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Providing paperless workflow options for document management

Paperless workflow begins with a multifunction printer, and the total document management system needs to be customized for the business needs.

Managed print services created to monitor and keep multifunction printers running efficiently can be the foundation for paperless workflow and document management solutions in the IT channel. Solutions providers say these services don't have to be all that sophisticated. In some cases, the focus is simply on organizing electronic versions of important documents in a logical order. But some companies see paperless document management as a way to improve workflows and reduce the amount of paper associated with different job functions.

"Everybody is sick and tired of paper," said Guy Baroan, founder, president and CEO of Baroan Technologies in Elmwood Park, N.J. "With all the emails they are getting, all the paper they are printing, it is insane how much document handling is going on."

The big motivator is usually information overload, although for some companies it is part of a deliberate strategy to reduce the amount of physical storage space required for the documents -- and the costs associated with it, Baroan said.

One of his company's clients, an accountant, has stopped handling any paper documents. Together they developed a system to scan and shred all real paper. Over time, she will wind up with a completely paperless workflow, he said.

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The common tool for getting a better handle on paperless document management is the multifunction printer, because more come embedded or bundled with scanning software that helps companies get a better handle on these tasks, said Becky Connolly, director of managed print services, computer supplies and accessories at Technology Integration Group, in San Diego, Calif.

For the solution provider, that means having discussions with clients about document capture, organizational needs, and archiving and storage policies. Over time, these paperless document management services can be layered on top of more basic services for multifunction supplies replenishment and maintenance, according to solution providers.

"What we need to start talking about is the automation processes and delivering an end-to-end workflow solution," Connolly said.

Those solutions often involve a multi-phased deployment strategy, because migrating to a more paperless workflow approach takes a lot of time and can be intimidating from an investment standpoint. "It's not like people have the capital to start from scratch," she said. "You have to be thoughtful. You want to take advantage of what they have, but work toward a more thoughtful solution."

Paperless workflow management discussions make more sense as storage hardware becomes less expensive, said Darrel Bowman, CEO of in Tacoma, Wash. "Now, they want to be able to get to all of their files -- it doesn't matter if they are 10 years old or one week old," he said.

Yet, more small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) also are seeking solutions that marry paperless document management with cloud storage services, Bowman said. "When we show them that we can eliminate a piece of hardware, they love it," he said.

Paperless workflow solutions are highly company-specific, which means any solution provider hoping to focus on this area will need skills in business process consulting, Bowman said. Be prepared to go through a whole analysis of the customer prospect's operations when formulating paperless document management solutions, he said.

The customized nature of these solutions means there is a wide range of software that can provide the glue for document management solutions. Some high-end approaches from enterprise category leaders such as Laserfiche can require a $100,000 investment in storage hardware and software, solution providers said.

But there are many SMB options emerging. Some of the specific software applications that Baroan Technologies is recommending for SMBs include Paperport from Nuance Communications, which can be used in conjunction with cloud storage services, and eCopy ShareScan (also from Nuance), which turns paper into digital information.

"What we are doing is working clients to understand to what extent they are trying to organize their business," Baroan said. "Does the owner just want to take paper off his or her desk, or is the company looking for something much more comprehensive? That drives the decision."

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years' experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a business-to-business trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Leah Rosin at Follow @ITChannelTT on Twitter.

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