For years, we’ve all heard the promise that technology will soon make us a paperless society—but it hasn’t!
In the book, Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers, by Kriegel and Brandt, the authors state that “most people’s desks look like they’ve been hit by a paper avalanche.”
Have things gotten better or worse?
Kriegel and Brandt state that between 1983 and about 1996, “shipments of paper actually increased by 51%.”
Further, they state that “a vice president of a major telecommunications company showed us a study that…on average, people got over 90 hours’ worth of “stuff” to read each week! And only 20 percent of that was electronic…the same study showed that despite all the advancements in information technology, the amount of paper received today had not been reduced from ten years ago.”
Do we need all this paper?
Absolutely not. “50 percent of a company’s paperwork could be eliminated without the slightest disruption to business.”
In fact, the authors recount a telling story about how a courageous manager and his/her employees slowly eliminated parts of a costly, time-consuming detailed 10 column monthly report they put together for the management committee, by first eliminating some columns and then more and more until finally they produced only 4 key columns quarterly. Instead of the management committee complaining, no one even noticed anything was missing (the columns or later the monthly report), until after a number of months, the CEO congratulated them on their good work with the new clear and simple quarterly report.
What has the government done to reduce paperwork?
- Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, “one of the principal requirements of the PRA is that organizations must have OMB approval before collecting information from the public (such as forms, general questionnaires, surveys, instructions, and other types of collections).” (http://www.usa.gov/webcontent/reqs_bestpractices/laws_regs/paperwork_reduction.shtml)
- Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 2002 “requires that, when practicable, federal organizations use electronic forms, electronic filing, and electronic signatures to conduct official business with the public, by 2003.” (http://www.usa.gov/webcontent/reqs_bestpractices/laws_regs/gpea.shtml)
What should we do in our organizations to reduce the paperwork?
According to Kriegel and Brandt, if paperwork doesn’t “add value to the customer, increase productivity, or improve morale,” then it should be eliminated.
From a User-centric EA perspective, we need to ask our users and stakeholders if they really need or want the paperwork we’re giving them, and if not we need to update our business processes and enable technology solutions to eliminate the legacy paper-based solutions. To some extent this is occurring already, in other cases, it is not. The more we become an information-based society, the more we need and crave information and some people don’t trust the technology or simply want a hard-copy to read or for their records. Paper is not a bad thing. It is a tried and true method of recordkeeping and communication, but when we have so much that we cannot even keep up with it, then it’s definitely time to reevaluate our true needs and go a little easier on our environment. Why chop down all those trees, for reports, proposals, print-outs, and projections that often just end up, unread in the round file (i.e. the garbage) anyway?