Taming the Paper Monster

Are your association’s offices being taken over by scraps of paper with messages you can never seem to find when you need them and filing cabinets stuffed to the brink of exploding? If so, you should consider striving for a paperless office.

Bear in mind, you will probably never attain that goal. You still need hard copies of some documents for legal or regulatory reasons. Nevertheless, you should try to cut that paper monster down to size.

Start by using scanners instead of copying machines whenever possible, transmitting electronic faxes instead of paper faxes, storing information electronically instead of in filing cabinets, and sending major documents as e-mail attachments or on CDs instead of in bound folders. By sending this newsletter to you via e-mail, for example, NBC-CAM holds down clutter in hundreds of offices—and maybe saves a tree or two along the way.

If you prefer the portability of paper, why not print out your newsletter or other document on the back side of documents you otherwise would have pitched? And then recycle the paper when you’ve finished reading the newsletter.

Whether you receive the documents electronically or scan them yourself, save them as searchable PDF files that lock documents into records that cannot be altered. You will be able to run flexible searches and find information within seconds rather than spending hours thumbing through files.

For some documents, you may need Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, which extracts text from images and interprets tables while retaining their original cell structure. Often, viable OCR software comes with the scanner.

Once you have the documents filed, you will also be able to access them if you are away from your office. Plus, you can quickly share the information with others, including vendors, property owners and government officials.

Always remember to back up important files. Saving duplicate files on your hard drive is not good enough, though. If your hard drive crashes, you stand to lose all files. Among backup solutions are second hard drives, DVD-ROMs or other removable storage media. You also may save to the Internet and off-site locations to minimize the risk of data loss from a computer failure.

How much space can you save? Consider that a 250 gigabyte hard drive can store 5.8 million pages; a 4.7 gigabyte DVD-ROM, 105,000 pages; and a 700 megabyte CD-ROM, 16,000 pages.

The savings resulting from a switch to less paper extends well beyond the value of the office space you regain by eliminating massive filing systems. Your association will also notice a substantial reduction in the cost of printing, mailing, and shipping.

If you do not feel up to the task, your association may want to consider hiring the services of an independent consultant or firm to help get you set up. It might be one of the best investments your association ever makes.

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