Paper files to digital bytes

Technology is everywhere. It’s amazing to think back just a decade or two to see the changes to technology and how much we do now that is completely or mostly digital. You can renew your licence online now and don’t need to talk to anyone, even banking is done mostly online without having to step foot in a branch. Move house – you can do all online… ok so maybe not so much that example, the actual moving your stuff bit needs to be in the real world! And all of it involves records in some way shape or form.

The point is, there are ways and means to do most things completely digitally now. Some people don’t even have a printer anymore, or a filing cabinet at home anymore (gasp!).

All this just goes to show that “there is no legislative or best practice need for paper records of business operations, or for business processes specifically designed to generate paper-based records of authorisations and business decisions. Today the best evidence and information about business processes is often digital. Digital information can also easily be shared, reused and repurposed to provide ongoing business use and value… ” Thanks for the cool quote State Archives and Records NSW.

If that’s the case, then why do paper records still get created? Again, NSW says it pretty well: “Most of the issues currently inhibiting digital transition are misconceptions about legislative and technical barriers that should not in any way inhibit digital business.” Basically, people think they need stuff in paper to be official or the technology isn’t available (either in your agency or at all) to be able to do some stuff completely digitally.

So how do we apply that to our business?

Paperlite vs going digital

What’s the different between going paperlite and going digital? Not a lot actually. In a lot of ways, they’re two words for the same thing. They’re both about reducing paper use and increasing digital records and digital business.

We had a big push to go paperlite a couple of years ago, and while we do have some lapses occasionally, it’s been pretty successful.

We’ve done multiple blog posts on paperlite, hosted digital transition events, given presentations, and there is even a case study from another agency. You can (and should) go look at all of those, but here’s the main points.

First up – make sure you have time to plan. You’ll need to think seriously about:

  • getting senior executives to drive or champion the paperlite / go digital initiative
  • how to capture your digital records? For example, do you have an eDRMS, business system or another way of keeping and managing your records digitally?
  • what format records are in now (paper, digital, other), where they’re stored (storage centre, desks, portable hard drive, usb, shared drive)
  • whether records are covered by a current retention and disposal schedule
  • what information and records are needed by who and when
  • making best use of existing technology and arranging upgrades where necessary
  • how to communicate and manage change
  • working with your agency’s IT team – learn how they work and how records and IT relate
  • the variety of technology available (laptops, tablets, hard drives, usbs) – this is good to enable digital work but it can be bad if records are all over the place.
  • resourcing, logistics, strategies you need to make it work
  • if and when you might want to digitise paper records to increase the amount of information that’s available to staff to access digitally.
  • how you can integrate or embed recordkeeping with business processes and systems – or maybe do this better?
  • any quick wins, e.g. a clean-up day.

While printers aren’t going to become obsolete in the near future, you need to assess the current paper use in your agency, including the business and information management processes and practices that generate the paper.

Going digital isn’t just a matter of replacing paper with digital – you’ll need to change how things are done. This is a really good opportunity to look at the processes and see what can be changed or improved to make it completely or mostly digital instead. What uses the most paper? Why are they doing it that way? Which processes are slowing down the move to digital? How can you support the business areas to improve their processes by changing how recordkeeping is done?

You can work with a business analyst to do this – they can help you document the process and how it could be streamlined and automated. Workflow within your eDRMS or business system may be able to support or enable a completely digital process.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s less about technology as it is about people and processes. You’ll really need support from the people and business areas to make this work, especially if behaviour and processes need to change. Some things you can do to help get support from the business is:

  • Promote the fact that digital processes save time, money and resources – make them aware of the cost of recordkeeping and storage (digital vs paper) and how much time can be saved by having access to information more readily.
  • Focus on teaching and promoting staff to use the electronic systems, eDRMS, business systems, etc. in place. You can use face-to-face training, cheat sheets, quick reference guides, tips and tricks etc.
  • Make sure people know that virtual and physical files don’t need to match, and it’s actually better that digital records are captured and kept in their original format wherever possible – just make sure the right records are captured.
  • Seek out some people who can be early adopters – is there anyone who has already been doing everything digitally (or as much as they can anyway…).
  • Make sure the new digital processes are easy for people to do otherwise they won’t do it.

Once the strategy or initiative is in place and people are slowly (or not so slowly) moving to digital, you can monitor the usage and records access stats in your eDRMS or business system to see changes – users, records added or accessed.

It seems that one of the last hiccups to going completely digital is that pesky signature. To be continued

More information

You can read about our paperlite journey in our aptly titled paperlite journey blog post. If you want to look at the case study, it’s the paper mountains case study #3.

Need more help? Send us an email ( with the details of what you need more advice on and we’ll do what we can to help.

Remember, you can contact us at any time via email, telephone, blog or Twitter.


Featured image: Merge of Deck crane erecting north and south halves of suspended span, Brisbane, 3 October 1939 Digital ID 4012 and Brisbane Central Business District in Australia 123rf Image ID 69240015

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