Documents into digital

This resource was also featured as a Industry Interview in the April 2014 issue of LPM magazine. To read the issue in full, download LPM magazine.  

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The promise – some say the myth – of the paperless legal business has been around an awfully long time. But it’s now possible to get a significant distance towards it, and to chop print and document production costs inside the firm. The world is going digital – and law firms must follow.

Tim Hubbard, regional director at Altodigital, says the journey SME firms need to take is one from unrestricted – and unmanaged – printing and paper use to a digital environment that allows firms to move printing costs downstream to the client, and move paper around as digital files.

Removing paper from a firm starts with changing behaviour – such as reducing paper waste in creating new documents through more efficient print practices – then moving to thinking about the way existing documents are stored, such as a document management system. After that, workflows work in a more digital way, and a firm can benefit from great operational savings.

But it starts small, says Hubbard. “Sometimes smaller firms just neglect their copying and printing usage – you get many printers on desks, people printing documents again because of one mistake rather than printing a single page. There’s just not much thought to how much is printed. It’s vital that SME firms manage their costs better and any new technology or ideas they can use, they need. Even down to replacing printers with people instead, and using space better.”

Many SME firms waste more than big firms because they have fewer management people in the business reining in costs. Combined with a profligate approach to paper and printing, SME firms are places where managed print can deliver a huge amount of ‘low hanging fruit’ benefit. “In SME firms there may not be anyone overseeing the paper flow process, copying, printing and document distribution,” he explains.

One thing Altodigital does is audit firms, looking at how many people buy printing supplies, print too much and so on, and it’s a sorry tale, he continues. Individuals buying their own printer cartridges, toner and such like – it all adds up. Two of Altodigital’s flagship clients, Higgs & Sons and Knights Solicitors, have saved 30-40% on overall costs of printing and copying documents because of the company’s work concentrating on becoming more digitally minded, using managed print services and reducing and centralising print and document production.

Scanning documents and turning law firms into more digital environments (they might not be paperless – but they might get paper-less) is “a big part of the future”. Scanning and using some form of document management cuts costs and provides a platform for further digital technologies. “Scanning software on the market now is so capable that it must start firms thinking about how much paper they unnecessarily use and store physically. Basically we see allowing people to go on printing whatever they like as throwing money away, because every one of those prints has a cost attributed to it.”

Going digital with documents requires a change in behaviour inside the firm. One mind-shift going on outside legal might help to make it happen – selfservice. Clients don’t want to be charged for photocopying, print and the like. When they want things printed out, they’re more likely to opt to do it themselves, says Hubbard.

Changing to new printing systems internally, while shifting as much printing to the client by moving document digitally, is something that can make a dramatic reduction in costs for a law firm.

Working out how to do all this, plus auditing for problem areas in the firm, for example, is where Altodigital comes in. A specialist management print business already knows very well what changes to make and how to tailor change to any law firm. For a legal business going it alone, you have to start from scratch, he explains.

“At Knights, we took away desktop printers and old photocopiers and replaced them with 17 dedicated models – straight away, the footprint of the machines saved more space within the firm. There weren’t so many machines on desks, so staff weren’t ordering 30 toner cartridges at £100 a time and later finding six under somebody else’s desk. You can’t go on reaching out your left arm and pulling work from a printer.”

Once the ‘print culture’ has improved, the shift to digital can follow, and this is where the big future benefits lie. People are changing the way they work, and paper workflows can become digital workflows to match.

“When the postman arrives, instead of post being sent around the business, it can be scanned straight from reception, straight to the recipient. It can be on that person’s desk as email, or on a tablet if they’re on the train or going to a meeting or in court. They haven‘t got to wait a day. With technology that’s now becoming ubiquitous, that piece of paper may never ever have to see the light of day again.

“The day of the standalone photocopier and the desktop printer, are fading – and being replaced by machines that can email, fax, print and scan documents into a document management or archive system. You can even scan documents directly to court copy. SME firms need to catch up to a future that’s already here.”

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