A paperless age for SMEs?

It’s been decades now since the advent of computers promised the paperless office. It seems, however, that paper has a certain stubborn quality and has managed thus far to confound all reports of its imminent demise. But with the arrival of cloud-based apps, that might finally be about to change.

The paper age

Paper-based systems have been around as long as companies themselves have. In fairness, they simply made use of the technology available at the time – paper and ink. Everything a company did was recorded on paper. Stock inventory, sales invoices, delivery notes, accounts, employee expenses and all communications were paper-based. These systems were simple and accessible but they did (and do) have their problems.

The paper weight (and wait)

Paper-based systems have endured despite many drawbacks. The first and most obvious of these is the simple but weighty matter of storage space. As time passes and companies grow, the sheer volume of paper records creates an ever-increasing need for storage space. With office space at a premium, this costs money. Regulations demand that some records are kept for many years, which only adds to the problem. Some organisations attempt to tackle this problem by renting off-site storage but that, too, costs money. It can also be inconvenient when access is required. This leads us to another problem. Paper, by its very nature, can only be in one place at one time. This has led to complex filing systems and the inevitable wait while a document is found (if it’s not lost entirely).

Time for change

Many SMEs are keen to change to more efficient systems but they have often been met with substantial obstacles. Software systems certainly exist but these have often meant a substantial investment in IT infrastructure, along with costly staff to look after the technology. More recently, though, cloud computing platforms have drastically reduced the cost of implementing such systems and this may be just the impetus needed for SMEs to finally reduce or eliminate those paper mountains and save the odd forest or two.

No paper in the cloud

Cloud-based platforms are extremely cost-effective and remove the need for a costly IT infrastructure. A simple web browser on a smartphone, tablet or PC is all that is required. For example, expense management is now much simpler for both employee and organisation with online expense systems and receipt scanning. For field-based staff, such systems can be become absolutely essential, with no need to collect (and lose) piles of receipts or spend hours at the end of the month trying to remember what each receipt was for and make a long, laborious claim. For the SME, paper handling is almost removed and a clear and up-to-date picture of expense outgoings is always available.

A perfect paperless future?

No system will ever be perfect but making use of cloud computing techniques to create more efficient processes is certainly a major step in the right direction. Even these systems require management and a strategic approach to data but, thankfully, these are skills that most SMEs already have in-house.

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