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Published on June 4th, 2008 | by Guest Contributor


GTR: Quitting Our Paper Addiction with Esker

EskerHost Sean Daily talks about conserving paper and document management as strategies for combating paper addiction in the office with Renee Thomas, Director of Americas Field Marketing for Esker.

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Sean: Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from
greenlivingideas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to
lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors,
authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical
issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies,
products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area
of your life.

Sean: Hey everybody. Welcome as always to Green Talk radio from
greenlivingideas.com. This is your host Sean Daly. Today we’re going to
be talking about America’s addiction. No, not that addiction. That’s
oil. This is the addiction to paper, both at home and in our
businesses, especially in business. People are addicted to printing —
as my guest puts it — addicted to the print button and so what we need
to do as a country, as a world is to learn to not print, to give over,
to change that paradigm and this has been quite a struggle so my guest
to talk to me about that is Renee Thomas. She’s the Director of Field
Marketing for a company called Esker. And Esker is a company that
started in 1985 as a software consulting company based in France and
has since expanded into several continents. I’ll let her tell you the
rest so I’m just going to go ahead and start and welcome you, Renee to
the program today.

Renee: Thanks Sean, thanks for having me today. As you pointed out
we’re a worldwide company and we are in the business of helping other
companies get over this addiction that you mentioned. And we help them
do that through a technology that helps them to automate a lot of the
flow of the documents that today they’re handling manually. But it’s
not really as simple as all that. I mean, there’s a lot more to it,
there’s a lot behind that addiction and that’s what I’m hoping we can
talk a little bit about today.

Sean: Well definitely. Let’s just start right there. Why is it – I’m
sort of asking you to be a psychologist in a way now — but why are,
why is, particularly in America, why are we in the business world so
addicted to paper?

Renee: I think it’s something that’s just evolved over time and kind
of stuck with people. Especially in the business world I think that
paper holds a sense of security for people. We’ve obviously moved to a
lot of documents that are maintained electronically, email of course is
so prevalent. But, you know, if you walk into any business environment
right now you are going to find file cabinets, you’re going to find
stacks of paper on people’s desks, you’re going to find people running
to and from their printer. It is very prevalent and I think that people
feel a certain sense of security when they can hold a physical invoice
or document in their hand. So I think that’s one of the things that has
kind of evolved over time. The other thing that I think has kept us
addicted, in a matter of sense, especially again in the business world,
is that a lot of our business practices haven’t really kept up. A lot
of companies are, of course very focused with whether its production
technologies and things like that, but what’s gone untouched for quite
some time is the back office. The back office where the billing is
happening and where customer service is operating and where orders are
being processed and those tend to be the areas that are last touched
but happen to be the most hampered by paper and it’s in those cases
where it’s actually those status quo business processes that keep the
companies addicted to paper when maybe, in some cases, employees and
individuals don’t want to be anymore.

Sean: It’s almost like there’s a sense that it’s not real until it’s in paper form.

Renee: I think that’s definitely the case. I think that people will
look at something online but they just do, as I’ve said, have that
addiction to just hit print so that they can just kind of have it sit
on their desk maybe that helps them remember the document or something
like that. But, yeah I think that it does help them feel like it’s a
little bit more real or some sort of reminder. I’m not sure.

Sean: Lest I be disingenuous here I’m going to say that I’m guilty as
charged in certain things. For example when I’m doing these podcast
interviews I very much like to have every thing in front of me and
though I do have a dual monitor display and I can get a lot on the
screen I’m balancing between websites and software to do podcast
recording and all kinds of things and it’s hard, I don’t have enough
real estate to do it, so I will print. It’s on recycled paper or office
paper that we’ve used scraps but still I admit my own addiction,
continued addiction to paper. So this fascinates me. I’m also curious
if you agree with me on this, one of the things — I come from a
technology background – and one of the things that I saw in the tech
industry and have started to see get better lately but still is a
problem is the lack of systems that are well-integrated, reliable and
affordable for being able to get off the paper. Which really means,
from my standpoint, for example in this office when we get in documents
in paper form to be able to easily scan them, quickly by the way,
quickly and easily scan them into a system that we can then have
reliable retrieval and quick retrieval of. Sort of the old Bill Gates
thing of information at your fingertips which I don’t think really has
happened in a lot of ways. But there’s this dream of this integrated
system, the products that do it. Where are we in that sort of curve?

Renee: We’ve actually come quite a ways. And I think you probably
remember this concept of a paperless office has been around for a long
time. And I would say that that concept probably did come about a
little bit before some of the technology was maybe really ready. But
what we find today is the technology is out there for sure. You
mentioned scanning, you mentioned connecting systems, that’s
already…there are a lot of solutions out there that can do that for
companies. Whether it’s helping them automate workflow without the need
to ever having to print a document. You mentioned the imaging or
scanning of documents. Those documents can then be fed automatically
into a workflow so instead of someone manually walking a document
around for signatures, for instance, that that will all happen through
an automatic workflow process. Electronic archiving, very prevalent.
And again, what is important in a lot of these cases though is the
integrations between systems or to find the solution that can handle
several of these different steps all within one solution that can be
helpful as well. So that you have less integration points. I think the
thing that for companies is a big struggle is a lot of times companies
get good at managing the paper electronically once it comes into their
company. So once they get it into their company or they’re generating
if from within their company they can manage it. But that’s not
reality. Or that’s not the end of it really. Companies when they’re
operating, they’re getting documents and orders from all sorts of other
companies. And those documents are coming in in a variety of ways.
[INAUDIBLE] some fax, whatever and the company has to manage that
incoming flow of documents. So they’re kind of at a standstill right
there of how do they get all of those different types of documents and
data and information and get all of that into the systems where maybe
they do have a good process and workflow already in place. The same
comes into play when you’ve got all those systems internally working
nicely but then you have to send documents outside of your company. So
you have to send acknowledgments or reminders or collection notices and
things like that. The ability to automate the outbound as well can be a
struggle for companies. So I think it’s a bit of an education process
for companies to realize that there are more and more solutions out
there now to help bridge those gaps, integrate those systems and really
make it very seamless for them to accept and deliver documents really
from the minute they’re generated from a partner all the way to them
sending it out to maybe a customer, another vendor.

Sean: So it sounds to me like really what we’re talking about is
the requirement and then the challenge I suppose for most organizations
is getting that sort of top to bottom commitment from everyone in the
company. And it certainly takes a top level commitment to make the
purchases of the hardware and the software and implement as standard
business practice the processes behind going completely paperless. And
you mentioned, it’s interesting, the outside vendors. It’s like even if
you get that under control you still will have to have a facility for
dealing with the influx of paper from inbound paper from outbound or
outside sources. Now it’s interesting. I know they’re been some
companies they have literally implemented practices — one of them is a
very big company, it’s either Apple or Microsoft or something like
this, I’m blanking on it right now – but they insist that nothing can
come into the company that is not electronically generated. So the only
way you’re allowed to send them information is, for example, by
facsimile which will get generated into a fax based system that is
going to be electronic. They’re literally not even accepting paper. Are
you seeing a lot of companies that are kind of taking those sort of
steps to encourage these processes?

Renee: Yeah, we are with our customers and in fact customers come to
us with two different stories. Sometimes they’ll come to us and they’ll
say, for instance, our customers don’t want to receive our paper
invoices anymore. And we’re like “Ooh! That’s great. We can help you
with that.” And in some cases then we’ve got customers who do want to
be the ones kind of pressuring outward and saying, “Hey. Don’t send us
this stuff anymore in physical copies, we want to get it
electronically.” So we work with companies on both ends. Our kind of
personal dream is that we can kind of get that whole chain, that whole
cycle demanding things electronically and everybody will be better off
that way.

Sean: In addition to there’s obvious green
benefits here, we’re reducing waste, we’re killing fewer trees, all of
these things are good, but there’s also, I can speak from the level to
which we’ve implemented these practices, it’s also a lot easier to deal
with information when it’s in electronic form ‘cuz most likely that is
how you’re going to use it, regardless of the department. You’re going
to take it, you’re going to email it, you’re going to take it you’re
going to fax it back out to somebody, hopefully to an electronic fax
recipient on the other end or whatever it is. But really ultimately
it’s a lot more difficult. Example, my bookkeeper comes in a couple
days a week. When she’s not here, she has her own filing system. It’s a
good filing system. I still don’t know where anything is so I’m calling
her every time like “Where is this paper? This document?” And we do
have electronic systems in place and file systems and so when things
are there, which is the majority of it now, I know exactly where to go,
I don’t have to call her, I know how things are sorted plus I don’t
have to leave my desk to do it nor does anybody else in the company. So
it seems to me that, from a purely…once you’ve embraced this and done
it wholesale it really creates a much more convenient and efficient
environment to do business in.

Renee: And you know, the initial thought is there’s going to be a
lot of resistant to this change and things like that. But you know we
find that when it gets down to like, let’s use the example of a
customer service representative, we find that they do embrace this
because they realize just how inefficient it is. When they get a phone
call from a customer who asks about a document that was sent or an
invoice or an order and that person actually has to call that person
back. They can’t put their fingers on the document while they’re
sitting there. They have to take all the information, put down the
phone, go find it, whether it’s in a file cabinet or maybe it’s
something that hasn’t even been processed yet so it’s actually sitting
in a pile on somebody’s desk? What we see with a lot of those end users
is they welcome that change because they know that that’s inefficient
and the beauty of being able to keep a customer right there on the
phone and say “I’m just going to pull this up for you real quick and
actually I can re-email it to you, right here while we’re speaking” and
that sort of thing. So it can really help a company’s ability to just
be very responsive to customers, very on top of things and again for
those people who are executing those jobs it can be just a more
seamless job and more rewarding. They can spend more time working with
that customer on the phone and maybe answering additional questions
rather than running around the office trying to find a piece of paper.

Sean: Well we’re going to take a break right here and we will be
right back with Renee Thomas, she’s the Director of Field Marketing for
Esker. They are maker of process automation systems for helping you
quit your paper addiction. We’ll be right back on Green Talk radio.

Listen to Living Green. Effortless ecology for everyday living. A
weekly online audio program featuring champions of sustainable living.
At personallifemedia.com

Sean: Hey everybody we’re back. This is Sean Daly with Green Talk
radio, talking today about quitting the paper addiction at home and in
the office. I’m talking on that topic with Renee Thomas who’s the
Director of Field Marketing for Esker. Renee, before the break we were
just talking about the problem here and the challenge of businesses
quitting their paper addiction, and people in general. I’m curious.
What are, talking on the business side, what are some of the common
mistakes that businesses tend to make that lead to paper waste in the
first place?

Renee: Well I think that one of the things that immediately comes to
mind is just status quo. For a lot of companies it is easier just to
kind of let these things or processes just roll the way they are today
and a lot of times the reason that they I guess, justify that a little
bit in their minds they hadn’t really thought all the way through what
the impact, the business impact is, of all of that paper. So taking
into account, not just the cost of the paper, but as we just talked a
minute ago in terms of the inefficiency of responding to customer
requests, things like that that make them actually harder to do
business with. When you start to play out that picture of what the
paper is doing to your company it’s more than just a small nuisance.
And so I think that what company’s don’t do is they don’t take the time
to think that all the way through, about how that can bubble up to
affecting their competitive advantage in their industry. I know it
sounds a bit dramatic but definitely we have customers who come to us
who are looking to improve just that. They’re looking to figure out how
can we serve our customers faster, how can we serve our top customers
better? And you know getting rid of a lot of this paper waste can do
that. So I think it’s about companies taking the time to think through
what it really means to the business. We talked before and I do believe
that another mistake that businesses make is by not investing in these
back office processes. These are the processes that produce and rely on
most of this transactional type paper that’s generated. And by not
connecting the systems, by not investing, upgrading, pursuing new
technology they’re really missing out on an opportunity to not only get
rid of the paper but to just make themselves easier to do business with.

Sean: It’s so true. I think we’ve all had the experience of the
different ranges on the spectrum of good and bad in this area that
we’re discussing right now. It’s something when you talk to a company
on a phone, you talk to a customer service rep or a sales rep and they
can pull up everything related to your account instantly, seamlessly.
They don’t need to refer you to three other people in the company, you
can feel the effects of that well-designed system on that end, whether
a business partner end or a customer end and it does, at least on me,
it makes a huge impression.

Renee: It really gives you a nice impression that that company’s got
it all together. And depending on whatever type of business you’re
doing with them, you just feel a lot more confident that the
correspondence and the information that you’re sending to them is
actually getting somewhere. It can give your customers a nice sense of

Sean: Not so good when you have to say, “I’ve got to talk to Charlie
in the shop about that. He’s got the invoice. I don’t know where…it was
on his desk yesterday. Let me go see if we can find that.”

That doesn’t really fly in today’s economy and business world.

Renee: Exactly, exactly.

Sean: What’s nice I think too
is these technologies are becoming available to smaller companies, not
just the large companies.

Renee: That’s absolutely true. A lot of these technologies, you can
just use bits and pieces for maybe something that’s particularly
painful for you. Another nice thing, and this is something we offer to
our customers as well, is offering these technologies in the form of
service. And that’s particularly interesting to small and medium
businesses to where they can really just pay for what they use in
essence and not really even have to maintain the infrastructure or pay
for things that they’re really not getting out of. That’s another huge
advantage for the small and medium business.

Sean: Now you’ve worked with a lot of these businesses and
organizations that try to quit paper like this. What are some of the
challenges or issues that people can expect they might run into when
they try to go this way?

Renee: Well we did talk a little bit about just dealing with the
people. I mean, there definitely is…We do find that people are quick to
come around and embrace the change of going from dealing with a process
where they were shuffling a lot of paper to now looking at screens and
validating information that’s captured on a computer screen. But there
definitely still is some change management that has to be undertaken. I
think that one of the things that is a challenge, again, is getting
those users on board. What we’ve seen are some organizations do well
that we had is they get the users involved. They bring the users to the
meetings that we have with them to understand what is your current
process today. Exactly how do you do the things that you do today in
that manual format so that we can kind of help to automate that? So I
think that it’s a challenge but it actually can yield very nice results
is to get that end user involved and you will go a long way toward
making them become more owners of the process and embrace the change.

Sean: Great. We’re going to take one more quick break right here.
One last break. Then we’re going to come back and I would like to get
from you some tips on how specifically companies can reduce their paper
consumption. So we’ll be right back on Green Talk radio. We’re talking
on quitting the paper addiction with Renee Thomas. She’s the Director
for Field Marketing for Esker. We’ll be right back.

Listen to Living Green, effortless ecology for everyday people. A
weekly online audio program featuring champions of sustainable living.
At personallifemedia.com.

Sean: Hey everybody this is Sean Daly with Green Talk radio. We’re
back. We’re talking on quitting the paper addiction with Renee Thomas,
Director of Field Marketing for Esker. They’re document automation
specialists. Renee, I said that I was going to ask you, I want to put
you on the spot a little here. I would like to get some tips…We always
like to leave our listeners with specific tips that they can take away
to their homes or businesses that they can use, in this case, to become
truly paperless. Can you help our listeners out there with some tips on
reducing paper consumption?

Renee: Sure. First, in talking about just the paper consumption
that results as a part of business processes that are not optimized.
That’s the first place that I think companies can go where they can get
the biggest bang for their buck, so to speak. So leveraging
technologies, doing the research, finding out what’s new out there in
terms of how you can bring different systems together, how you can
complete that flow of electronic managing of those documents from the
time they come into your company to the time that they leave your
company. So I would encourage companies to do their research and find
out what’s out there because there’ve been a lot of improvements and
there are a lot of really interesting technologies that can help quite
a bit. I would say that another thing would be to make sure that
companies are requesting of other companies to send them electronic
documents and as more and more people start asking, systems will have
to be put in place to meet those demands. Another way would just be to
make it part of an overall business improvement in your company. So
whether or not you have initiatives to just streamline processes, make
getting rid of paper part of that overall initiative. I think that from
an individual standpoint I think that companies need to really raise
the visibility and it has to be done at management level in terms of
things that aren’t acceptable. In terms of printing copies of certain
things, printing and distributing reports that could be easily sent
electronically, that has to come down from a top-management
perspective. And I think one of the most important things that I think
will help, that does help from the individual standpoint as well as
people embracing new business processes, is to have some fun with it.
And that’s what we’ve tried to do with the whole concept of quitting
paper. We’re just trying to have a good time with it and we’re trying
to get people to tell absurd stories of how you’ve worked with paper in
crazy ways. And we have customers who offer these different stories to
us. We have customers as well who are putting up posters, they’re doing
internal campaigns just to have a good time and say “Let’s stop this
silliness. We can do things a better way, help our business and help
the environment.” So I think having fun with it really gets people on
board in a non-threatening way and in the end the business will be much
better off.

Sean: Definitely. Well it definitely only works if you get people,
everyone involved and so it really it seems, the responsibility of
management in these companies, to do as you said. I like the idea of
having fun with it and I think that we’re in the right climate now for
people to — that was an unfortunate pun — as in climate change but I
was thinking more in terms of the business climate with regards to
wanting to be more sustainable in terms of business practices.
Everybody wanting to be greener both at home and at work and life in
general. It’s the right time to do this. And to sort of gently not
shame ourselves for using paper but to sort of say “Hey. It’s time to
make this change. Let’s be the generation that changes the metaphor,
that changes the paradigm, that changes from paper.” Because it’s
really left over from… it’s really very old. I mean we’re going back to
the invention of paper, we have not changed that paradigm and we have
an opportunity as a society now to be the ones that change that.

Renee: I agree. I agree wholeheartedly. And like I said, I think
getting people involved and you mentioned that times right now that we
have are a lot of people are focused on the environment and they are
willing to make change in their organization to help. I think it’s just
a great band wagon to get on. I mean, this is one we should be proud to
get on. And I think, again having fun with it and getting people on
band and having them contribute their ideas on how to help is a great
thing too.

Sean: I want to make one cross-reference here before we sign off too
that in the situation where you have no choice but to print, we prefer
that you don’t print, but things to consider would also be to include
asking people to consider the environment in your email signature. I
see this a lot these days before they print the email. That’s one way
to communicate this out. And if you absolutely have to print I
recommend listening to a different podcast, another Green Talk podcast
episode that’s from a company called Green Print software that deals on
a different end of this issue which is when you have to print
conserving and not getting all those extra pages that occur with your
average print job because of the widows and orphans that occur in print
jobs, it consolidates that. So very cool software. Take a look. It’s
Green Print software. You’ll find it on the greenlivingideas.com site.
But for today, we’re talking about quitting the paper addiction
completely. My guest has been Renee Thomas. She’s the Director of
Field marketing for Esker. You can find them online at www.esker E-S-K-E-R.com. Renee, thank you so much for being with us today.

Renee: Thank you Sean.

Thanks as always to everyone listening in today. Remember for more
free on-demand podcasts, articles, videos and other information related
to living a greener lifestyle visit our website at www.greenlivingideas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback and questions. Send us an email at editors@greenlivingideas.com.

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