companies helping make dream of paperless office a reality
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
May 6- 12 2008, Issue #967
High Tech Office column
Mike Gardner, CEO of
Gastown-based Recombo, thinks his company has a new twist on an old
High Tech Office pipe dream that will let businesses simultaneously do
good for the planet and for their bottom line.
start digital, end digital. The company helps businesses use digital
signatures on forms and interactive agreements to replace traditional
paper documents. Initially, the company developed plug-ins for widely
used Word and PDF document formats, letting them be used for legally
binding contracts. More recently, it’s been focusing on XHTML and
Flashflex, which let users work within their web browsers and allow
them to interact with contracts – getting pop-up explanations, for
Putting its technology to work internally means
Recombo no longer has paper-based vacation request and expense forms.
Board resolutions and investor forms are all digital rather than on
paper. As a result, the company generates no new paper forms – nothing
to print out, nothing to file and store. Almost non-existent in its
offices: filing cabinets.
Contracts and other forms are
automatically routed via e-mail to everyone who needs to deal with
them, arriving – and often being dealt with – within seconds.
suggests that moving to digitally generated and stored forms and
contracts is the easiest single step most businesses can take to reduce
their carbon footprints. He points to a 1998 Coopers and Lybrand study
that claimed that an average business document is copied 25 times and
costs $10 per year to store and maintain. That cost rises to $75 when
someone needs to retrieve it. A March 2008 Leger Marketing study,
conducted for Recombo and Telus, reported that, on average, Canadian
employees print 30 pages each day and almost immediately toss nearly
40% of them; 77% of the employees polled were concerned about their
impact on the environment at work, but many felt they didn’t know what
to do about it.
The Leger survey noted that 61% of those polled
agreed that “being green was good for business,” but only a small
fraction (16%) felt that they had a paper reduction policy at place at
According to Gardner, businesses can think of paper as
just a packaging medium for words. Moving from paper packaging to
digital packaging brings an immediate reduction in a business’
environmental impact that’s accompanied by an immediate reduction in
costs. As a case study, he mentioned a large florist that five times a
year needs to bring in a large number of short-hire employees working
from home, to handle the boom in orders for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s
Day and other peak periods.
Each employee was required to fill
out 10 forms, with redundant information, like name and social
insurance numbers on each form, and fax them back to the company, where
the data was manually re-typed.
Inevitably, there were errors or
incomplete forms slowing down processing time. And the quantity of
forms was daunting to many potential employees. Only 20% returned all
the required forms.
Digital forms were made more intelligent.
For example, once a person had entered his or her name, auto-fills
inserted it into all the forms. Data is also self-extracting. When the
forms are returned to the company, there’s no longer a need to manually
type it again. The result: the average time for completion was reduced
to six minutes; the response rate rose to 60%; courier and
administration costs have been reduced; and paper waste has been
Telus is using Recombo technology as the basis for
its secure contracts service. It touts this as a “secure, accurate and
auditable legal digital signature solution,” converting paper-based
documents and processes into web-based, interactive replacements.
first mentioned the dream of a “paperless office” in this column in
1995. Like many tech promises, it has sometimes seemed an elusive dream.
Recombo and Telus are helping businesses to finally make this
environmentally, and bottom-line friendly, dream a reality. •