Going Paperless to Protect Print?

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with the top executive of growing, successful print service provider, and she made an interesting comment that I’d like readers’ comments on.

The company had recently implemented electronic document management. This executive, along with two other team members, went through the entire company employee by employee, creating a flow charge for all administrative processes, ferreting out inefficiencies, and using what they learned to dramatically increase productivity in the administrative workflow.

Employee-by-employee, they challenged every step. They asked, “Why are we doing it that way?”

The team found that the company had too many steps that had slowly become grandfathered in over time. Steps and processes added in to fix certain problems five years ago, ten years ago—or more—were no longer relevant. They analyzed everything—quoting, order entry, warehouse releases, billing, and graphics. Then they removed redundance, eliminated unnecessary steps, and streamlined everything.

The results?

Accounting: “This has saved me one hour a day, plus I’m able to take on a few other tasks that I couldn’t do before.”

Comptrolling: “It has saved me an hour day.”

CSR manager:  “I’ll bet it saves me two hours a day.”

President / COO: “It took a one-hour process down to 10 minutes.”

But this new paperless workflow eliminated paper for administration, and there was sensitivity to the fact that the company — a champion of the value of print — would face criticism for eliminating paper / printed documents in its own workflow.

Ironic, isn’t it? Strong, healthy companies prosper, and better, more streamlined, more efficient administrative process contribute tangibly to the bottom line. So why should any PSP be concerned about being criticized for making a change that benefits the company’s overall profitability? I don’t think they should. Do you?

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11 thoughts on “Going Paperless to Protect Print?

  1. Sharon Flick

    As a former electronic document management system administrator, I know first hand the value that using such a system brings to a company. Your article does an excellent job of describing the efficiencies gained when a company takes a long hard look at their processes. What a company achieves in better communication and productivity is well worth the time (and pain!) spent honestly and thoroughly examining what they do and why they do it.

    I do not see any irony in a print provider’s choice to use electronic document management. I have never heard anyone in the printing industry advocate an “all or nothing” approach: ie., “if you use print, you can’t use electronic.” On the contrary, I have heard many industry experts stress the need to find the right mix of methods whether it’s to market your message, to manage your workflows, or for any other purpose. No one has an issue with creating an electronic layout file in InDesign vs. doing a mechanical paste-up with hot wax. In today’s world, there is room – and need – for both print and electronic.

  2. Henry Hunt

    As a PSP that went from paper to digital regarding the workflow using WoodWing and went to paper “less” meetings regarding documents, I cannot imagine anyone complaining about anyone using less paper especially in a workflow as the amount in comparison to the amount a PSP churns out would be pretty small one would think.

    Thanks for the interesting story.

  3. Bob O'Shea

    Surely this is about fundamentals. Digital nirvana is available to anyone whether streamlined or not provided recognition is made that paper is the support tool to the digital record. In other words the paper instruction or record is the disposable element in the record. Doesn’t have to be a root and branch review though that would clearly be helpful. The gold standard has to be the digital record and every effort has to be made to protect the record files from corruption so the first review has to be on systems evaluations alongside backups and one won’t be enough. Power outages and how to deal with them need to be part of any such review.

  4. Joel Salus

    “Applause!”….. to any company that takes the time to examine its business processes for the purpose of streamlining processes, increasing team member productivity and reducing waste and cost!

    On the other hand, examining a company’s business processes should not be viewed as a one-time thing or as a special event; examining and refining business processes should be a constant activity, month in and month out. Years ago, one of our senior partners said, “remember, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My response was, “well, just because it isn’t broken does not mean that we can do it better, more efficiently, less costly, more productively.” A couple of years later, one of our team members posted a sign on the wall in the management team area that said, “the only CONSTANT ….is CHANGE.” Business process improvement – analysis, consideration, recommendations for change – is something that all team members should be encouraged to participate in; owners aren’t always “all-knowing” beings.

    Heidi, I had to laugh when I read this……”But this new paperless workflow eliminated paper for administration, and there was sensitivity to the fact that the company — a champion of the value of print — would face criticism for eliminating paper / printed documents in its own workflow.” In spite of the fact that we are in the P4P business and industry, would it not be completely idiotic for any owner to fear (or otherwise be concerned about) criticism for improving business processes ….simply because those changes reduce or eliminate paper?

  5. Stephanie

    As someone who works for a print company, I do not think a print service provider should be criticized for using an electronic document management system if it makes their company more efficient.

    We strive to teach our customers to use print as efficiently as possible. For example, using print for marketing purposes such as direct mail, catalogs or retail POP displays can be very successful when used properly, but not at all successful when used just for the sake to use.

    We take this same approach when examining our own company for efficiencies. If using an electronic document management system will benefit the company, then I say go for it.

    Great article explaining the benefits a company can gain when looking at their processes!

  6. David Greenburg

    Automation to enhance efficiency is no vice- especially in a competitive market like ours. Many print companies are working on razor thin margins these days anyway. Therefore, the only way to increase margins is lower costs and increase productivity.

    It’s a non-issue. Big printing plants have been managing jobs electronically for years.

  7. Marion

    The company should be congratulated for looking at its operations and taking steps to gain efficiences. A by-product of that effort was that paper wasn’t necessary to make the operation successful.

    The same is true at my library. The whole process of requesting, receiving notifications, and checking out materials has been automated – there is no print involved in the process.

    In both casses, print has evolved to be a less important part of the operation. Print is however, a critical part of what makes these organizations successful. Not for operations, but to foster connections. Whether in a printed invitation or in a book, this connection that print makes is what matters.

    Thoughtful post, thank you Heidi!

  8. Heath Cajandig

    If you are going to cut down trees and feed them into a machine that smashes heated toner (plastic/oil) onto it, finish it, maybe stick it shrink wrapped in a box and potentially then on a truck or plane….. with a life expectancy of weeks on average before it is in the trash: you should really have a good reason for doing it.

    If you don’t, it should not be printed. We should always challenge ourselves with that because we look foolish when people outside the industry figure it out before us. And that is how they see it.

  9. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    How about before we fire up our electronic devices, tap into the power grid, and fuel mountain top removal and coal-burning power plants, destroying habitat, polluting rivers and streams, and encouraging mountaintop removal, we’d better have a reason to do so? The idea that e-media is better than print is simply erroneous and buoyed by misinformation.

    With all the sustainable forestry these days, the need to protect our forests by giving them a commercial value (as opposed to selling the off for agriculture or development), the extremely high percentage of alternative and renewable energy used in paper-making and print (as opposed to data centers, which fuel our world of “e” and use a very small percentage of renewable energy), the paper and printing industry is hardly a major environmental offender.

    All media — print or e- — should be used judiciously and with an eye toward minimizing any unnecessary waste. Both have environmental footprints, perhaps none worse or better than another, so we need to be careful about how we characterize either one.

  10. Neal Haussel

    The digital or “paperless” revolution is about convenience and efficiency. Unfortunately (for us in the paper and print industries), there is enough inertia behind the move from paper to digital that no initiative will deter it’s progression; neither by a single company nor any coalition. That said, print will never disappear…neither, however, will it be what it once was. Some printers and paper manufacturers will survive and others will not. That is the sad truth. The ones that DO survive will have embraced technology to enable their continued existence, and will use it to make the best of what’s left of the once burgeoning ink on paper market. NO ONE, though, should fool themselves into thinking that a paperless world is actually good for the environment…it’s simply a more convenient alternative and a more efficient alternative for certain applications. Marketing is NOT one of those applications!

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