Paperless or Paper-lite Part II

Major considerations

Culture

The most important consideration before investing time and money into a project to become less reliant on paper is to check that all of the owners/senior managers/key stakeholders are on-board with the scheme. The subtle sabotage that these influential figures in the business can wreak on a poorly prepared plan should not be underestimated.
The internal ‘Champion’ will need to make sure that the people that other members of staff are likely to listen to are fully committed. Or at least are prepared to toe the party line. This will mean at least a presentation to a group of such individuals, but for really difficult nuts to crack it will need face-to-face education and coaching sessions so that they understand the importance and the potential gains from a successful project. In some cases bribery might be needed in the form of the first iPad to allow them to connect to their electronic files remotely.
Project Plan
It is very important that the project manager has clearly defined the plan with action points and time-scales. How far will the project extend and within what time frame? Is it a ‘paper-lite’ project where the firm wants to just reduce reliance on paper, or is it a full move to a paperless existence over a few years? What are the ultimate goals and milestones to measure progress? What budgets are needed over that period of time and have the finance department signed off on the project?
Case management

If the intention is to scan all incoming post and attach it to client case files, and store all outgoing paper electronically on those same case files, has the firm got a case or file management system that will cope?
Does the firm already have a case management system in use by the whole firm, or do they need to create matter-management templates for some work areas? Does this need involvement from the practice management system suppliers or can the workflows and precedents be created internally?
If the firm does not currently use case management, a significant period of time will need to be allowed to introduce this new way of working to the business.
Technology
Does the existing network and hardware infrastructure have the ‘muscle’ to cope with an increase in case management workers and storage space for the significant increase in electronic documents that will be produced as part of the project?
As soon as it is possible, fee earners will want to begin accessing their files remotely. After all it was one of the benefits promised. Are the network security and mobile working policies and procedures up to the task?
The IT department or outsourced support company should be involved in the project from a very early stage so that they can prepare the infrastructure to cope with the additional strain over time and allocate sufficient budget to the project.
Scanning hardware and software
The project manager needs to settle on the appropriate level of hardware for the project depending on the anticipated volumes. A technical procurement project will be needed quite some time before the anticipated start date to select the correct supplier of hardware.
A parallel project selecting the appropriate document and/or case management software to cope with the storage and retrieval of the scanned images will need to be conducted. If this needs to integrate with any existing case management software there may need to be links made between different applications to make them all talk to each other and present a seamless interface for the users.
Shredding
Don’t forget that if the business is scanning documents onto the computer system, at some point they will want to get rid of that paper. Once again it will depend on the volumes of paper involved, but the firm will need to decide whether to outsource this aspect or bring it in-house. If in-house a sufficiently robust shredder will be needed and budgeted for, and internal personnel resource allocated. The time taken to shred files of documents should not be underestimated. It is very unlikely that a standard household shredder will last longer than a few months of full-time paper destruction, and it is better to invest in a more expensive industrial grade machine from the beginning.
Personnel
Both scanning and shredding can be outsourced, or the firm may decide to use internal resources. If it is decided to cope internally it must be appreciated that both processes are extremely time-consuming, and will take full-time administrative staff to run them. The staff will need to be literate as well as computer literate and reasonably intelligent because the categorisation and indexing of the scanned documents is vital if they are ever going to be found again.
Archiving
If a reduction in the existing archive costs has been factored into the budgets, the project manager must appreciate that some internal resource will be need to retrieve, sort, filter, scan and destroy that archive. Some business rules will need to be developed as to which files should not be destroyed, and which need to be scanned, and these communicated to responsible staff.
Policies
The business needs to develop/design policies and procedures for their staff to follow relating to the project. Once it begins, how should fee earners and secretaries handle paper? What can they print or store and what should be destroyed?
How do they deal with emails? Can they attach to case plans or the document management system? Can they easily be retrieved when needed?
Communication
The most important advice of all is to communicate, communicate, and communicate. It is imperative that the business takes its people with it on this journey. The owners need to communicate their vision for what the business will look like when the ultimate goal is reached, and the project manager must continue to update all stakeholders with progress on a regular basis.
It is very easy to reach the end of a project and never look backwards. Please do look back and recognise how far you have travelled, celebrating appropriate milestones, and it will make the journey all the more pleasant.