What to Do When People Who Love Paper Won't Fold

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Peek into the foundations of any long-established business, and you are likely to discover that it has been built on paper. Accounts payable (AP) departments traditionally have been especially dependent on paper for invoices and their accompanying documentation, with elaborate entry and approval processes designed for a paper-based world. Over the past quarter century, Microsoft Dynamics and other ERP platforms clearly have transformed the way AP operates; yet, despite the availability of paperless document management systems that integrate with ERP, many employees within and outside the accounting function have been reluctant to relinquish their paper.

Certainly, paper and paper-handling processes have served as business mainstays, despite their being tedious, complex and prone to misplacement and errors. The massive paradigm shift from paper to digital solutions can be an emotional issue for those whose daily tasks are immersed in paper, so talk of eliminating paper can generate significant resistance. In instances when such resistance emerges, management should take steps to implement Paperless ERP appropriately and to ensure that employees and vendors recognize the real value to them of the technology.

As a manager, you can help overcome resistance and speed the adoption of Paperless ERP by incorporating the following five approaches:

  1. Deploy Paperless ERP in its out-of-the-box form, without customizations. Often, enterprises get too many employees involved in planning for a Paperless ERP system, with each individual recommending customized functions that actually carry over from an archaic paper-based process and that can seriously complicate the implementation. Trying to understand every nuance from decades of process development and automation within the organization can postpone a return on investment from Paperless ERP by months or even years.  Instead, choose a reliable vendor who knows your industry, your environment and your specific ERP platform and already has determined the best practices that should be incorporated into the paperless ERP solution out of the box. Simply by addressing 4 percent of the business issues, the solution can solve 50 percent of organizational problems in the first 30 days after implementation.  (Learn more about the 4-50 rule).
  2. Crawl before you try to walk, run or fly. Don’t subject your AP department to a huge change in all their processes at one time. Begin with the basics, ensuring the paper documents are scanned into the system, where they can be managed, stored and routed far more easily than paper can. You can still budget to develop more sophisticated functionality, but don’t implement it at the start or you put at risk the ability to gain immediate efficiencies from the system as a whole. Many solutions allow for simple, basic installations. The key is finding a Paperless ERP solution, such as MetaViewer, that can progressively advance its functionality as your employees are ready to digitize and automate additional functions.
  3. Don’t confuse Paperless ERP with the “paperless office.” Avoid suggestions that employees will never be able to touch paper again. Solutions like MetaViewer re-create paper documents in a different form, but employees should still feel free to print out documents to take with them to a meeting or simply to print a reminder. People will always need to work with paper, but paper should be the supplement to digital records, not the other way around. Digital processes allow access to the information that is on the paper, routing and monitoring it during the AP process instead of at the end of the process.
  4. Don’t overcomplicate your relationship with paper-based vendors. If you’re a major global retailer, you might have enough influence on paper-based vendors to convince them to submit their invoice information via a sophisticated EDI method; most midmarket manufacturing and distribution organizations do not. With a Paperless ERP system like MetaViewer, however, all that’s required is for the vendor to send AP the invoice in a .PDF format as an attachment to an email. Any document created with a recent version of Microsoft Word can be saved in .PDF with a couple click. Once the solution receives the .PDF, the document can be easily and accurately indexed automatically and managed, routed and approved digitally.
  5. Avoid resistance from approvers in other departments by keeping the process standardized. Frequently, approvers want to tinker with the process to simplify it beyond the stage that they should. For example, if a customized process requires them to use only their work PC or a specific network, employees may find they’ve “simplified” themselves into limited access. If, however, access to Paperless ERP is available via the Web, they do not need to worry about maintaining different software for occasional approvals outside the office and can use simple mobile devices for approval. With easily viewed snapshots and real-time charts, graphs and dashboards, Paperless ERP offers managers and executives more visibility into the business.

There is always an act of balance when considering the needs of your growing organization with those of your employees. But in the long run, a Paperless ERP solution, in particular, supports your growth, while streamlining employee responsibilities – even freeing them up to take on new, more valuable opportunities within the organization they may not have otherwise had time or access to.


Nick Sprau, VP of Marketing
Metafile Information Systems, Inc.


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