Monday, October 26, 2009

Paper, paper, paper.....

Take a look around you - how much paper can you see on your desk? Does your desk look like this?

You might laugh at this or may have seen the picture before somewhere on the web. What the picture does is illustrate how a lot of companies still operate - event in today's highly-digitally focused world. Interestingly enough, there are ECM vendors out there who will tell you that you need a repository to store your unstructured information digitally - scan in the paper, get rid of the clutter on your desk you will hear them say. Unfortunately, they're wrong - simply implementing a repository will not solve the issue and you will end up with a rapid build-up of paper on desks soon after the system goes live. Not a good way to demonstrate your ROI from the million-dollar investment you just made!

So, what is the solution?

Simply put, a content repository is not the answer on its own. This really only moves the problem to the 'right', it does help store and manage the information digitally but without addressing the core business reasons why paper is used in the first place - the solution will only work in the short term. The user community will find a way of reintroducing paper processes back into the workplace and the status-quo will be returned quite quickly.

At the core of the problem is a requirement to process information physically and a level of distrust in digital management and processes. If a user holds a sheet of paper that has been wet-signed by a user then that is a tangible piece of evidence in the process. The document may be a plan or diagram relating to a piece of plant in a manufacturing organisation or may be related to the sign-off of a maintenance step in keeping an aircraft in the air safely. If and when things go wrong - the user will point back to the document and the signature it contains. Digitally, of course, the same process and outcome can be achieved but because there is no physical item in a user's hand it just doesn't seem as tangible as evidence.

So, focusing on the process is equally, if not more important that providing the initial solution of paper-management.The other key driver to permanently reducing the paper overload within an organisation is to address the question of end-user change-management early in the implementation project. By early, I mean during the project initiation meetings if possible. If users feel that they are not part of the process of designing a system for them - they are probably not going to adopt it with open arms when it comes to 'go-live'. Also, if a user feels that the project team has a detailed understanding and empathy with their process and daily-lives - they will be more open to engaging with you during the project and supporting the solution when it enters the production environment. In many project's I've worked on - the best and most proactive salespeople I've worked with have been within a customer-office selling a solution we've jointly conceived and delivered. This is a powerful message to take to market - especially when your customers are employees within an organistion.

The last option that exists for the project is to simply take away the physical ability to manage paper - make desks and cubicles smaller, remove printers from the office-floor and introduce secure paper-recycling schemes. If all else fails - this might work, mightn't it? If you're faced with a paper-challenge, some vendors may simply tell you to implement their repository and remove the ability for people to print. This might work in the short term - but eventually you'll have piles of paper back on people's desks. When this happens, give Oracle a call!


...and, by the way, aside from the box of tissues my desk has a grand total of 8 sheets of paper on it!

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