Why we are not paperless… yet

An introduction to the case of Spain

The advance of new technologies, the digitization, and the Internet has led to a change of model in the way people and businesses relate to each other, such that today it is difficult to imagine working without digital tools which make it possible to manage email or the digitization of documents. Once the business operations, in both economic and communication ones, have been digitized, this new model of behavior will generate the so-called paperless companies; that is, those business organizations that have completely eliminated paper from all their operations and processes.

However, the truth is that there is still a long way to go before all companies are called paperless. So, why doesn’t digitization end up creating paperless companies?

Why haven’t we reached the paperless business?

First of all, we need to distinguish the concepts between digital file and electronic file, as they cause a great deal of confusion.

There is a widespread belief that by digitizing documents on paper, they are automatically in digital format, therefore the file is paperless. However, we need to clarify that what is electronic is not necessarily digital, and vice versa. There is a very fine line between the two: ‘digitising’ means ‘transforming’ and turning paper into digital format for its subsequent storage, while ‘electronic management’ is part of the digital transformation process being undertaken by companies, corporations, and governments… when changing their digitization processes.

For example, Correos (the Spanish postal service) and its e-Correos platform or the electronic Administration (E-admin) by the Spanish State are examples of paperless; although this administrative example of paperless is not the best because it is one thing to digitize and another to manage it. Despite the existence of these two digital platforms, both the government and the postal service still have a long way to go to call themselves paperless.

E-admin is still a digital platform, which does not mean a will to change. One fact bears this out: certified and legal digitization has been in operation in Spain since 2007. At first, it was rolled out very quickly and it underwent a stage of strong growth; however, it appears to have stagnated or at least not to have reached the levels that were expected.

Despite the huge benefits that being paperless offers a company, such as the reduction in physical space, being able to work remotely with files, lower costs and better communication with providers, the truth is that companies have not entirely digitized.

Difficulties in being paperless

First of all, the certified digitization process, for example, establishes that it is the person in question or company that has to do it. Other important requirements are the use of a digitization software certificate and for the process to ensure that every photograph of the document is true and faithful to the original. If we add to this that the digital image has to attach the electronic signature of the company or corporation, the overall process becomes complicated…

Even so, by meeting the above requirements, security and reliability processes are ensured for carrying out administrative, legal or tax procedures. However, many businesses cannot complete the conversion because despite being paperless it is not worth a thing as their providers or customers are not. Therefore, it’s no use investing in the process of the other party doesn’t play its part.

Also, in practice, the lack of standards and formats to be able to work globally with the same system hinders transactions between businesses despite the attempts of many of them to go paperless.

The future imposition of digitisation and paperless

Nonetheless, the truth is that we use increasingly less paper. An example of this is the fall in sales of newspapers and press, despite the fact that, in the society in which we live, users continue to read and use that format. Another example is the use of physical money, that has not disappeared despite being able to pay by card and mobile phone. But not only that, despite the existence of email, document management softwares, scanning systems… that allow businesses to save a great deal of time and money, the mentality remains that paper is still necessary and this is the main reason why there has not been a complete roll-out of paperless businesses.

Resistance to change by users needs to be changed from all business sectors for the process to be total. Both administrations and providers, customers and users… must get used to the ever more abundant exchange of information in digital format, a use that has to meet certain security criteria for it to be carried out.

Until the above happens, there will continue to be businesses that are still not paperless and that strongly resist its future roll-out.