Log in

ISM Article

The Co-Existence of Digital and Paper Documents

24 Jan, 2003 By: Kevin Craine imageSource

The Co-Existence of Digital and Paper Documents

organizations must tackle the co-existence of digital and paper documents, if
for no other reason than the current exponential growth of information. More
information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous five
thousand - the entire history of civilization. What's more, that body of
information is expected to double in less than five years. With over 90 percent
of corporate information contained in documents, it is clear that whatever the
medium, pixels or paper, documents are the currency of the post-20th century
Information Age. Information: You've got to be able to find it, you've got to be
able to use it, and you've got to be able to keep it. Documents allow us to do
all these things.

For most
organizations in the Information Age, documents compose much, if not all, of the
product they sell or the service they provide. A health insurance company, for
example, does not provide diagnosis or treatment, only information about what
doctor is available, what coverage is provided and what claims have been paid.
For companies such as this, documents are the product - the only tangible
evidence of the service provided.

Documents are also
the keeper of corporate knowledge and the repository of corporate history.
Whether printed on paper or displayed on a computer screen, documents are the
tools that run a business everyday. They prompt customers to buy and workers to
work, and are the beginning and end of corporate workflow.

Using Documents
Strategically means using Information Strategically

If firms are not effective in managing both digital and paper documents they
will be less able to face competitive pressures and changing markets. Companies
must have information agility in order to effectively react to dynamic change in
their marketplace. Traditionally, change in the marketplace was somewhat
predictable; business increased or decreased in a reasonably linear pattern and
competitors entered or exited the market in a relatively logical and predictable
fashion. Today, however, the economic, technological, and societal factors that
influence change are moving simultaneously and unpredictably. A document
strategy ensures that an organization can find, use and keep information with
agility and effectiveness. Information is now the most valuable component of the
entire economic chain, according to Peter Drucker, a prominent management
consultant. Organizations that are able to harness the power of information and
manage, share and use information effectively are well positioned to create
value for everyone involved, said Drucker.

But the cost of
harnessing that value is high. Investment in information technology now accounts
for over one-half of the United States' gross investment in equipment. It has
been estimated that U.S. businesses spend more than $100 billion on hardware
alone. Documents are a vehicle that can turn the expense of gathering
information into an asset - they are one aspect of information processing that
can be quantifiably measured and improved. A document strategy is vital because
it monitors, directs and improves document systems and can ultimately determine
the real value of the information you have gathered and the technology used to
collect it.

Are Documents Paper
or Digital?

The traditional view of documents as strictly paper no longer applies in today's
wired world. The notion of what documents are has expanded to include an
ever-widening scope - Web pages, e-mail, electronic file transfer, e-commerce,
and the rest. The very definition of a document can be troublesome when defining
the reach of a meaningful document strategy. Is a document defined in terms of
the media that carries the information - paper vs. digital? Should voice mails,
e-mails, Web pages and video clips be considered documents? What separates a
document from the multitude of information-carrying files stored within the
digital vaults of an organization?

Despite the popular
notion of the "paperless office," the Information Age is actually
powering a boom in paper. Since 1984 - the dawn of the personal computer - the
number of pages printed by American companies has grown by 500 percent to about
1.5 trillion pages per year. This equates to a mountain of paper 6,500 times
taller than Mount Everest.

In 1995, only about
10 percent of documents were presented in digital form. Predictions point to an
eventual decline in paper documents, however, to about 30 percent of total by
2005. But the predicted growth of information rises considerably over the same
time period. As a result, the number of printed pages will actually double by

Paper has staying
power because people find it reassuring. Paper is tangible; something you can
put your hands on as opposed to a virtual document somewhere. It is really a
matter of comfort and confidence. Other than devoted technophiles, most people
are less likely to soak in the bathtub with a PC than they are with a magazine
or newspaper. And people often lack the confidence in technology to access
documents when they need them. If it is something important, chances are you are
going to print it. There are few Ph.D. candidates, for instance, that don't have
several copies of their dissertation printed on paper and safely tucked away.

In the corporate
world, many people still need to work with physical rather than virtual
documents. One reason for this is that more than 60 percent of organizations
still process, store and retrieve documents manually. While many organizations
will eventually adopt digital documents, many have elected to hold back in order
to learn from the efforts of early pioneers and wait until the risks of
conversion are negligible.

The Co-Existence of
Digital and Paper Documents

The tenacity of paper does not displace the evidence that digital documents are
quickly overtaking paper documents as the preferred method of business
communication. For instance, the Internet provides nearly boundless access to
customers, and companies are jumping on the e-bandwagon. A recent poll of 371
chief financial officers conducted by Duke University reports that 56 percent of
the executives surveyed plan to sell their products over the Internet. This
sentiment is growing, up from 24 percent in 1998.

A 1999 study
commissioned by Xplor International, the leading printing industry association,
clearly indicates that digital documents have infiltrated the formerly ink and
paper intensive world of corporate communications. Xplor reports that 77% of
member companies archive documents in digital form. 68% of companies use digital
documents as an alternative to printing - up from 47% in 1995. And 40% of
companies use electronic forms that never get printed on paper - up from 27% in


Corporations must confront the co-existence of digital and paper documents for
the foreseeable future. Regardless of the timing, the transition into the
digital world of documents will not be made without building upon the legacy of
paper documents. Information-savvy corporations will look for ways to better
understand and manage documents that populate new digital systems, and continue
to seek improvements in the handling of documents using P.O.P. - plain old

WebinarCase Studies and White PapersSand Exchange Blog

imageSource Magazine Quick Links
Upcoming Events
ITEX Expo & Conference
©2015 Questex, LLC. All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited
Please send any technical comments or questions to our webmaster