Everyone loves paper. It’s everywhere. We print ink on it. We read words on it. We draw pictures on it. We wrap food in it. Unfortunately we also seem to cling to it for our business processes.
It amazes me how many times I do business that involves paper documents. Don’t get me wrong, paper still has a lot of great value for certain things, but moving it around as part of a business process isn’t one of them. In today’s world, typing, printing, reading, signing, scanning, faxing and filing paper documents is slow, cumbersome and fraught with a lot of risk.
Document management systems have been around for over 30 years. They began as simple repositories for scanned images and then for electronic documents. Back in those days it was common for people to create documents with typewriters, with offset printing techniques or write them by hand. Today every document is created on a computer.
Since business documents start on a computer, why not keep them electronic throughout a business process?
Here are the two dumbest excuses I’ve heard for using paper documents:
- We need a wet (ink) signature on the document.
- That’s how we’ve always done it.
The first one is crazy. I can file my taxes, purchase stocks, incorporate a business and buy just about anything without ever using or signing a piece of paper. I can do this in a retail store or online with a few clicks of a mouse. In the United States, there are two laws that govern the legality of digital signatures and electronic documents. The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) deals with interactions between people relating to business, commercial and governmental affairs. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) deals with the use of electronic records and electronic signatures in interstate and foreign commerce. In fact ESIGN says that if a business must retain a record of a transaction, they can keep an electronic record.
Here is a list of similar initiatives in other countries or regions:
- Canada – Uniform Electronic Commerce Act (UECA)
- UK – Electronic Communications Act 2000
- Europe – EU Directive for Electronic Signatures
- China – Electronic Signature Law of the People’s Republic of China
The excuse of “we have always done things that way” doesn’t work anymore. If people clung to that one we would still be walking everywhere and living in caves. Inertia and unexamined processes are the most common reasons people stick with paper documents. People hate change and sometimes its easier to do things the old way even if it would save time, money and eliminate errors.
Unfortunately your competition won’t stick to the old ways. Just look at Borders Books, which recently started liquidating its stores. It couldn’t compete with Amazon, other online retailers and the popularity of electronic books. Your employees won’t stand for doing things the old ways either. People are used to transactions that are completely electronic in their personal lives. People can buy coffee at Starbucks with a cell phone. They don’t want to sign a document with a pen and then scan, copy and file it just to complete a transaction.
Since you can use electronic documents and signatures for legally binding transactions, you can start on the road to the future by using DocuSign. That’s one way to speed things up and get away from paper. Everything is done electronically and you can sign from a phone, tablet or your laptop.
So stop making excuses and get into the 21st century by moving to electronic transactions. Your employees and customers will thank you.
Photo credit Tru Health Quest