Make Your Own Paperless Office?

I have been asked this question several times:

“Can I make my own paperless office solution instead of buying one?”

I can see why this question is asked.  If you make one it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.  Fairly understandable reasons for building one that cannot be argued with.

Well the answer to the question is a surprising ‘Yes’ you can make your own paperless office solution.

First you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL, FileMaker Pro, MS Access, Oracle or SAP.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access and FileMaker Pro standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle and SAP.

Next unless you are up to the task you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC if you want to use a web browser unless the person who does the database work knows html.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.  Plus depending on the type of paperless office you are planning on building, knowing ASP, JAVA, XML and some other languages may prove useful.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database in general and the particular DBMS first.  Plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well, plus the other languages I spoke about but that can be optional as most DBMS’s can create a front end.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering the databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your paper documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.  These become .pdf, .tiff or .jpg files which you can scan into a directory on your computer then where you can now move them into the paperless office solution.

With the pdf files, you can OCR them, that is run an Optical Character Recognition utility on them to make them searchable.

Of course when you create the documents in the first place, as in Word, Excel or any number of programs, they are already in an electronic format so it is a very simple matter to move them into the paperless office.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

But if time is one thing that you are in short supply on, then you might want to look at a cloud provider that can build and host one for you.  There are plenty of advantages of having a hosted paperless office over having one that you build.

First all upgrades and software licensing is the responsibility of the provider as well as backing up the data.  A hosted paperless office is or at least should be available to you via an internet connecting regardless of where you are especially in the event of a major disaster.

If you elect to build your own paperless office, you bear the responsibility of software upgrades, upgrades to the solution, license fees if any, and tech support.  Plus if you build your own most likely you will host it internally.  If so then if your building is destroyed or damaged you just might not be able to gain access to the data.  But you can save money on monthly and setup fees plus you remain in total control over your data.

So can you build your own paperless office? Yes.  Do you want to?  Well that depends on you and your situation.  You just might decide that instead of adding another potential headache to your plate then you just might be better off to go with a hosted solution instead.

The Cost Of Printing

Have ever considered how much it costs to click on print?  A few pennies, right?  Who cares?

Now what if I show you that, by using actual data that your printing costs can be over $2,000 a year per printer.  Now that is something to think about.

To begin with we are going to use actual data taken from a company that has several printers in one office.  I selected an employee that is doing a substantial amount of printing which is not uncommon in several offices.

Let’s start with one of their printers, a HP LaserJet 1320.  The original price of the printer needs to be factored into our figures.  The printer was purchased directly from HP and the average service life is 5 years.  The price of the printer was $399 with shipping at $25 plus tax of $37.10 brings the cost of the printer to $461.10.  Using the 5 lifespan year rule the printer costs $92.22 a year.

Some people will argue that the cost of the printer should not include the shipping and tax.  But these are still costs that come out of the checking account and figure into the final bottom end of the costs.  So they really need to be factored in as well.

And since we know what model printer, we now know that it takes the 49A toner cartridge.  I wanted new HP toner and not a rebuilt unit or non-HP cartridge.  By going on line I saw that Staples, WB Mason and Quill sell the cartridge for $93.99 and add tax of $8.22 and the toner costs $102.21.  These companies offer free shipping so we are not going to factor that in.  The advertised print yield for the 49A cartridge is 2,500 pages.  That breaks down to .04 a print. A few words on toner yields, the industry norm for printing is that a typical page is covered with only 5% ink.  If you look at a typical page and visually compress the text all into one corner with no paper showing through you would cover about 5% of the page.  What can throw this off is if you print a lot of graphics or pictures, lots of heavy bold or black text, or maybe just a few lines of text per paper.  But it is safe to say that most pages are covered only 5% and HP rates the 49A cartridge for 2,500 pages at that 5%.

For paper I chose the white multipurpose paper that most companies would normally buy.  Here I went with Staples and it is advertised at $49.99 for a case.  Each case holds 5,000 sheets of paper.  Add sales tax of $4.37 and the case now costs $54.36.  From here each sheet of paper costs just a hair above $0.01, but we can safely say a penny.

Now we see that each time we click print that one pages costs $.05 each.

Where does that mean after a year?

Taking the same company and that one employee it was found that they print an average of 4,300 pages a month.  Multiply that by $0.05 and we see it costs $218.79 a month which is $2,625.51 a year.  Add in the annual cost of the printer of $92.22 and we see that printing from that one person costs us $2,717.73.

Cartridge Price                               $  93.99
Sales Tax                                         8.22
     Net                                        102.21

Divide by the yield                            2,500

Price of toner per print                                    0.04

Price for a case of paper                        49.99
Sales Tax                                         4.37
     Net paper                                   54.36

Divide by sheets in a case                    5,000

Cost per sheet                                               0.01  Cost per print                                               0.05

Multiplied by prints per month                4,300

Cost of printing per month                                 218.79
Cost of printing per year                                2,625.51

Price for printer                                399.00
Shipping from fact                                25.00
Sales Tax                                         37.10
     Net printer price                           461.10

Divide by the service life (years)                 5

Annual cost for the printer                                 92.22

Total printing costs for one year                     $  2,717.73

Just for the heck of it let’s say you have 12 employees printing that volume and you see that your costs for printing are $36,612.77 a year.  Like I asked before, who cares…now?

Even if your printing is a more reasonable 3,300 pages a month you are still looking at $2,107.15 per printer per year.

And let us not forget this is for black and white.  Color is a lot higher.

These figures will be different with each different type of printer, where it was purchased, the price paid, the brand name toner vs. remanufactured or third party, the price of paper and how many prints that you actually do.  But at the end of the day printing is not cheap and with today’s economy it pays to keep a close eye on how many pages are printed.  So in reality your printing costs would be different but it is something to keep a close eye on.

Many copy machines today have network printing capabilities in them so users can send their print jobs to those machines instead.  With many contracts you get a set amount of free prints/copies per month as part of the contract.  This can be a substantial savings in toner costs.

But the down side is if you have a lot of people printing to these machines you can wind up with people waiting for their print job to come out.  And print jobs can get messed up even when they setup print separator pages which is money tossed out the window.  Plus if you go over the allotment of print jobs, the copier company could charge you as much as .10 or more per print over the allotment.

In the long run considering that staff has to get up from their desk, walk to the copier, wait for their print jobs then walk back is salary lost that could be put to productivity.  Add this to the monthly printer charges, supplies charges, over usage charges and you really see that there is not great of a savings after all.

You can go with one of those print management companies.  Here for a monthly fee they supply all the toner you could want.  But they give you an allotment of how many prints you can do and like with the copier companies, any overage you can get hit very hard with excess print charges.  Plus you are getting their brand of toner and not brand name.

We tried that in our office and it turned out to be cheaper to stick with buying the brand name toner cartridges from Quill, Staples and WB Mason.  The toner that the print management company sold was not as good either and when one of their cartridges leaked all over the inside of a new $800 printer they did not come forward and repair the machine.

Another thing that many people don’t think about is the waste of paper when printing.  How many times is the garbage can filled with paper from a printer?  How much money is being tossed out?

With the focus on going ‘Green’ today, printing on paper can be considered a waste of natural resources.

And let us not forget one thing that was not brought into our figures, the cost of electricity to run the printer in the first place.

Another method that is very cost effective and within reach of every company is to go paperless printing and go with a paperless office solution.  With that the document is created electronically and printed as a PDF file which is easily read by any computer, provided they have a PDF reader installed which you can get for free.  Most computers today have one already installed.

The creation of a PDF file is accomplished by installing software that acts like a printer when you click print.  Only instead of spitting out paper it creates the document as a PDF file which can be read with an application like Adobe Reader.  And if you run the Optical Character Recognition or OCR on the document, it can now be searchable.

At my last company they produced workpapers that the property managers had to review and sign off on.  These were massive documents that were printed as hard copies.  Then they were mailed out to the property managers to review and finally to be signed off on.  Afterwards they were mailed back and scanned into PDF files to be put onto the paperless office solution.

A project that I was instituting was instead of printing the hardcopies in the first place, make the workpapers as PDF files right off the bat.  Review them on-line, print the signature page only and sign off on that.  Now scan that one page and attach it to the workpapers.  From there a simple matter of putting them into the paperless office.  The savings in postage alone was phenomenal.

With programs like Acrobat Professional or Standard it is a simple matter to add notes to the document should there be changes that need to be done or if not that, just print those few pages and not the entire massive package or even add pages to the PDF document.

This not only was a major cost savings as far as printing was concerned but it saved the time and the salary of a person to scan in thousands of sheets of paper and put that person to a more productive position.  Not to mention the space savings as well from not having to store all that toner and paper.

Yet as great as this can be, you still will need to make physical printouts from time to time.  There simply are areas where you need that piece of paper.  So don’t think you need to throw out all of your printers just yet.

Keeping an eye on your printing costs today should not be difficult and can save you a lot of money in the long run.  With the advances in technology that we have there is no reason not to start to move toward paperless printing and include these into a paperless office.