It seems so simple: Eliminate paper from business processes then sit back and watch productivity improve and costs decline while feeling good about what you’ve done for the planet. But AIIM tells us that “while 74 percent of survey respondents have business improvement campaigns underway that would benefit from paper-free processes through reduced operating costs and increased worker productivity, only 24 percent have a specific policy or plan to eliminate paper from their business.”

That disconnect likely helped lead AIIM to proclaim October 24th as World Paper Free Day. A World Paper Free webpage was accompanied by events and activities designed to highlight the available techniques and technologies. At Systemware, we’re invested in three technologies designed to reduce paper use while boosting efficiency across an enterprise.

The most obvious of the three is e-statement presentment. Whether it’s banks with statements, card companies with statements, or EOB statements, an electronic version means these organizations don’t have to print and mail. They don’t have to cut down the trees, make the paper and burn up the ink printing and mailing all that stuff. That’s big.

Second is the next logical step in e‑statement presentment: digital delivery. Here aggregators pull digital statements from a variety of different sources together in one location for consumers so they don’t have to go get them from multiple places. So all that content packaging and delivery through gateways and e‑payment channels tends to get tied to them. And we’re talking not just about monthly account statements, but proxy statements, annual reports, shareholder voting packages and all that stuff.

The third technology is medical banking, moving from paper-based claims and remittances to electronic claims and remittances. Just think about the vast number of patient visits and resulting bills and the huge number of remittances that come back and the volume of checks, then multiply that by five or six sheets of paper for each person. Remember that’s not just the paper that goes to you at your house, but the paper that goes between the doctor’s office and the payer. Those volumes are huge; and both the claims and remittance processes can go back and forth quite a few times.

If you go electronic, you’ve got an electronic claim submitted, an electronic remittance advice coming back to the doctor’s office with an HCH payment – no paper check – and a portal where you can go look at your EOB online. It’s e-presentment again, versus that stuff coming to your house.

Despite advances, paper use climbs

To the surprise of no one, The Economist wrote last year that between 1980 and 2010, paper use worldwide increased by half. It said the average American was using almost six 40-foot trees a year. The world’s biggest per-capita paper hog was tiny Belgium, home of a European Union bureaucracy that has to produce documents in multiple languages. Gizmodo snarked, “You’d think that with the rise of computers, iPads and smartphones that paper consumption would shrink, but apparently humans are still ripping down spruces and pines at an alarming rate.”

Why are we still so far from a truly Paper Free Day? It’s not just because the volume of communication is increasing. Businesses as well as consumers still cling to paper.

Let’s look at banking. While there are exceptions, such as lockboxes, that have resulted in a reduction in the amount of paper they’re having to process, traditional banking still has lots of activities like loan documentations in which physical documents are still being produced. And these are big documents.

People still want safety deposit boxes to store important things like their wills. There’s a lot of stuff that corporations produce and individuals produce that they’re still more comfortable doing on paper.

What can be done about all this? That’s the subject of my next post.