Can A Paperless Office Really Exist and are Paperless Forms Feasible?

Paperless forms

As a species, we often tend to think that when major new innovations, such as paperless forms and digital signatures, come along, previous products, technologies and practices will be superseded by them. Sometimes they are but, more often than not, the new development simply causes a change to take place, change that ultimately benefits us all.

Did television render radio stations redundant? No, but it did force them to change the way that they operate. As a result, there are now many more radio stations than there ever were pre-television. The same goes for cinema, did television force them out of business? Of course not, although it was touch and go for a while and lots of cinemas did close but now, after a complete overhaul to the way that they operate, the cinema is back and doing great business.

Why walk, when you can drive?

You wouldn’t think, would you, that someone who owns a car would leave it on their drive and walk to a destination that was not too far away; but they do. Why is that? Well it’s generally because people now see the benefit of getting a bit of gentle exercise wherever possible and only use their car when they really need it.

There are many more examples of this to be found but I will give them a miss for now. The original question in the title is one which many people have considered. The office supplies industry hope and pray that the paperless office never actually arrives but, secretly, they think that it very well might. In the majority of cases there is very little need for a document to be printed at all; in fact it is often a hindrance to do so since documents can be distributed far more conveniently as email attachments than they can be by means of conventional mail.

My money is on there being a similar outcome to that of the other examples I have given for when change occurs. We won’t print certain documents anymore, because we don’t need to but we will, on the other hand, print things that, in the past, we haven’t been able to.

Sometimes new technology can create a need that didn’t previously exist.

Take the humble photograph, for example. In the days before the inkjet printer the only way that you could get a top quality photographic image was by means of the traditional photographic process which involved exposing a sheet of light sensitive paper to a projected image and then processing that paper in a series of obnoxious chemicals. It was a messy business which, of course, most people did not get involved in; they simply took their films to a photo-shop and the job was done for them on a machine that would have cost many thousands of pounds.

Fast-forward then to today’s sub-£100 inkjet printers. Here we have a piece of technology that can produce a photo-quality image in a matter of a few minutes and at a reasonable cost. We can now print as many copies of our pictures as we want, in our own homes, for just a few pence. All of this, of course, uses paper, lots of it.

What about more serious uses for paper, such as business forms, contracts and the like? Surely they will still need to be printed?

Well that was the case before and still is in some cases but there is technology out there that actually renders paper-based documents and forms completely obsolete. Instead of a paper form you have an electronic, digital version sitting on a convenient device such as a notebook computer or a tablet into which the information can be entered. The electronic form is then stored as a digital file and can be copied, distributed and, if necessary, deleted without using any paper at all.

What about documents that need a signature, surely they have to be printed?

No they don’t. The very latest developments in paperless document technology use the principle of an e-signature to enable the digital document to be signed using the touch screen fitted to the device on which the paperless document is stored. This signature is, contrary to popular belief, legally binding and, thanks to modern data encryption technology, totally secure. There is absolutely no need whatsoever for this document to be printed.

The very latest of these paperless forms applications uses a process known as a “real signature” to obtain the signature on the touch screen in exactly the same way as they would have done on a paper form. This avoids any element of doubt as to whether the form is signed or not since the digitised real signature is stored with the form data. This makes the new paperless forms ideal for contracts and agreements for which a signature is essential.

How Secure Is A Paperless Form?

You could argue that the theft of a computer could easily wipe out the benefit of converting your forms into paperless forms but, of course, it is now standard practice to make copies of your documents which are stored elsewhere. Increasingly this is on a remote storage system accessed over the Internet and which is, itself, reproduced across many physical sites.

Paperless forms are, in fact, infinitely more secure than paper-based ones and occupy only a fraction of the physical space needed to store them. Why not save yourself some time, effort and money by converting to a paperless form technology soon?