I love trees, you could call me a ‘tree-hugger’ and I wouldn’t care, I’d be honored. Trees are great, especially when they are standing upright and have leaves on, and maybe the odd squirrel running around them.
In a piece of research published in Nature last year, a tree density map showed that there are around 3 trillion trees on earth at the minute. That may seem like a lot of trees, but the research also pointed out that around 15 billion trees per year are being cut down, and that 3 trillion trees equate to only half of the number of trees that were around before humans come along.
A lot of those trees are used in paper products. It is estimated that the average North American uses around seven trees per year in the form of paper. That’s an awful lot of tree pulp. Seeing figures like that makes the idea of going paperless seem like a good idea. Trees are great. And they are, of course, an essential part of the world’s eco-system, without which we would all perish. But it’s not just about the trees, it’s about the money. Using paper costs lots of money. It’s not the initial cost of the paper itself, it is all the associated costs, like printing out (the printer cost, ink, and electricity), filing paper, losing documents, finding documents and archiving, then getting rid of documents (especially those with sensitive data on them). In the U.S. companies spend a staggering $120 billion a year on printed forms.
But we seem scared to go paperless. In a survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), they found that even though folks were sending out invoices electronically, they still printed them out as well. One day soon we will look back at behavior like that and say it was nuts.
In the meantime, the future beckons and paperless enabling technologies such as e-signature platforms are giving us the means to save money, and be more environmentally conscious – it’s a win/win for the planet and ourselves.
Why incorporating an e-signature platform is better than using paper
There are three main reasons why using an e-signature platform is better than using paper. We’ve already touched on two of them, but we can go a little further here:
Going paperless using e-signatures saves you money. You are going to create the documents, forms, and contracts electronically, so why then print out if you can complete the process of adding signatures electronically? Taking the process of creation – reading – agreement – signature – archive and making the entire lifecycle electronic, removes all of the extraneous steps, like purchasing ink, printing out, postage, storage, and retrieval. All of those steps cost money. Research by environmentalist organization, Environmental Paper Network has shown that the cost of using paper can be 10 times the costs of the original paper itself. So your $10 ream of paper actually costs you about $100 in indirect costs. An AIIM study into how the digital office can improve how we work found that over half of organizations actively wanted to use e-signature technologies that were easy and robust.
Using e-signatures to go paperless is kind to our planet and therefore ultimately ourselves. This is a reciprocal altruist reason to go paperless, and it does everyone and everything good. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are big advocates of achieving the paperless office through the use of technology. They point out estimates of up to 30% reduction in paper usage if you use modern technologies, like e-signatures, to replace paper processes. Save paper – save the planet.
It’s just more efficient to go paperless and e-signature technology enables paper free working. If you think about the steps in paper based processes, just to get a contract signed, sealed and delivered, it is like the workflow from hell. A typical paper based contract process goes something like this:
- Create the contract draft
- Print it off and read it to check for mistakes and ask opinions
- Update it
- Email it out
- The recipient prints it out
- Reads it
- May or may not send back annotations
- If you receive annotations, go through steps 1 – 4 again
- Agree contract – sign it
- Scan it
- Email it back
- Send onto any other signatory
- Sign it
- Scan it
- Email it back
- Final signatory
- Email to all involved
- All print out and file a copy
The e-signature process workflow looks something like this:
- Create a centralized version of the contract
- Add in signature blocks for people to add their signatures
- Send an automated email alert to the signatories to check and sign the document
- Allow the document to flow through the signatory list
- Signed document is shared with all
- Keep a copy locally (if required)
Tools to go paperless
Of course to actually make sure that your paperless process works you need the tools to make it happen. There are a lot of options for Cloud based document management systems, that let you share documents across disparate people and places. However, if those documents need any kind of signature you’ll need an e-signature platform. And not just any e-signature solution will do. You need one that is built to certain standards and which cover:
- Workflows: Have a way in which you can easily set up workflows – this is important to ensure that all signatures are collected in sequence after agreement
- Document management: Centralize the management of the document so it’s easily accessible
- Alerts: Automatically email people to sign the document
- Security: Make sure the system is secure, so access to the document is controlled, for example
- Compliance: That the e-signatures offer non-repudiation, and comply with digital signature laws like ESIGN
ApproveMe offers all of the above to make sure that going paperless is pain free.
The world has been talking about the paperless office for decades now. The stumbling blocks have been bandwidth, technology, and just plain old human habits. But going paperless really is a life hack. It solves problems of cost, efficiency, and even saves the planet. We have come to a juncture where we have the technology to make going paperless happen, all we have to do is step up and take the opportunity with both hands and embrace digitization.