In February I discussed going to the cloud and focused on how this saves you money and may increase your security. This month I want to share some specific steps about going paperless.
My business started going paperless in 2004. It is not because I could predict the future or had a passion to be a green company. The reason was much more practical. We had four hurricanes in South Florida that year and I was very concerned about the safety of my client’s documents. It did take almost a year to scan all of those files, but the efficiency gained was well worth it.
The following are some tools, solutions and benefits to help you go paperless.
- Scanner – the first step, and a way to eliminate your copier and related paper and supply costs.
- Data Storage – eliminate file cabinets, supplies, and storage facilities.
- Search Tools – reduce the amount of time spent for staff to file and retrieve documents.
- Shredders – safeguard documents from prying eyes.
- Paperless Fax – eliminate phone lines, equipment and supplies.
- Paperless Bill Management – eliminate your accounts payable department!
- Paperless Expense Reporting – accurate timely record keeping and eliminates staff time for rekeying.
- eSignatures – speed up contract execution, approvals, and credit collection.
- Many more!
Scanners. Your first step should be to purchase a document scanner. Some key features to look for are two-side, color, multipage scanning; a fast automatic sheet feeder (at least 20 pages per minute); scanning to the cloud; and automatic paper size detection, color detection, and cropping. I highly recommend the Fujitsu Scan Snap. I have used two different models over the years and they have been incredibly dependable. My current model is wireless and lets me scan directly to my iPhone or iPad – very useful for those last minute documents you need while running out the door to a meeting.
Data storage. To share scanned documents throughout your organization, you should either implement file server data storage or a cloud-based data storage solution (such as Dropbox, Box, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive which all offer at least 2 GB of free data storage with additional storage available for a monthly fee). Set up all authorized personnel as users, grant them the proper share and security permissions, and set scanners to automatically save files to your shared data location. For added protection, files containing client data should be password-protected using 128-bit encryption prior to uploading to a cloud-based drive.
Search tools. Implement an indexed searching tool such as Fast Find (included in Windows 8, 7, and Vista) and Spotlight (Mac OS). Indexed tools index every word in each data file, including the file name and associated keywords, so users can locate files quickly. Indexed search tools use the same type of technology employed by Bing and Google to return nearly instant search results. Similar search tools include Copernic Desktop Search, dtSearch Desktop, Voidtools Everything, and X1 Professional Client.
Shredders. It is also essential to have a few shredders so paper documents can be properly discarded after scanning, or establish a collection box for centralized or professional shredding. Buy a shredder that is fast, cross-cuts the paper, and has a jam-proof feature. A good shredder costs only a little more than the bargain one and lasts a lot longer.
Paperless fax. Implement an online fax solution that enables you to send and receive faxes via email. You can usually implement this type of faxing capability directly from your cloud storage solution for no additional charge (initially), or subscribe to specific online faxing solutions. I have used eFax for years and find it very good. There are many others around as well – Google it!
Paperless bill management. New services can automatically collect and organize all of your bills. Thereafter, log in to see your bills summarized in one location, and if desired, you can set the system to remind you as bills come due. Have your vendors fax or email their invoices and they are entered automatically and you can access everything by a mobil device.
Paperless expense reporting. Online expense reporting solutions such as Expensify enable your employees to fill out expense reports online, including from their smartphones. Thereafter, electronic expense reports containing attached scanned or photographed images of supporting receipts can be submitted electronically. Expensify can even recognize and convert your scanned receipts and enter the data details for you. This approach eliminates paper and rekeying.
eSignatures. Secure digital signature products such as DocuSign, which I use, enable you to sign electronic documents with legally binding signatures so you can execute paperless contracts without having to print and physically send paper documents back and forth.
Electronic notebooks. Encourage employees to use electronic notebooks such as Microsoft OneNote (free with Windows Live account) or Evernote (free) to capture their notes electronically instead of on paper. These tools enable users to capture text, notes, hyperlinks, and images from computers, tablets, or smartphones; thereafter, the information can be accessed from all of a user’s computers or devices. With proper permissions, colleagues can be granted access to selected notes, links, and images as well.
- Electronic PIM. Use an electronic personal information manager (PIM) to manage your calendar, contacts, and to-do lists to electronically organize your information, both personally and professionally. Thereafter, your data can be synced to all of your computers or devices for easy access, and if desired, you can share portions of your calendar with colleagues or your administrative assistant.
- Paperless financial statements and reports. No matter which accounting system you use, you can usually print the system’s financial statements and reports to Excel, PDF, or XPS file formats and send them electronically—and in most cases, you can apply password protection before sending. This method saves paper and toner, and recipients can easily maintain and archive the reports, copy and paste results into Excel without retyping (for what-if analysis purposes), and include portions of the electronic reports in Word documents and emails.
- Digitize client/customer files. Hire a company specializing in paperless conversions to use high-powered scanning equipment to convert historical paper-based client files to electronic data files, then eliminate your filing cabinets and file rooms.
- Access news online. Switch paper-based newspaper subscriptions and newsletters to electronic subscriptions, then read online using your computer, Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
Adapted from June 2013 Journal of Accountancy author Carlton Collins, CPA