July 05, 2022

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3 Ws: A winning paperless strategy

Just as those who coach athletes begin their journeys to realizing their goals by assessing the landscape, taking the first steps and plotting strategies, you can make significant strides toward a paperless organization by starting with the 3 Ws.

Brittney Seitz

Managing the Imaging Services team

An adult sits near a teen wearing a sports jersey.

Finding ourselves drifting through summer here in the States, there’s a definitive undercurrent of planning that happens as we all try to enjoy a little more summer.

For parents, it means grabbing the required items for “back to school.”

For kids and school-age athletes, it means enduring rigorous conditioning in immense heat and humidity as they prepare for the start of their seasons.

For many in the workforce, it means taking into account the goals we want to accomplish by the end of the year; reprioritizing, organizing and developing strategies to meet them.

We know that reducing clutter is one of the most effective ways to promote momentum, but often taking the time to recognize where it is most hindering—and addressing it — seems daunting.

Especially paperwork. It’s insidious in that it starts out as an integral driver to most operations (from permission slips to transcripts to admittance forms) but once it’s delivered its main offering — the data — paper’s shelf life in an organization can long outlast its usefulness, and actually increase risk in terms of retention requirements.

It gets in the way (literally) of getting important work done. And it increases costs.

While it’s not realistic to think we can completely eliminate paper, it is very doable to eliminate paper versions of documents not needed as soon as you scan, capture, and index all relevant data in electronic form.

The enterprise content management concept is simple. And you can keep the capture strategy and process as simple as the concept.

The 3Ws: Who, What and When

To start decreasing your dependency on paper, begin with outlining three proven pillars:

1. WHO

Which department goes first in the capture effort?

Target the most influential areas with the largest quantity or the most mission-critical records. To help narrow down the list of departments inundated by paper, assess the core goals of each internal group and the associated benefits.

You may find some areas you can tackle on an application level versus solely a department level.

Human resources, accounting and finance, for example, are excellent places to start that create a high impact of productivity once electronic documents are available for instant accessibility, promoting collaboration, data sharing between systems and easy auditing.

How? Experts estimate that employees spend 5-15% of their time reading information and up to 50% searching for it.

With the U.S. Census Bureau estimating median household income at $54,462 in 2015, you may be spending as much as $27,000 annually per employee who are trying to locate information for their core responsibilities. Eliminating much of that cost is significant.

Don’t have the dedicated resources in-house to digitize your paper or classify/index your electronic records? Consider some of the factors to be mindful of when selecting an outsourced solution.


The conversion to indexed digital records can significantly alleviate the cost associated with managing all of your organization’s content, including not only retrieval time, but also storage and purchasing costs that often lag under the radar, but are significant.

Now that you’ve identified the areas that have the most to gain from enterprise content management — also called document management — you need to assess the business content flowing in and out of affected departments.

Where are you on the spectrum of multi-channel capture? From loose pages in file cabinets and mail, to digital records like e-mail and their attachments, identify the file formats, the business processes these documents support, and the systems and users who need them.

Outlining this information is helpful for the actual capture initiative, as well as complementary IT initiatives that support enterprise system and business process interoperability.


Identify a plan for each step of a document type’s lifecycle – from creation or receipt, to collaboration to archival/retention.

This will help you identify when to capture and how to index (apply keywords, security, automated folders, workflows and so on). 

This is part of your document management strategy and provides insight into, and control over, business processes. With defined document management steps for critical stages of the business process, you can more easily address issues surrounding productivity, service, costs and more.

Work to complete two to three high impact areas before kicking off a new area of focus.

Just as those who coach our athletes begin the journey to realizing their goals (Olympic or otherwise) by assessing the landscape, taking the first steps and plotting their strategies, you can make significant strides toward your paperless, business process optimization goals by starting with the 3Ws.

Becoming agile takes some weeding out of the things that are no longer useful, identifying what is, and developing cadence in the repetition of exercises that contribute to an ease of momentum. It can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but once you hit your stride, there is nothing like the feeling of success.