Digitizing: A 5-Step Plan for Going Paperless

Moving your office away from paper requires planning. Here’s what you need to know to simplify the process.

A paperless office saves money, time and the planet. Another huge payoff: Your entire team will be able to quickly find the files they need.

As an administrative professional, you may be tasked with leading digitization efforts and becoming the in-house expert on your company’s new paperless document management system. While the changeover requires some planning, the streamlined workflows and greater efficiency that will result are well worth the effort.

Consensus building and planning will help with the rollout. Use these five steps to guide you.

1. Define “Digitize” for Your Company

Depending on where you work, an entirely paperless environment may not be realistic. Work with your manager and colleagues to determine whether you’re doing a complete overhaul or partial digitizing project.

Gaining agreement up front on which records will be digitized and what will be kept as paper will make the process smoother. Regardless of what portion will be digitized, determine what will happen to the hard copies of the files — will you discard them or retain them for a certain amount of time? A number of factors will influence these decisions, including compliance requirements and how you and your colleagues work. For example, you might keep paper invoices on hand until they’re paid and then electronically file them.

Keep clear notes on your agreements to answer questions as the process gets underway.

2. Try Before You Buy

Explore digital document management services to find the best one for your company’s needs and workflow. Options range from simple and low-cost (e.g., Google Drive and Box) to more advanced (e.g., eFileCabinet, M-Files and Alfresco). Some enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems also offer document management capabilities.

Test a few different services, if possible, and invite colleagues who will use the system to weigh in. See how intuitive the interface is, and how easy it is to share access to files. Look for time-saving features such as document search capabilities and integration with software programs your company uses. Be sure any service you consider backs up files so that they’re easily accessible in case of a service outage.

3. Agree on Organizing Principles

Before you start scanning and uploading documents, develop consensus on a naming convention for the files. For example, you may want to include months and years in all file names so that they’re easy to track. Or, you may want to organize files by project name. Aim for a system that’s easy to learn and use. This is another area in which input from multiple co-workers is crucial.

Sketch a diagram of the digital filing system, including folders and subfolders. Make it as specific as possible and think through how people will use it, then identify potential snags. Making time for this exercise will pay off once your digitizing is underway as well as for training purposes.

4. Scan the Documents

The right tools can save you time on this all-important step. If you have hundreds of documents to scan, investing in a high-volume scanner or device with an automatic paper feeder can save you time. Look for features that will make the job easier, such as built-in optical character recognition (OCR) or searchable PDF functionality, so that files are easy to find within the new system.

Once you’ve scanned each document, consider marking it — for example, with a sticky note — to avoid repeats. Ask someone to review the scanned documents to be sure they’re easily viewable and organized correctly.

5. Gather Feedback

Communication will be key to the success of your new system. Along with alerting colleagues to the change beforehand, be prepared to answer questions. Plan a training session for those who will use the system to explain how to upload, organize and access files. Creating “cheat sheets” on these processes will help with buy-in and consistency.

After an adjustment period, ask your colleagues for feedback on the new process. How easy are files to find? Is the digital system saving them time? Your colleagues’ feedback might bring up adjustments to make the system even more user-friendly. With careful planning and follow-up, the move away from paper will boost productivity and make everyone’s day easier.