used, shared, amended and re-filed securely. Iron Mountain can help implement a rigorous system of authorization, so that you can always be sure who has access to your documents and when.

Get Light on Your Feet

Staying paper light

Once you’ve started putting a records management plan in place, you can work to improve processes in order to adapt to the ever-increasing volumes and varying formats of information flooding into your organization. At the same time you can work towards ensuring that data can feed directly into your latest automated workflows.

The legacy of your paper-heavy days means that you probably still spend far too much time processing incoming information. This backlog creates bottlenecks in your workflows and slows down response times when dealing with customers, partners and suppliers.

The latest document digitization techniques, such as inbound scanning, enable information to be extracted on arrival and injected straight into the relevant processes. Digitized documents can now be made immediately accessible, with no interruption of your day-to-day business procedures.

A further advantage to information management services is that secure offsite storage and carefully processed document scanning and retrieval systems can help your business remain legally compliant in the face of increasingly complex and stringent data legislation.

The Journey to a Paper Light Future

Help your company to better understand where your business is now and determine what you need to do in order to achieve your business and information management objectives in future.

1. Know Your Goal

Knowing where you are going means being clear about your business objectives. This matters because it allows you to better define your digitization strategy and ensures that you can extract the greatest possible value from your information.

2. Know Now What You Store - and Where

There are many kinds of information, and each type has different storage and access requirements. To decide what to store and where, you need to determine the confidentiality level and legal retention period for each document type. You also need to decide who must have access to the document, and how often, and you must then take measured steps to protect your most sensitive and valuable business information. This kind of information can include such vital assets as research documents, intellectual property and customer information. Lastly, you must make sure everything is consistently indexed so you can find it quickly and easily.

3. Understand Your Business Processes and What Improvements Digitization can Bring

Digitization helps to improve business efficiency. For example, contracts represent some of an organization’s most critical and valuable documents. They also pose special challenges for managing access and version control, confidentiality and contract integrity. Since contracts are often created and updated by many individuals throughout an organization, these documents must be managed in a manner that allows for access from multiple locations. It is imperative that authorized parties are able to view the latest, most complete version of a contract as well as to update necessary fields that facilitate timely access and requisite reporting.

Other factors to consider include security, the ease with which information can be retrieved, format flexibility, compliance/evidentiary value and cost of conversion and storage. With this in mind, it is important that anorganization have methods in place that can measure the impact of digitization on its business processes.

4. Bring Your People With You

If your employees don’t understand or accept the changes, they may establish a work-around that could leave information less secure. It is critical to engage staff in the paper light process. Try setting up a working group that includes key stakeholders as well as end users. In addition, make efforts to ensure that the paper light processes that are implemented provide immediate benefit and are difficult to bypass. Be sure to create initiatives that help promote success and demonstrate business value across departments. Successful pilots can be used to gain support for broad implementation and companywide adoption.

5. Consider Compliance and Legal Requirements

It is worth taking the time to survey and understand your regulatory landscape. Be sure that the latest legal and regulatory requirements are built into your paper light program from the outset. Digital records are often held in cloud software or on a server at a data center, and it is important to know exactly where these facilities are geographically, as data protection laws can vary across regions. Also, be aware that certain types of information must be retained within the country of origin.

In addition, digital documents, including scanned paper files, can now be presented as evidence in legal proceedings. However, to ensure admissibility, digital information must be managed securely throughout its lifetime. So if you’re thinking about replacing paper records with digitized documents, you need to ensure that the whole document lifecycle – from capture through to transformation, storage and disposal – follows procedures that assure legal admissibility. This is yet another area in which a good records management partner can help you.

6. Consider Cost

The full cost of managing information may not always be obvious, yet it can be considerable. Experts can help identify inefficiencies, such as paying for storage that isn’t needed or pinpointing expensive management systems. Costs can escalate rapidly if you try to do everything yourself or if you try to do it all at once. It is not necessary, for example, to scan all of your company’s documents. Instead, it’s more important to scan what you value most and then archive the rest. It’s also worth remembering that, for some processes (particularly those involving less active information), paper may indeed be the more suitable and most cost-effective storage option. In these cases, keep in mind that images can be always made available on demand.

7. The Importance of Preparation

To ensure you don’t lose any of your newly digitized information, it’s important to plan and prepare before you even get started. Such preparation includes determining your meta-data plan: implementing tags, labels and indexes that will help you to quickly locate the digital document you need. Also, be sure to determine where the information will be stored (i.e. in your own repository or a hosted archive).

8. In-House or Outsource

The decision to manage and store digital files on- or offsite will vary according to the company. The need for business continuity is an important consideration in this case. If you’re planning to close offices or reduce staff, there is a risk that paper could be left behind. This could constitute a major security and data protection breach. Consider the in-house expertise you might have available compared to the capability offered by an external provider. Freeing space for more revenue-generating activities can be a key motivation to outsource.

9. Don't Forget Inbound

What about all the new paper that flows into your organization every day? Leading organizations consider management plans that rely on information garnered from both inbound paper documents and archived paper records. Managing inbound information will help you streamline your downstream business processes and limit backlogs. Many organizations struggle to manage this inbound workflow efficiently because their information exists in different formats and is managed by different teams. Yet consider this: if a company wishes to improve its customer service process, an imaging solution can enable frontline customer service agents to immediately identify customer interactions that take precedence in order to better prioritize work. Having access to the right customer information means faster response times and reduced issue resolution time, which can in turn cut back on costs. Regardless of the industry, when it comes to customer problem resolution, speed always has a direct impact on revenue.

You must determine exactly when and how your teams need access to information. The right information management strategy for your business should take into account your existing business process and give you better control over your information.

10. Consider Potential of Big Data

The volume, variety and velocity of information are increasing. Few organizations will remain unaffected by this rapid growth. Your document management processes need to be able to accommodate these ever-expanding volumes. Make your information challenge manageable by segmenting and prioritizing according to the value, risk and compliance requirements of the information you possess. Getting a strategy in place is the most important step – so opt for progress over perfection. Whatever you decide, make sure your information management plan includes a reliable, long-term storage solution, and that your company can easily extract insight from archived data.


Iron Mountain research studies quoted:

1. Information Risk Business Survey. Research study undertaken in January 2012 by PwC for Iron Mountain Europe. PwC interviewed a total of 600 senior business executives each in the UK, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain, with a proportionate spread across the following business sectors: insurance, financial services, legal services, manufacturing & engineering, and pharmaceuticals.

2. Making sense of big data. Research study undertaken between June and August 2012 by Coleman Parkes Research for Iron Mountain. The study questioned 760 managers with operational responsibility for information within IT, marketing, customer service, legal and compliance departments, in the following business sectors: legal, manufacturing, and financial services.

3. Attitudes to information. Research study undertaken in May 2013 by Opinion Matters for Iron Mountain Europe. The study explored the views and behaviors of 5,000 office workers and employees at the director level and above in the legal, administrative, marketing, sales, HR, finance and IT departments in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain.