What tools has your business successfully embraced that have eased paper workloads? Specifically I am asking in relation to a 25-100 person SMB. Are you using custom one-off access tools? Are you using Infopath successfully? Have you integrated standard forms into HTML/PHP/RoR pages on your intranet?

What works; what doesn't?

  • 4
    Good question, although reminds me of the quote, "The paperless office is as about as realistic as the paperless toilet." (Keith Davidson)
    – Evan
    Aug 20, 2009 at 3:25
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    There's a reason HP's printer division is still it's biggest earner! Aug 20, 2009 at 5:00
  • Flatbed scanners/"pdf machines" means you can get rid of paper items after they are done with (eg: once bills are paid)
    – p858snake
    Aug 20, 2009 at 5:57
  • Getting rid of the paper is not quite the same thing as eliminating it. Aug 20, 2009 at 11:52

7 Answers 7


The advantages of paper:

  1. It scales to the size of your desk.
  2. It is easy to read (doesn't flicker).
  3. It is easy to transport without requiring batteries/electricity to operate

So to make your office more paper-less you need to provide a better way:

  1. Multi monitor set up
  2. Good quality LCD
  3. Don't require people to move or provide abundance of display methods (think meetings).

Because electric documents are very easy to work on, gradually people will not bother printing stuff out because it has no advantage to them. Best way to make people do stuff is making the alternative (your choice) less hassle than what they are doing now.


This is not really answering the question as asked, but a long term observation. Over quite a few years (nearly as long as the dream of a paperless office) I've observed that the harder a company tries to create that mythical thing we call the paperless office the more likely that their use of paper increases. Every time someone creates an electronic alternative to paper I see the end users printing it out anyway.

e.g. Our network fax system dispatches received faxes as emails to the appropriate person. Every single one of those faxes is then printed out before being read. The users tell me they don't like reading them on the screen.

Far more successful than trying to aim for what I firmly believe to be an unattainable goal, is paper recycling. In other words, just accept that paper is part of the process and recycle as much of it as possible.

  • I also wonder if the impact of so many computers, LCDs, increased power consumption, cap-ex to purchase all this fancy equipment, completely blows the benefits (economical and environmental) of a paperless office out of the water... Aug 20, 2009 at 22:19
  • Very true, hence my comment above of "And after all that, what was saved?". We also need to be mindful of systems that cause resentment amongst the users, as that always ends up being costly in one way or another. Aug 20, 2009 at 23:10
  • Nice story is also that a company was moving a paper process to an electronic version. The documents were scanned at the beginning of the process. One department in the middle of the process decided to stay paper based, meaning the documents were printed, the employees made notes on the documents, and than the documents (with notes) were scanned again. Sidenote: an application for putting notes on the electronic document was available to the department. In general, for us the electronic work-flow is faster than if we were still using paper. Feb 10, 2010 at 14:41

Unfortunately I haven't got to de-paper my company yet, however this doesn't mean I've not looked into the matter.

'paper workloads' is pretty general.

it comes down to 'is there an electronic system or systems-in-tandem that will meet the need of whatever department, and whomever interacts with that department'.

When I first started here, we didn't have a IT ticketing system, so I've set that up, which has stopped (the majority of) people writing post-its on my desk and monitor. :P

I'm not a trained business analyst, but in working out the processes here, it comes down to, do you have a concrete process for types of requests in your department?

and by concrete, i mean flowcharts. yes, don't cringe, they are awesome.

until you can say "If I get a request for X type of thing, if I think it's a good idea, who do I go to approval, with what info, or alternatively, what's the formal process for declining X thing".

If you dont have a flow chart for how a system works, how can you expect to build an electronic system around it?


if you've got that, a package that I've been looking at, that looks VERY interesting is http://phpformgen.sourceforge.net/ it looks flexible enough to handle the information you want, in whatever format.

be it sending in an email, updating a record in a database or writing to file output.

All the other research I've found has lead me to proprietary tools that looked put together by relatively small companies, none looking that great, and most of them working around ASP and looking relatively unsupported.

edit: also, the only thing phpformgen doesn't do is authentication. but once the form is generated, if you know what you're doing with PHP and LDAP, i'm sure it could be implemented.


We've got a digital whiteboard. A projector projects onto the whiteboard and when you write on it with the special pens (there's four different colours) it actually draws it on the PC and projects it onto the whiteboard as if it really was writing on it.

If you have a good projector it's brilliant, and you can actually use it has a huge touchscreen during presentations (it really impresses people). At the end of the session, just save the whiteboard to a bitmap or an SVG and start again. No more common brainstorming on paper, and no double handling typing up whiteboard notes.

  • They are cool. But all the solutions I have used so far don't work well with my usual writing speed. After getting used to the latency, it was great, before it was either funny or annoying to the audience. Feb 10, 2010 at 14:35
  • The ones we had had almost no latency - you must be an very fast handwriter ;) Feb 10, 2010 at 18:57

For my note taking I use Evernote - I've scanned businesscards and bills as well as keep all my notes. because it has online syncronization I can reach all of my "paper" notes from all of my machines as well as any other device with web access.


When I was tasked with the responsibilty of reducing paper usage while running IT at an SMB employing about 130 people I used the following novel technique:

I equipped the company print-room with a Linux/Samba based Fax/Print Server. All the printers were attached to this, as well as a Fax-Modem for incoming faxes (which were saved to a File-Share as TIFF instead of printed directly). I then made sure there were always "issues" with this server (was quite easy to do by 'accidentally' pulling out cables etc. making sure the fans we gunked up etc.).

Staff very quickly got into the habit of relying on email, pdf, doc, xls and reading stuff on their monitors! I also repeatedly refused requests from one department to buy a photocopier, instead giving them a desktop scanner, and telling them to print stuff only if they really needed a hard-copy!!!

In the end, we really never needed the print-logging functionalities of the print-server (which was ostensibly it's original purpose).

Bear-in-mind that the reduction in paper records put an increased responsibility of file storage, retrieval and uptime. We ended up investing more into NAS storage for file-shares, redundant backup servers, ERP systems, and offsite 3rd-party reliable email storage capable of large attachments and unlimited inbox size.

  • And after all that, what was saved? Aug 20, 2009 at 11:48
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    @John Gardeniers The question wasn't about cost savings by going towards a 'paperless' office. It was a question on the methods of doing such a task. Aug 20, 2009 at 12:51
  • I wasn't referring to just cost. There are many other "expenses" in such an exercise. Aug 20, 2009 at 23:07
  • Pretty sneaky approach. I like it. Feb 10, 2010 at 14:43
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    @John What was saved? The Planet!! Feb 10, 2010 at 15:23

I like posty's answer and you should also keep in mind the answer from Martin P. Hellwig.

In general it boils down to, For what current process does it make sense to go from paper to paperless.

Since I don't know what industry you are working in, I can't really recommend a solution. And even if I know the industry, the solution still needs to fit the companies workflow/culture. For a IT company it can makes sense to depaper the requirement management, issue management, and release management processes. Common names are Bugzilla, Jira, OCNS, or inStep. In general, analyze your paper trails (what ways do you document and how do they transform) and look for (business) opportunities to make remove paper. The main goal should be to make your business more effective, become more efficient, faster, ... and not to reduce paper at any cost.

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