Document Generation                         PRACTICE NET      


Rapport Office Management



How To Achieve The Paperless Office


If you’re reading this report surrounded by paper files you probably think the paperless office is a myth …

Indeed it’s probably the wrong term anyway, so think of the concept as Freedom from Paper. And once you fully grasp this concept and make it a reality you’ll benefit in more ways than you ever thought possible.

You’ve taken the first step in obtaining this e-Book so please take an hour or so to read it and then consider your course of action.

Myths & Reality

Information at your fingertips and when you need it - surely that’s utopia.

Well - yes it is but you too can achieve it if you follow the simple methods I’ve outlined.

The route to –

  •   A proactive relationship with your clients

  •   Improved efficiency

  •   Increased Profitability

First though let’s dispel some myths.

1. Installing a system will be too disruptive …

You can simply follow your existing filing methods – in electronic form. Changes to your existing procedures should be evolutionary and not revolutionary.

2. I’ve seen document scanning systems and they’re too expensive for me …

Many are expensive and some businesses do require these solutions. Most businesses though do not. I’ve seen an accountancy practice start with a scanner costing less than £100 and get incredible results.

3. Document management systems, cannot be integrated with my office computer systems …

If you read on I’ll explain why this need not be so …

Getting rid of paper files has not been easy. If it had been then everyone would have done so ages ago. It does need a different approach and more importantly a change in attitude.

      The results though are startling …

  •   improved efficiency

  •   proactive client relationships

  •   improved security

  •   increased profitability

.And you can achieve all this with no risk and minimum cost.

It has not always been so …

Historically computer systems to store and access documents were complicated and expensive. Even worse they weren’t integrated with existing business procedures.

These systems for document generation and document capture – usually by expensive scanners are usually totally separate. Often the scanned documents are accessible only via a separate computer so the very people who need access are unable to benefit.

Indeed many systems bought for document capture were really intended for document archiving. These products typically scan documents into a single storage area, you can think of as a large bucket.

To find a document you need to specify a description of its title or contents and a very sophisticated piece of software called a search engine then looks for it.

If this really is what you want then fine. But don’t you think it would be more productive if this was fully integrated with all your office procedures.

The New Approach …

Your business procedures are client focussed and your document files are too. To find a document you probably go to the client file stored in a filing cabinet and search through the contents until you find it.

So it’s logical to implement a system for generating client related correspondence and other documents that’s client focussed too. Then you can do the same for incoming letters and documents.

You then have all the relevant documents for a client in its own electronic file. A single electronic "cabinet" or database then holds all your client files. It’s then a simple matter to be able to retrieve a letter or any document. Such a system is called client centric.

By keeping things simple you don’t need a sophisticated search engine to locate a document. You just look in the client’s electronic file.

What’s more you can choose to archive selected documents by date or by client to off-line storage such as CD-ROM. So your document archiving is fully integrated with your system for document generation, document capture and document retrieval.

So now you’re a long way towards achieving the paperless office.

But you’re not quite there yet …

  •  CRM

You’ll have heard of Customer Relationship Management systems – indeed you may already have one. It may be an integral part of your business - it should be at its very core.

To achieve this requires a CRM product that’s flexible enough to hold whatever information you need to know about your clients or customers, contacts and prospects. Many CRM products are implemented as basic card index systems.

To be truly effective your system should include a relational database. So that information is entered once only. Associated records are simply linked together.

If you need to know the bank details for all your customers you store the relevant bank names & addresses once. Then for each customer you simply record the bank reference.

Not only is this more efficient it also means that it’s incredibly easy to extract a list of all customers who bank at a particular branch.

Take a few minutes to think of examples for your business ……

Your CRM solution should also be integrated with your document management system.

Unless your CRM and document management systems are integrated you’ll be generating paper between them. You’ll also miss out on the immediate access to information that a totally integrated solution can bring.

If you’ve managed mailing campaigns you’ll know how time consuming they can be.

  •   Identifying your target market

  •   Producing the personalised letters or emails to those selected clients

  •   Keeping track of those who’ve replied

  •   Following up those who haven’t.

This should be an easy process if your CRM database is integrated with your document management system. It’ll be very inefficient if it’s not.

So are we there yet?

Not quite. There are two more aspects to consider …..

  •  Email

It’s impossible these days to underestimate the impact that the Internet and Email has on businesses. I’ll guess yours is no exception.

Everyone seems to be using the Internet and email has taken over from the fax – but is your business benefiting? The problem is one of control. And not just people access. How do you ensure a copy of every email is retained in the client’s file?

If you can’t provide a satisfactory answer to this question it’s holding back your business from the many benefits the Internet and email can bring.

No prizes for guessing the answer.

Your email must be integrated with your CRM and Document Management system. And because your client documents are held electronically it’s quick and easy to email them to your client.

If your client’s email address is held on file then you can be assured it gets to the right person – no embarrassing typos.

Outgoing email should be easy to control. Incoming though can be more problematic without the right solution.

How often do you get email from clients’ personal accounts such as rather than And do you play email ping pong so that only the last response gets filed?

To store incoming email automatically in the right client file your system needs to have a record of every email address used by your clients. Otherwise you’ll need to select the client file for each unrecognised email address. This should only take a few seconds once you’ve read the email.

The benefits you get are …

      Tight control over your email

      If anyone in your business needs to refer to a particular email they simply look in the client’s electronic file.

The final element on the way to the paperless office is your Office Diary & Reminders …..

Look around your office and see how many telephone messages, yellow post its and various handwritten notes you can see. And how many hand written diaries does your office keep?

How much better would it be if you were automatically informed of documents you needed to see, telephone calls you needed to return, messages to reply to and who’s available for an urgent meeting.

Being reminded of meetings you are due to attend and dead-lines you have to meet mean you become proactive. Integrating your office diary to your CRM and document management system means that everyone who is permitted to do so can view and possibly update it.

What’s more as it’s integrated you can link appointments and actions to your people and your clients. So you see the whole picture.

But what about invoices, statements, tax returns, accounts filing, company returns, payroll year end reports …..

Well I’ve addressed those aspects that you control. You’re dependent on others such as suppliers and the government to help you address these other issues.

Some things you can do now, others will have to wait until later. You can submit company annual returns electronically and about 20 other forms as well. Payroll year end returns too.

Personal tax returns can be filed via the Internet and corporate tax returns accompanied by the accounts will follow shortly.

Using a simple "PDF" module it’s easy to create an electronic copy of your report as a "PDF". Your document management system should then prompt you to file it in the appropriate client file.

So to benefit from a virtual single database your application software doesn’t need to be from the same supplier.

The important thing is to make a start with those areas that you can easily improve.

The Profitable Benefits …

  •   Quicker access to documents

  •   Client information when you need it, e.g. when responding to a telephone call

  •   Automatic reminders of dead-lines, actions and appointments

  •   Standard letters that can be produced by everyone authorised to do so

  •   Low cost and effective marketing to your clients

  •   Reduced storage cost

  •   Reduced stationery costs

  •   Lower photocopying charges

... I’m sure you can think of many others relevant to your business.

If you’re still not convinced of the benefits then think of the time saving alone by doing this simple calculation:

Time taken to find a document =

No/docs needed per day/person =

No. of people =

Average charge out rate =

No of working days/year (220?) =

Now compare the total time to that from implementing a computer system – typically about 10 seconds per document.

Add on the time savings in creating and amending correspondence and you’ll be amazed at the potential increase in chargeable time running into thousands of £’s.

And don’t forget about the photocopying you currently do making copies of documents when several people are involved.

So there you have it – you’ve created a structure to your previous unstructured data and turned it into valuable information.

How to get there and what’s involved?

Start with Document Generation

You’re probably already using Microsoft Word and have created document templates for your standard letters. These can be imported for use straight away.

You may need others but are finding it too time consuming to write the complicated macros. Think how productive it would be if you could produce standard templates without macros.

Writing personalised letters from document templates is incredibly easy and encourages managers, directors, partners and business owners to write their own with immediate benefits. Or simply draft a letter for completion by your secretary.

Reviewing a draft on screen saves much time and avoids the need to print draft copies.

Your selected product will probably include a document tracking element. This will enable you to track changes to a document whilst it’s at the draft stage.

You may be using dictation software such as Via Voice or Dragon Dictate that generate Microsoft Word documents. It should be straightforward to integrate this with your Document Management System.

Your document management system is now client centric so to locate any document you simply select the client record. Then from the displayed list of documents choose the one you want.

If you prefer you can choose to categorise client documents by activity or person – so a particular group sees just their correspondence.

Your client files should contain everything that you’d expect to see in a paper file. Including - Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, incoming & outgoing email, "PDF" reports, scanned images and forms.

Whether you’re producing an individual letter or a bulk mailing requires the relevant information to be held within your database. You decide the data you want to hold.

Start with basic data such as the products or services you supply, the type of business, details of directors, critical dates. Add more later on as you realise the benefits from having valuable information at your fingertips.

  •  Security of Access

You can choose to limit those who are permitted to access and update the database - by implementing a method of user identification and password control. So you decide those in your business who are allowed access. And keep out intruders!

You may decide that some people only need "read only" access. So they can look at information but cannot update it.

Now Onto Document Scanning …

Some businesses start with document scanning because of a special need. Possibly they’ve a physical storage problem and see the advantages of electronic filing. Most though tackle document generation first.

Either way you’ll only realise the full benefits from a document management system when both these aspects are fully integrated.

First you need to choose the scanner and this will depend upon several factors …

  •   The daily volume

  •   The type and size of documents to be scanned

  •   Who opens the mail

  •   Who decides who sees what

  •   What sort of network you have

  •   Whether you intend to scan your existing paper files

If your volumes are very small then a low cost flat bed scanner costing less than £100 should suffice. This typically takes up to 1 minute to scan an A4 page. So check your average daily volume in terms of number of pages and you’ll soon see the time it will take each day.

For larger volumes a 15, 25, 40 or faster page per minute scanner with sheet feed will be needed. Many scanners have an optional flat bed too and this is recommended for thick documents, odd shaped or torn pages that cannot be accommodated by the sheet feeder.

You may need to scan A3 pages so consider this too before you make your choice.

If you can’t justify a scanner with a flat bed then you’ll need to photocopy odd shaped or thicker than normal pages. You may also be able to photo reduce an A3 document to A4.

Then you need to decide whether your scanner can simply be attached to a PC. This means that only that PC can be used to scan documents - although once scanned anyone on your office network can see the scanned documents. Provided of course they have the authority to do so.

If you want more flexibility then you should consider a more expensive network scanner. Then any PC on your network can scan documents. You can think of this device as similar to a photocopier. Indeed there are many multi-functional devices that will scan, print, fax and photocopy.

The method you choose to adopt will depend upon your volume and your existing office procedures. You may though decide to use the new facility as a catalyst for change.

I’ll describe three examples that are commonly used. There are others & lots of variants …

Method 1 …. The post is opened by someone who can determine the clients to which each document relates and who should see it. Then each document will be scanned directly into the relevant client file and an electronic referral message sent to the person selected to deal with it.

Method 2 …. Scan each item of post and leave it unallocated. It can then subsequently be dealt with as previously described. Any post that remains "unallocated" is readily identified as not dealt with.

Method 3 … Decide who should deal with a particular item of post. Then scan it to an in-box. Every person in the office can be assigned their unique in-box. Then they can view each scanned document and allocate it to the client. Again, any item remaining in an in-box has not been dealt with.

A director of an accountancy practice said …

"We scan the post to an in-box for the appropriate director. Once dealt with, the documents are stored against the relevant client. Any item remaining in an in-box is either not dealt with or in progress."

Either way you avoid the photocopying of correspondence and related documentation for a multiple readership. Scanned documents are stored once but referred to by anyone who is allowed access.

  •  Legal Issues

There are some documents that need to be kept in their original paper form. But do you need to store them? We’ve all noticed the change in procedure adopted by mortgage lenders whereby a truck-load of papers is delivered to you for safe keeping.

So once you’ve scanned documents sent to you by a client you can decide those that can be shredded and those that must be retained. Then if you choose you can return those to the client.

As you’re no longer printing paper copies of your outgoing correspondence you must ensure that the electronic copy is secure. So decide for how long a document is amendable before it becomes "read only". You may decide this should be 1, 2 … 5 days.

The automatic document history or tracking procedure must reveal what’s happened to any document …

      Who created it?

      Who has changed it?

      Has it been emailed and if so – to whom?

      Has it been referred to anybody and are there any notes against it?

And above all you need to ensure that the electronic copy is exactly the same as the original.

Telephone Conversations

It’s easy to forget the information you gather or impart using the telephone. You may take notes or make the mistake of relying on your memory.

Consider how much better it would be if you make a note directly on the client’s electronic file – with a reminder if applicable.

A recent development enables you to record a telephone conversation and store it in the client’s file just like a document. It’s actually an "mp3" file. Then any authorised user can listen to it. You can even send it as an attachment to an email.

It’s very easy to fit to your handset –works with analogue and digital ‘phones and is easy to use. When you’ve finished your conversation you name the recording and save it in the client’s file. If you give advice on the telephone – you need to protect yourself - so it’s well worth considering implementing this low cost solution.

  •  Disk Storage

The amount of disk storage used to be a major consideration. Now that hardware costs have decreased and disk capacities increased this should not be a major issue.

As a rough guide 24,000 A4 scanned pages occupy about 1GB of disk space. The actual space taken does depend on several factors …

        The information on a page

        The resolution of the scanner. Scanning at 300 dots per inch, (dpi) takes up less space than scanning at 600 dpi.

        A coloured page occupies much more than b & w.

        Whether you’re scanning documents as "tif" or "PDF". The latter takes up less storage. If your scanner only scans as "tif" you can still store documents as "PDF" by using a software converter. Documents will take longer to scan as there’s an extra stage involved – but it’s automatic.

But check this out for yourself as your documents may vary from the average. Also you may be able to adjust your scanner – you may find low resolution is easy to read & it will occupy less disk space. Certainly 300dpi is fine for me but if you’re scanning detailed drawings for example you may need a higher resolution.

If disk storage is a problem then most document management systems include the facility to archive documents off line. Typically to CDROM.

Portability of information is essential too. Just like you’d take a client file with you to a meeting you need to be able to take the equivalent electronic file. So your database needs to have an export facility. It should be a simple matter to transfer a client’s file from your office network to your notebook computer.

Synchronisation of your office system and notebook on your return is essential – to store any documents you created whilst you were out of the office.

  •  Remote Access

It used to be expensive & difficult – now you can access your office network securely from home, a client’s office or any place at all. There are a variety of solutions – some cheap & cheerful – others more sophisticated & expensive.

The growth in Internet access points and wireless network services mean that you can access your database from virtually anywhere. You choose the product or service that best fits your need.

Some database products include the facility to "work off-line". So you can take your database with you on your Notebook computer.

Then when you return to the office and re-connect to your network your database will be updated with any documents you created when working "off-line"

You choose the product that best fits your need.

Whichever method you choose you’ll be able to access your customer & prospect database, documents, diary and email. You can generate a letter, email it to a client and be assured that it’s stored safely in your database.

Whichever method you choose you’ll be able to access your client database, documents, diary and email on-line. You can generate a letter, email it to a client and be assured that it’s stored safely in your document management database.

Your Chosen Product

You may decide to select a product that integrates with your existing application software. Whilst this may give you added benefits do not compromise your selection of the best Document Management product for your business.

So you’ve selected a product, converted your existing names & addresses and other information and implemented document management. Now how will things change within your office?

  •  Picture the scene ….

Your telephone rings – it’s a client. She "says thanks for your letter but I don’t understand paragraph 4". Previously you’d probably have said – I’ll call you back. Then gone hunting for the file with a map & a torch only to discover the copy letter is still on a colleague’s desk. Or even worse in his brief case and he’s out!

Now you simply enter the name of the client, see the list of documents –scanned, typed, application generated, email, internal memos, reminders & notes. And answer her query. Then you arrange a meeting, make an entry in the office diary and schedule a reminder for the day before. It can be as easy as that.

First you need to make it happen for your business so … take the first step and select a system that meets your needs.

Ensure though that in addition to bringing the benefits described your chosen product is backed up by support from the software authors. Your needs change and it’s important that your product is updated regularly to keep it abreast of changing needs and technology.

Also ensure you have immediate access to telephone support – essential in the early days when you’re learning to use it. Availability of training courses too will dramatically shorten the learning curve of your staff.