Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Local companies helping make dream of paperless office a reality

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business in Vancouver 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.

    Recombo’s motto: 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 instance.

    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.

    Gardner 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 work.

    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 eliminated.

    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.

    I 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. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
Search WWW Search