Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Going Green with ECM

By Derrick Murphy of ibml

There's no doubt that reducing or eliminating paper-based processes presents clear and sizeable economic advantages. In large part, these cost savings have driven the demand for enterprise content management (ECM) solutions. But digitizing paper-driven processes is also an essential component of the sustainability, or "green," initiatives now underway at companies large and small.

By its nature, ECM promotes efficiency and optimal use of resources. By replacing paper-based processing with electronic processes -- and eliminating paper-related transportation, storage and handling -- ECM solutions can help organizations more quickly realize their green initiatives.

In fact, when you consider the hefty environmental impact of office paper (the U.S. alone consumes about 100 million tons of paper each year, according to the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC), ECM is a great way to get your organization started down the path to sustainable and green practices.

ECM and the 'Green Movement'
Information and communication technology account for about 2 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. That might not seem like a lot, but it can easily be reduced. ECM solutions support green initiatives by providing users the ability to:

Reduce paper consumption -- The average worker generates an estimated 45 to 15,000 sheets of paper every day, according to the American Records Management Association (ARMA). ECM solutions allow documents to be processed, managed and stored electronically, including delivery via e-mail, which significantly reduces the amount of paper the average worker consumes each day.

Automate paper-based processes -- Compared to electronic processes, processing paper documents is slow and expensive. ARMA and IDC estimate that the average company spends between 7 to 14 percent of its total costs on document processing in a paper environment. By digitizing document-driven business processes, ECM solutions can automatically identify and route content, such as invoices requiring approval, to the appropriate users or applications, eliminating the need for transportation or multiple copies as well as downstream document storage or shredding/destruction.

Reduce document shipping -- Studies have shown that the average document in an organization is photocopied 19 times. ECM solutions allow organizations to distribute electronic documents securely via intranets, extranets and broadband connection. The more work organizations perform online, the shorter paper trail and the less waste produced. Additionally, this real-time 24/7 access enables employees to review, approve or collaborate on documents without printing or shipping.

Reduce document storage -- Storage requirements for hard copy documents double every three years, according to ARMA and IDC. Storing documents electronically helps companies reduce their carbon footprint by reducing real estate/facilities needs and the associated energy consumption.

Less paper waste -- The average American office worker disposes of 100 to 200 pounds of paper per year, studies show. OB10 cites estimates that production of paper invoices would take up as much space as 10 football fields stacked 100 feet deep (and this doesn't count the storage space before they get to the landfill). ECM solutions address the paper trail that follows many people around and reduce the amount of waste employees generate as well as the energy they consume shredding.

The Financial Benefit
Each of the "green" benefits of ECM solutions mentioned above has an economic benefit:

Reduced paper consumption -- It costs almost $10,000 to fill a four-drawer file cabinet. By leveraging technologies such as e-invoicing, companies can eliminate these paper expenses. For instance, one company is saving $8,000 to $10,000 a month in paper and toner by using ECM.

Reduced document shipping -- Without an ECM solution, an organization might have to copy a document to send to various people. By sharing documents electronically, companies avoid the expenses associated with transporting documents across sites, including courier fees, postage, gas, and vehicle upkeep. Similarly, sharing documents electronically also eliminates the 280 hours per employee that ARMA and IDC say companies spend each year tracking down lost documents.

Reduced document storage -- Paper storage costs an average of $0.14 per page or $1,400 per file cabinet, according to ARMA and IDC. Storing documents electronically eliminates this cost.

Less paper waste -- Digitizing documents reduces a company's costs for destruction/shredding. What's more, in a scanning environment, organizations can physically out-sort and re-use batch headers -- or eliminate them altogether depending on the scanner they use -- to reduce paper waste.

ECM in Action
These aren't hypothetical benefits. Organizations of all sizes, across industries, are achieving "green" benefits -- financial and environmental -- through digital technologies. Here are some examples:

... Banner Life Insurance eliminated the need to photocopy checks and oversized documents (to make them scanner-ready) by deploying scanners that can handle comingled documents of different sizes.

... Wyoming Medical Center (WMC) implemented a solution for scanning medical records. This will eliminate the energy consumption associated with storing its over 13 million pages of patient files in a 5,000 square-foot records room. Additionally, with all of its medical records available online, WMC no longer needs to fax information to physician offices, in turn, reducing paper consumption.

... Humana eliminated the need to insert paper separator sheets between the batches of work it scans by deploying intelligent scanners that can automatically identify different document types.

The bottom line? There's no need to worry that your organization will have to sacrifice operational efficiency or effectiveness to be environmentally friendly. ECM technology can help you do both.

What do you think?

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