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What Is Holding Back the Paperless Office? 511

Posted by timothy
from the probably-all-the-post-it-notes dept.
Drethon writes "CNN has an article (are we up to the millionth article on this topic?) asking if the paperless office has arrived. This got me wondering, what are the main things holding back the paperless office? Just off the top of my head, the main thing keeping me printing out documents is the ability to spread a dozen pages of a document under review out on my table and marking it up by hand. PDF and Word markups are not too bad but they still lack the ability to spread many pages out to look over at the same time and could be improved to make markup a bit less restrictive. I do find myself printing out less with the use of dual monitors to have source documents and work under progress up at the same time, perhaps something like Microsoft's tabletop computer used as a desk will let me have at least a paperless desk. I know there are other reasons why offices are not becoming paperless. What are your reasons?"
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What Is Holding Back the Paperless Office?

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  • Basically? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Corporate Troll (537873) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:23PM (#31559272) Homepage Journal

    Humans... We like to have a piece of paper in our hands, we can easily hand it to a coworker, we can scribble on it to take notes. I know it sounds oldskool, but for many tasks, a piece of paper is just superior. Sure, most of it is for temporary use, but paper isn't going anywhere. For many people reading from screen just isn't anywhere as comfortable as reading from paper. (That's why we still buy real books!)

    People who bought the "paperless office" fad years ago were living in a dreamland.

    Also, one thing to keep in mind. I have worked on large scale "scan documents from archives and the commit to big-ass proprietary content management systems". The conversion was extremely expensive, and the maintenance even more so. After all, you now needed expensive content manager Consultants, and competent DBAs (who have to be on call). For the paper version, you just needed one or two archivars. Just having tons and tons of paper sitting in a warehouse was was much cheaper, I heard later. These were Police documents, and they scanned in B&W... Photos were as such became unusable... I sure hope they'll keep the originals. I wonder who ever in his right mind approved that project.

    • Re:Basically? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zuzulo (136299) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:38PM (#31559372) Homepage

      Only one thing, really. Contracts and other signed documents. As far as i know there is no way to electronically sign formal contracts in a generally accepted fashion. If that capability was available i would never use faxes/scanners or paper again except in very rare circumstances ...

      Anyone have a good approach to the legal signature problem?

      • by arethuza (737069)
        Using signature fields in PDFs can work pretty well - especially if you use an Adobe-rooted certifying signature applied to the whole document. Not open and not cheap though.
      • Re:Basically? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Jazz-Masta (240659) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:22PM (#31559756)

        There are a number of newer signature pads that record forensic data such as stroke length, pressure, lift points, etc as well as it has certain security to help identify genuine signatures or tampering. Most have plugins for PDFs.

        I've used signature pads for banking, renting cars, and accepting packages.

        What makes it difficult to implement is the APIs for some of these are not free/cheap, so implementing into, say, a car dealership's management system may not be economical at the moment.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pacergh (882705)

        There is nothing magical about a signature. It is just one possible form of evidence that an agreement has been reached. Very few contracts require signatures, and all of those that do provide non-mechanical means of meeting that signature.

        Even so, it's nice to have a signature than to have to provide other evidence. And it's a lot cheaper, typically.

    • by anagama (611277)
      Personally, I don't really like how paper feels because when I'm handling a lot of it, it tends to dry out my hands -- particularly if it is still hot from the printer or copier.

      In my office, we use a mix of digitized images, summaries stored in a database, and physical paper because each has qualities that make it good for specific tasks. As the GP mentioned, spreading out documents can be very efficient for certain tasks. For example, in my office we deal with a lot of medical records, many of which ar
      • by Again (1351325) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:30PM (#31559830)

        Personally, I don't really like how paper feels because when I'm handling a lot of it, it tends to dry out my hands -- particularly if it is still hot from the printer or copier.

        Well, I love printing stuff out because of how the warm paper feels. I love walking back from the printer with the freshly printed, warmed paper pressed against my face. And yes, I know I look weird when I do that.

    • Old saying (Score:5, Funny)

      by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:43PM (#31559424) Journal
      "A paperless office is as useful as a paperless toilet. Some things would be impractical..."
      OK, it's not that old a saying, but it's valid in a number of ways.
      • by Nuskrad (740518)
        You can always use the three seashells instead
      • Re:Old saying (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dvice_null (981029) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:16PM (#31559708)

        Instead of paper you could use water, hand (just use your other hand for eating) or cloth in the toilet. Ancient Romans used a cloth around a stick and it worked fine for them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gbutler69 (910166)

          just use your other hand for eating

          Why use your other hand? Don't you wash your hands? If I use water and my hand to clean my ass (which is what I do in the shower because soap drys out your anus) and then I wash my hands with soap and water, why should I not use that hand for everything?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by grcumb (781340)

        "A paperless office is as useful as a paperless toilet. Some things would be impractical..."

        You've obviously never been to France.

        Okay, haha, yeah. But seriously, there really is More Than One Way To Do It in this case. The last time I installed a printer on my machine it was to print DVDs and their covers. With the exception of a few handouts (almost never my own), I never printer anything at all. I do have more screen space than many people and I keep a scan of my signature safely stored on my PC, but it really doesn't take much imagination to avoid most (mis)uses of paper.

        I find paper cumbersom

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by OzPeter (195038)

        "A paperless office is as useful as a paperless toilet. Some things would be impractical..." OK, it's not that old a saying, but it's valid in a number of ways.

        You should travel through places like the middle east and like Turkey .. the paperless toilet is a reality and is the main reason you don't touch food with your left hand or shake peoples left hands

      • by clickety6 (141178) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @05:02PM (#31560124)

        "A paperless office is as useful as a paperless toilet.

        But they both mean everything has to be done digitally... ;-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drx (123393)

        "Anyone who equates an office with a toilet should not be designing software." -- Ted Nelson

    • Re:Basically? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:47PM (#31559460)

      Just having tons and tons of paper sitting in a warehouse was was much cheaper, I heard later.

      I basically agree with your points, but there is a difference between a well managed document control system, and one implemented by bunglers. Plus electronic documents have the advantage that they can be backed up offsite somewhere: that warehouse full of paper may indeed be cheaper but it's not necessarily safer.

      I've been involved in document control projects (primarily used for pulling manufacturing production prints) and you're right: paper is damned useful, for all the reasons you outlined. Consequently, I never made any attempt to develop or promote a paperless system because it a. wouldn't have served the purpose and b. would never have been accepted anyway.

      All the software did was provide a convenient, searchable interface to servers full of untold thousands of engineering drawings (both Autocad DWGs and scans of paper drawings) so that they could be viewed on-screen and printed if desired. That offered the best of both worlds: quick and easy viewability for those that don't need a hardcopy, with a printout only a mouse-click away. No expensive content manager (the software didn't require any proprietary server-side component of any kind, and rendered all drawings locally), and no DBAs competent or otherwise.

      The first version of that app was DOS-based and ran over dial-up, with about a dozen plants around the world using it, pulling files from a big Solaris server. That was back in the late eighties, and it ran for years without much need for maintenance (other than the occasional hardware upgrade or repair.) I eventually wrote a Windows version of the application, and they're still running it. They've gone through several major server and connectivity upgrades over the years, I've heard, but I didn't even have to be involved in that. They also have a disaster recovery plan in place, so even if the server room burns through the floor they won't lose their drawings. That's something you can't easily do with tons of paper.

      Sometimes you have to think things through and realize what it is you don't need. Big-ass proprietary software vendors have a vested interest in locking you into hypercomplex, overbuilt systems that may or may not do what you want, but are virtually guaranteed to cost more than they're worth.

    • There are some things that paper has that digital copies can never replace.

      Many people feel that some pieces of sensitive information are safer on a piece of paper in a locked desk than they are on a drive on your network.

      The feel of assurance one gets from a physical, actual, handwritten signature (sad to say but even a generic 'rubber stamped' signature has a better "feel" to it than receiving a generic pdf form regardless of what new digital cert/signature accompanies the pdf.)

      If you graduated f
    • by toastar (573882)

      Humans... We like to have a piece of paper in our hands, we can easily hand it to a coworker, we can scribble on it to take notes. I know it sounds oldskool, but for many tasks, a piece of paper is just superior. Sure, most of it is for temporary use, but paper isn't going anywhere. For many people reading from screen just isn't anywhere as comfortable as reading from paper. (That's why we still buy real books!)

      People who bought the "paperless office" fad years ago were living in a dreamland.

      Also, one thing to keep in mind. I have worked on large scale "scan documents from archives and the commit to big-ass proprietary content management systems". The conversion was extremely expensive, and the maintenance even more so. After all, you now needed expensive content manager Consultants, and competent DBAs (who have to be on call). For the paper version, you just needed one or two archivars. Just having tons and tons of paper sitting in a warehouse was was much cheaper, I heard later. These were Police documents, and they scanned in B&W... Photos were as such became unusable... I sure hope they'll keep the originals. I wonder who ever in his right mind approved that project.

      Your first paragraph is dead on, with a print out I can pass a doc around the room and each person marks it up and by the time it gets back to me it's a different document, With Email I get 10 different documents.

      your CMS Consultant should of got fired for scanning those in an unacceptable format though.

    • Humans... We like to have a piece of paper in our hands, we can easily hand it to a coworker, we can scribble on it to take notes. I know it sounds oldskool, but for many tasks, a piece of paper is just superior.

      Exactly. Until someone can come up with something like a tablet or the Star Trek PADD that costs a few bucks to make, is disposable, and can be handed around like paper, the paperless office won't happen.

      If the Apple iPad or whatever it's called cost $0.01 to purchase, and everyone had hundreds of them, they wouldn't feel bad about loading a document on it and passing it off to a coworker to tweak and change and then hand back.

      Currently there is nothing better than paper in terms of price and ease of

    • Re:Basically? (Score:5, Informative)

      by painandgreed (692585) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @05:21PM (#31560298)

      People who bought the "paperless office" fad years ago were living in a dreamland.

      Let me tell you, it's nice to work in a dreamland. I work in Radiology Healthcare and despite people telling us that we couldn't go filmless, we did it, so we have ignored the people that are telling us we can't go paperless and doing well. Our reqs get faxed to our fax server. The schedulers bring them up on their computer and schedule the exams from the digital req which is now associated with that exam. From there it goes directly to the queue of a doctor, sometimes in another building, to protocol. Once protocoled, it goes to the radtech's queue to have the exam preformed. This all regularly happens in a time quicker that it would have taken the scheduler to walk over to the fax machine and get the paper requisition to begin with. The req doesn't get lost and is available to anybody at anytime in the process with the click of a button.

      Radiology has some pretty nice systems built to do all this, and we had to give a good number of people dual monitors (but monitors are cheap and even the cheapo computers we buy are ready for dual monitor support these days). However, the number of printers we have is half what it was several years ago and they break down less often because they get used less. That's less support I have to do. We also got rid of sticker printers. Those were even worse. We still have to print for this or that but our main workflow is paperless. I suspect that the main reasons that offices can't go paperless is inertia of the people who don't want to, poor workflow, and insufficent tools to do so rather than any actual cost or usefullness of paper.

    • Recently I had an opportunity to write two research papers, and to be different I did it without printing out anything but the final drafts. All in all it was a successful experience. Here is how I did it.

      First off, I used a Mac. This is important, because (a) OS X support for the PDF format is far superior to the support on Windows; and (b) because the Spaces virtual desktop and Expose window viewing make dealing with thirty open windows at once practical.

      My research paper was a moderately short (4000 w

    • Re:Basically? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by EEPROMS (889169) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @06:44PM (#31561050)
      I think another reason is because things like paper-clips and scribbled notes haven't (or cant easily) been simulated on the desktop. I would love to be able to scribble notes on a virtual document and virtually paper-clip different document formats (this is another major issue ie no single reader) together. I still find searching for files in some ways more efficient on a computer but getting all the related documents and sales notes easily together on the fly seems to be an a bridge to far.
  • The essential utility of paper. We won't stop using paper until the last tree has been ground into pulp and pressed out into a sheet.
    • by xtal (49134)

      There is absolutely no shortage of trees or other material to make paper or anything else.

      Recycling paper is an environmental travesty. It should be used as fuel and new trees planted.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      New trees are planted all the time, so that's not a big issue.

      What is more of an issue is the fact that the electronic storage systems changes so much over time that document formats that were state of the art a decade ago are considered old and those format that were state of the art two decades ago are hard to present in a decent and reliable way.

      And to read a document format that was created three decades ago you must have luck, find the right hardware and be able to find a person who understands the har

      • by Korin43 (881732)
        I think we'll have less problems with that in the future. The word processor didn't even exist 30 years ago, so it's not surprising that there were a lot of format changes and not all of them are easy to work with anymore. With more recent formats, it's not hard to find something that can open them. I'm pretty sure Open Office and MS Word can both open any format they've ever supported.
  • Basic tools (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quantumpineal (1724214) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:27PM (#31559288) Homepage
    You still have allot more freedom with a paper document. Our brains are just geared to use tools in the actual world rather than virtual objects. There's no real program that emulates all the freedoms you get form handling a physical tool. we are from the apes remember :P
    • by zappepcs (820751)

      Ok, I was agreeing with some of the posts but this thought that paper is a real world tool and the computer is not is patently false.
      Does your paper check your spelling or grammar? Does your paper assist you in accessing related materials to the content on it? Does your paper remind you to follow up on the context of the content on it? Oh, that's a special kind of paper, right? Does your paper allow you to transfer a copy of it's content nearly instantly to another person, or group of people? I'll stop ther

  • In short (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:27PM (#31559292)

    Technology:

    I have yet to find anything that can replace the flexibility of a notepad..

    Some stuff comes close (or even surpasses) in specific areas, but for general day to day stuff like taking notes at a meeting or scribbling out something to argue a point.. nah

    People:

    There are still people.. lots of them.. who will print out emails to read them. No technology will fix this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by owlstead (636356)

      "I have yet to find anything that can replace the flexibility of a notepad.."

      You may have to wait for the flexible eInk displays that should be coming out in a year or so.

    • There are still people.. lots of them.. who will print out emails to read them. No technology will fix this.

      Are there really people for whom this technology [clueb.at] doesn't work?

    • Re:In short (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Hylandr (813770) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:07PM (#31559638) Homepage
      Quote: There are still people.. lots of them.. who will print out emails to read them. No technology will fix this.

      Agreed. My place of work takes orders from the website, prints them and plops them into their ERP system. I have been brought in to fix this but there are active parties fighting me tooth and claw.

      For too many reasons to list. Needing a "Human Glue" means job security.

      - Dan.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rsimpson (884581)
      This is the only real reason I have to buy a Tablet PC. A couple years ago I had the use of a tablet for a couple weeks to develop a proof of concept product. 90% of the time I ended up using it to take notes in meetings. You can scribble down notes like you would on a normal piece of paper, but then easily share those notes with other people. Plus, if you realize that the way you have drawn your diagrams interferes with your notes, you can just "move" them to another part of the page. Same thing goes for i
  • Drawing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Lode (1290856) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:27PM (#31559294)

    Sometimes when working on some algorithmical or mathematical problem, I draw stuff on paper to visualize the problem better and find the solution. Drawing on a computer screen will never replace drawing with a pen on paper for that purpose for me.

    • Re:Drawing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by raddan (519638) * on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:49PM (#31559474)
      I made the switch to whiteboard, which I keep on the wall next to my desk. I find that it is better than paper, because paper is almost always too small, and it lets me discuss ideas with other employees a bit easier.

      I tried "virtual whiteboard" with pen input recently at my CS department, and I found it very difficult to use, partly because the pen input device I was looking at was not the same thing I was drawing on.
      • by Lev13than (581686)
        I made the switch to whiteboard, which I keep on the wall next to my desk. I find that it is better than paper, because paper is almost always too small, and it lets me discuss ideas with other employees a bit easier.
        I tried "virtual whiteboard" with pen input recently at my CS department, and I found it very difficult to use, partly because the pen input device I was looking at was not the same thing I was drawing on.


        I've consulted for a lot of large and small companies, and their offices are littered
    • by postermmxvicom (1130737) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @06:01PM (#31560654)
      I am a math teacher and use a tablet wirelessly connected to a projector to teach using OneNote. It has all the advantages of a chalkboard or pen and paper plus:

      I always have all of my notes. Always.

      My notes are in color. I have a large selection of colors and sizes. (and my highlighters dont get messed up or run out)

      If I didnt leave myself enough room, I can make more room.

      If I want to take an idea in another direction, I can copy what I have to another page and fork off in the direction I want.

      Using OneNote, I can search through my handwritten notes as if they were text. Very useful for quickly finding old notes that are buried amidst lots of notes.

      I can resize diagrams.

      I can print pages to OneNote and use OCR to get the text from it or write all over it.

      I can quickly copy any part of my screen to it.

      I can publish my notes as PDF's or print copies.

      I have not found one draw back. In fact, I would like you to try to think of one (perhaps I have over looked it).

      Make sure you turn on pressure sensitive ink (obviously buy a tablet that is pressure sensitive) and select an ink thick enough so you can see the changes in width with the changes in pressure. This makes it look just like a hand written diagram.

      The only word of caution to teachers is if you are copying and pasting something - give your students time to recopy it in their notes.

      Also, get a tablet that is convertible. Then it is your laptop when you are doing regular stuff and yet when you need to draw a diagram - you can!

      The real motto for tablet computers needs to be "Use but not over use" (just like the motion stuff for wii)

      Dont write a paper in tablet mode - type it, it's faster. etc.

      I am a mathematician who, like yourself, "thinks on paper". The tablet is the computer you need.

      Get one with a dual digitizer. Active and passive. Get a convertible. Get OneNote. Resist the urge to do everything in tablet mode. I would bet most people with your sensibilities would not be disappointed. I know I am not.

      Plus, I've heard there are OneNote like apps which also do math stuff, like evaluate determinants for you, draw graphs, take derivatives etc.. I have not looked into those yet.

      I have used this set up for four years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drosboro (1046516)

        I use a similar setup, but I found OneNote frustrating for teaching. It's simply too cluttered for my liking. In addition, when exporting PDFs, it does a terrible job of page breaks, often breaking in the middle of a line of my writing.

        So, I've switched to xournal on Linux. It doesn't do OCR, but I never used that much anyways. It just, very simply, gives you pages of lined paper to write on, and allows you to annotate PDFs. Exporting PDFs is simple. Since I switched to Linux, the author has created w

  • Display size (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xugumad (39311) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:27PM (#31559296)

    > the main thing keeping me printing out documents is the ability to spread a dozen pages of a document under review out on my table and marking it up by hand.

    So, in short, the paperless office is waiting on bigger displays. Sounds about right to me...

    • by Gorobei (127755)

      Yep.

      I'm kind of old school, so I only have 3 monitors + a notepad, maybe get 1 piece of paper a week (a confirm for travel or whatever.) More modern guys on the floor have 6, 7, or 8 21" flatscreens, zero paper.

    • by pla (258480)
      So, in short, the paperless office is waiting on bigger displays.

      For most of the reasons I use paper, an 8.5x11in 300dpi "tablet" (with a battery life long enough not to annoy me) would work just wonderfully.

      Even then, though, I would still continue to leave "sticky" notes to myself on paper. For example, one of my favorite tricks made possible by nice thin LCD panels involves taking an index card, making two folds in it, and BAM, instant persistent note that sits neatly in the top "margin" of my scre
  • Doodles (Score:5, Funny)

    by hivebrain (846240) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:29PM (#31559318)
    When Word or Acrobat allows me to draw 3D boxes and other geometric shapes in the margins of docs, then we'll talk.
  • Reliability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:31PM (#31559332)

    I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

    When push comes to shove, I can always get a paper form to the person that needs it. Contrast that to relying on an Exchange server.

    When a form needs authorization, having the right person sign it with a pen always works. Contrast that to trying to get digital signatures to work.

    • I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

      Desks can burn down, and it's fairly time-consuming to make a perfect copy of your desk and every piece of paper currently on it.

      When push comes to shove, I can always get a paper form to the person that needs it. Contrast that to relying on an Exchange server.

      When push comes to shove, you have more options than just Exchange Server.

      When a form needs authorization, having the right person sign it with a pen always works. Contrast that to trying to get digital signatures to work.

      Pen signatures can be forged or outright cut-and-pasted, even moreso if you allow them to be faxed. Digital signatures don't require the person to physically be there, and cryptographic signatures, handled properly, cannot be forged.

      The reliability of digital versus paper isn't as celar-cut as you suggest, a

    • I've never had my desk crash, losing all pieces of paper on it. Contrast that to Windows.

      I must be running a "different" Windows than everyone else here. My Windows install has never crashed and lost my document. Indeed, it's never crashed on me at all.

      • My Windows install has never crashed and lost my document. Indeed, it's never crashed on me at all.

        Maybe you forgot to turn it on?

  • A: The law. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hal2814 (725639) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:33PM (#31559344)

    If you work in health care, at a law office, in insurance, in a financial institution or virtually anything else heavily regulated by the government, you must keep paper copies of most of your stuff. You just can't have a paperless office in those situations.

    • by LWolenczak (10527)

      Also, anything that has to be audited/signed/checked off for process control/accountability, which relates back to regulations.

      • Re:A: The law. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Red Flayer (890720) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:09PM (#31559644) Journal

        Also, anything that has to be audited/signed/checked off for process control/accountability, which relates back to regulations.

        Not so. Approvals & audits can be documented via software, as long as the software is certified (which isn't that hard to do).

        There are tons of software solutions out there for document management that can push documents through approval workflows, etc., that meet all standards for process control and accountability. I won't mention specific vendor names, but there are literally dozens of vendors that offer these systems at a reasonable price... and they have the SOx certifications to go with them.

      • Which is a total joke in the digital era ; apply a digital signature to something, and it's far more secure and assured than any ink scrawl on a piece of paper.

    • by Twinbee (767046)

      That's a real shame that they don't know how much time they'd all save.

  • by thechemic (1329333) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:35PM (#31559352)
    I work in an office with 200+ cubes. We have all the latest office productivity tools. 99% of the employees have 10-30 yellow stickys stuck all over their desk for reminders. People seem somehow amazed and awestruck by my clean and streamlined desk that is clutter free and yellow sticky free. Sometimes people are even brave enough to ask "how do you do it? How do you work without... stickys??!!". I tell them about this technological miracle that was recently invented (years ago) called Outlook. Features include calendar with reminders and even... a task list! Amazed... my coworkers usually run back to their desk to place another yellow sticky on top of a recently expiring yellow sticky, that says "reminder, learn about outlook tool". I feel like I'm surrounded by spear-chuckers
    • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:47PM (#31559458)

      ...this technological miracle that was recently invented (years ago) called Outlook.

      You had me up until that bit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nlawalker (804108)

      I don't think it's always resistance to change. I frequently experiment with new ways of keeping my life organized and I almost always end up coming back to a system that involves paper, stickies or notecards, at least in part. Outlook tasks and calendar entries definitely have their place, especially when your whole office is using them, but it often helps me to have notes take up physical space in my life. After a long period of trying to deny it and "go paperless," I finally admitted to myself that spati

    • by vlm (69642)

      99% of the employees have 10-30 yellow stickys stuck all over their desk for the password change of the week.

      Corrected that for you.

  • Paper offers the chance to get up and walk around while reading or the chance to go to another part of the office to write.

  • Workflow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eggman9713 (714915) <{eggman97132007} {at} {mac.com}> on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:39PM (#31559382)
    I work in an architecture/engineering office. Each department has its engineers/architects and its CAD technicians/designers. Our typical workflow has the engineer, ie me, quickly drawing out what I want on a blank plan, and the CAD guys make it happen so I can move on to other things. If I was going to draw what I wanted in the computer anyway, why do we need CAD guys? (hint: they are less expensive per hour, to be cynical. But that lets us get more work done overall).
    • by fermion (181285)
      When I think of paperless, what I think of is most things that used to waste paper, like memos, policy manuals, and interdepartmental transfers not going over computers. For the most part this is happening. Brainstorming, sketches, reminders on post it notes(which by the way is a contemporary with the electronic computer) are going to stay. Think of this way. We have the electric typewriter for almost 100 years in some form, yet we still use a graphite stick, 400 year old technology.

      The other thing is

  • by tftp (111690) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:40PM (#31559386) Homepage

    I know there are other reasons why offices are not becoming paperless. What are your reasons?

    I don't use paper at my home office. I have a printer for rare occasions, like when I want to print a backup set of driving directions for a long trip (the primary set being the GPS.) Some say they don't trust Windows (or any other OS, I guess) with their data. That's what backups are for. When was the last time you did a backup of all your papers, by the way? Papers are easy to lose and nearly impossible to find when you need them.

    I have a scanner next to me, if I have a paper (like a manual on something I bought) I scan it and save. The paper manual may then be recycled. Less stuff to lay around and produce dust.

    Even when I worked at a larger company (last year) the office was mostly paperless. All communication was done through email and IM and phone. I wasn't involved with code reviews, but meetings were done without papers - using a projector connected to presenter's notebook. The only paper I handled there was time cards, and that was only because of certain accounting regulations (it must be a physical document with a signature.)

    • by DamonHD (794830)

      I print out a handful of sheets per month on average; often because a legal document is involved and hard copy is required or sensible.

      I take notes and sketch ideas on recycled paper, but even that is of the same sort of total volume.

      For clients I usually have a paper note/log book, but even that is generally no more than about a page per working day, and on recycled stock where possible.

      I'm almost paperless now.

      Rgds

      Damon

    • by 5pp000 (873881) *

      Me too; I've been nearly paperless for a good 25 years. I almost never print out working material; I occasionally print things to file or send to someone else. I suppose it takes a little determination, but really it isn't that difficult, or hasn't been for me.

      Large monitors certainly help. I tile six Emacs subwindows across a 1920x1200 screen (two vertically x 3 horizontally), and I have plenty of ability to look at multiple pieces of source code at the same time.

  • when was the last time you took a computer monitor and folded it up and stuffed it in to an envelope, or in your pocket?
    also a pen/pencil & paper does not require a battery / electricity
    • by Aranykai (1053846)

      With inductive charging standards on the way, these concerns about batteries will likely fade as whole surfaces of desks/tables can be made to charge just about any electronic device from mice/keyboards to cellphones and even laptops.

      Also, I prefer email over mail anyways. Why pay for the stamp if you both have internet access anyways?

  • It's half solved (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jgreco (1542031) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:41PM (#31559396)

    I've had flatbed scanners for a long time, auto-feeding, etc. Way back, scanning was very manual and OCR took a Really Long Time. That was a turnoff for many years.

    These days, there are really good scanners out there (we just picked up a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1400) and the OCR isn't too painful on a modern box. The ScanSnap is color and double-sided with a large ADF - and blazing fast. I cannot picture too many improvements, except maybe a scanner that would unfold paper and remove staples... but the sticking point is still document management and access.

    We're part of the way there. The largest remaining problems are software and people.

    The upside? A banker's box of papers can be consolidated onto a quarter of a DVD - all searchable. I want that. :-)

  • by raddan (519638) * on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:42PM (#31559408)
    primarily because a paper-based process is tremendously wasteful, expensive, and it cannot take advantage of many efficiencies of keeping documents in the digital domain. For our Boston office alone, we spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on paper, ink, and printer/photocopier maintenance.

    What it mostly comes down to for us is screen real-estate; the ability to work from multiple documents at once is essential. We are piloting some very large monitors now (24"+), and the things we're discovering were somewhat unexpected from the IT staff's perspective. Most people, but especially older workers, intensely dislike the large screens.

    Their complaints are along the lines of "it's too big" and "sensory overload". It seems that, with their previous displays, which were 15" LCDs, people could tuck their monitor away, and use the computer to augment their work. People universally liked moving from 15" CRTs to 15" LCDs because it made the computer even less obtrusive. However, a shift to a digital workflow is really quite a change, and the large screen reinforces that. It immediately confronts people with the fact that they really have to work on the computer now. Younger employees seem very eager to do this, but older employees, some of whom have worked with a paper process for 20+ years, really do not like this idea at all, and have even recently made childish proclamations like "I reserve the right to print something anytime I want!"

    My sense is that this attitude will eventually pass, but it may be a generational thing. As younger employees move into more senior positions, we'll probably see paper go away. Obviously, I'm generalizing here, because some older employees, especially our graphic designers, LOVE the big screens. Their process has been entirely computer based for a long time already. Given that most of the actual work is done by younger employees, we may find ourselves giving the less senior people big screens, and let the more senior people keep what they have. They spend most of their time in meetings anyhow.
  • by Charles Dodgeson (248492) <jeffrey@goldmark.org> on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:45PM (#31559442) Homepage Journal

    Back in the 80s, I remember someone saying that a paperless office would be about as useful as the paperless toilet.

    I'm not sure why I feel that this is true. But I'm hoping this discussion will provide insight.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Back in the 80s, I remember someone saying that a paperless office would be about as useful as the paperless toilet.

      I'm not sure why I feel that this is true. But I'm hoping this discussion will provide insight.

      Urinal = only works for about half the employees, even then only most of the time.

      Also, there is the probably false assumption that office work is inherently useful work. Insert the "office space" movie quote "I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work."

  • Surface computing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gilesjuk (604902) <giles,jones&zen,co,uk> on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:45PM (#31559444)

    A whole desk computer is what you need, with easy ways of sending someone a document.

    Imagine if you had a meeting room and the whole desk was a computer, but you could effectively bring your own computer display over to the desk? No need to bring your laptop, no need to bring a notepad with you.

    Ok, we will need to move away from WIMP to make this possible perhaps?

  • You! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by owlstead (636356) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:46PM (#31559446)

    What's holding down the paperless Office? The answer is mainly: you. I've been working at my IT job for a few years. Almost if not all of my communication is by mail, phone or coffee machine. I normally do not read anything offline, and if I write anything down it's because I do the exercise to remember. Only top priority notes are kept, and they are directly typed into a document on the server.

    I've recently had to host a meeting with 20 persons and I just used a laptop and a projector, The persons hosting the meeting before gave everybody a lot of paper (which 90 percent won't even read because they are not directly involved). I just gave them one double sided page so they could scribble some notes next to the items on the agenda.

    I absolutely hate paper when I'm at work. Office documents need versions, need to be able to be pushed around, deleted and changed. You must be able to search through them quickly. Novels are much better in a book, but at work, I'll would prefer digital versions every time (even though paper even there certainly has its advantages).

    Of course I do have double screens at work, something every IT person should have - if only to minimize costs.

  • ... that deliver 20,000 lb of paper to my workplace every few weeks or so. And the 1 printer for every 5 workers ratio is not getting any better.

  • Uhm...the abundance of cheap laser printers? (And I would rather see greater proliferation of cheaper e-ink devices.)
  • Paperless office is probably never going to happen; paper is just too convenient.

    The problem trying to be solved isn't lots of paper though, it's the environmental effects of printing and throwing away lots of paper.

    There are currently some printers out there that handle special paper that can be erased. With a decade of R&D more we could have affordable, erasable paper and pens and markers to go along with that paper.

  • People print out documents because, for one, they want to view non-continuous pages. A monitor that could show, say 6 full pages might do the trick.

    Another reason is to have a permanent copy; people all have a story where documents were lost due to some data-related problem.

    Finally, some people want to mark up pages. Although there are ways to do that on a computer, vendor proprietary formats, cost of applications, and generally not really working as well as people want make print and the pencil by far the

  • A couple of things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @03:58PM (#31559564) Homepage

    Some of the reasons I still use paper:

    1. Off-line use. I can refer to paper copies and make notes on them even when I'm not around the computer.
    2. Audit trail. Most document-management systems and e-mail systems have document retention policies that're under someone else's control. Sometimes I need to control copies of the documents independently of company policies (eg. anything related to HR, records that might prove inconvenient for management later (like my detailing of exactly why something they want to do is a Bad Idea), etc.).
    3. Change control. Many times documents can be changed in the computer and, while it records that there was a change, there's no record anymore of what the document said before the change. The paper copies in my drawer can't be changed and I can pull them out to prove that yes that was what was originally specified.
    4. Space. My desk's a lot bigger than the computer monitor, and I can lay out a lot more papers and diagrams on it than I can have visible on the monitor at one time. Very useful, that.
    5. Reliability. I don't have to worry about the contents of my desk drawers and noteboard going *poof* when a system upgrade goes south and it turns out the restore process requires things IT can't afford to do.
    • An electronic audit trail/change control system seems to be something that can be done, but maybe the currently available systems are too complicated to use.

      Computers can be backed up for relatively easy restoration. A company that can't reimage a computer or restore it from a backup probably has deeper issues. Actual data files should be on a server as much as possible, and those servers should be backed up too.

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        The problem with change control is most of those systems require you to use them. Which the people who need to won't. They've got their documents, they don't see a need to learn some new system that involves checking out and checking in. And there's no effective way to graft the change-control systems onto the My Documents folder and into Word and Excel and such so that changes get recorded just by editing and saving the document.

        As far as reimaging, that's the problem. The reimaging process today involves

  • Speaking for myself... nothing. I haven't printed anything either at the office or at home for at least five years. Not out of any technophile or tree-hugging principles; I just haven't felt the need.

    • You obviously have never turned up at a Ryanair checkin without a paper copy of your paperless ticket!
  • What I need is a nice, cheap, rugged and handy document reader.

    Seriously, the number one reason I print documents is because I want to review them while I go to the loo, or because I want to grab something to eat and I'll read it while I wait or because I want to take the doc home and maybe read it while I ride the bus.

    Basically it boils down to something:

    1. Cheap (if it breaks, I don't want to care too much about it)
    2. Rugged (I'm taking it with me on a possibly crowded bus)
    3. Standards compliant(I want to read a f
  • Prices & UI... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper (135110) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:06PM (#31559624) Journal

    Paper is incredibly cheap...

    At ~1 cent per page, how many reams of paper would it take to pay off a single tablet/eBook reader for a single person?
    Answer: "Too many"

    Tablets, so far, have been far too geared for the high end... Luxury devices. Meanwhile, the essentially free "Personal Organizers" that were flying off the shelves close to 10 years ago now, had everything needed, just in too small dimensions...

    In short, once someone sells a 7" display, with decent pen-input, basic wireless, and a stupid-simple UI, for perhaps $25, then you'll see the last stronghold of paper fall away.

    Until then, it will continue to be a trade-off... Is e-mailing this report okay, or will it need to be referenced in the next meeting, or by someone as they're walking around? Often, it's cost more to take the time to figure that out, than the cost of continuing to print it...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I mean, so as to be completely unusable. I have books that are torn, missing spines, water damaged, defaced, and they still work. With no other hardware. Even during a power cut, or on the beach, and without any kind of hardware, and no language problems even after centuries. Paper is just superior technology.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Hows that "grep" working for ya, and can you instantly make copies and then share, distribute, and backup using this newfangled "paper" gadget?

  • Paper allows markup, and so does papyrus. Clay tablets do as well, until they are dry or fired in a kiln.

    Paperless "documents" can be made to support markup. Ted Nelson was talking about it in the 1960s. It's his inability to ship product (like Babbage before him) that kept his vision from being popularized.

    When TBL got around to building the first web servers, and there arose a need for formatting, the term HTML got picked. The world was done a great disservice by the term HTML, which doesn't allow markup

  • by Pascal Sartoretti (454385) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @04:19PM (#31559726)
    Maybe the paperless office has not arrived yet but at least in my domain (software engineering), there has been a huge change in the last 3-5 years : most of the documents are exchanged with customers/partners in electronic form and the reference version is somewhere on server (most of the times on a simple file server, sometimes in a document management system). Only a few documents remain in paper form (contracts, orders, etc...), but they are quickly scanned so that we only use the electronic version in day-to-day use (while the paper version is archived).

    Yes, there is still a lot of paper around, but it is mostly used for personal usage, and can simply be thrown away once a project is over.
  • I'll go paperless when I get a CRT that supports 3 or 4 8 1/2x 11 documents at one time, at 8 1/2x 11 with 300+ dpi resolution, and lets me take notes on any document format, in any way I see fit, highlighter, drawing lines, whatever.
  • Two Good Reasons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlueBoxSW.com (745855) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @05:26PM (#31560354) Homepage

    1) A crisp blank sheet of paper is the greatest design tool ever invented.

    2) Most computer applications don't support the many-to-many relationships with the same ease physical mediums do.

  • by stoicfaux (466273) on Sunday March 21, 2010 @05:26PM (#31560360)

    IME, word processors (such as Word) are the main impediment to the paperless office. The general problems are: they're based on the 8.5 x 11" paper paradigm, they contain unstructured data, and they're too difficult to share, search, and otherwise organize electronically. I use MS-Word at work, so my examples/complaints will be specific to Word. The issues I have with Word in how it impedes a paperless office are:

    • My monitor isn't 8.5 x 11 in size. This is especially problematic on a 22" monitor, especially when monitors nowadays are much wider than they are tall.
    • Scrolling through a document is painful. It unexpectedly jumps to the next page in page view mode. If you view the document in draft mode, which scrolls smoothly, picture objects aren't displayed.
    • Margins in Word docs are painfully contrived. They artificially limit how much text can appear on each line. Margins are based on an 8.5" wide page, which leaves even more of my 22" monitor's real estate unused. By comparison, an html based doc (aka web sites) will easily expand/contract to match your browser's window size.
    • Word docs are not Web pages. In our situation, any word doc available on a web server cannot be displayed in a web browser. Instead, you have to download the doc and then open it in Word. Needless to say this is extremely clumsy, slow, and bookmark unfriendly. Instead of being able to create a fast loading bookmark, folks tend to print out a paper copy of the document for convenience. Since folks rely on downloaded or printed copies, updates to the source document on the website are very slow to propagate (meaning that folks continue to use the out of date copy.)
    • Word docs are slow and clumsy to version control and to diff.
    • It's easier to email a document around than it is to peer review a Word document using the built in change tracking or to use peer review software. End result is several copies of a document floating around, and no good way to reconcile the copies.
    • Word docs are databases. Unfortunately, the data in a Word doc is too unstructured and very difficult, if not impossible, to reliably enforce order on the data contained therein. This also makes it difficult to search across documents. This especially impacts engineering, requirements, and policy documents. That kind of data would be better off in a real database and not "managed" in Word docs.
    • Word is bloated and slow to load. A website page can load in a couple of seconds. Word is slow to load to the point that it's often faster just to pick up the printout and read it instead.

    IMO, the paperless office isn't going to happen until Someone(tm) manages to replace the word processor with a database that looks and acts like a word processor. Kind of like how everyone can use a fax machine (which acts like a telephone and copier) but those same folks balk at using a computer scanner and email over tcp/ip even though the fax machine is simply a low quality scanner that uses an inflexible, low speed modem instead of a tcp/ip network connection.

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