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September 17, 2013

The Paperless Office Not Just A Dream, Saving City University of Hong Kong a Fortune

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

For a long time, most thought the idea of a “paperless office” to be largely a pipe dream, the kind of thing that sounded great but that few if any could actually put to use. But for City University of Hong Kong (CityU), the dream is alive, well, and saving the university about $500,000 annually. Dropping paper didn't just mean cost savings, either, as CityU discovered that there were not only savings in cash, but also savings on paper and power costs, as well as better productivity and improved security.

The first parts of CityU to take on the paperless office concept were largely internal, focusing on human resources (HR) and finance functions. CityU has been in a period of rapid growth of late, and as such, has found itself trying to streamline its operations so as to better keep up with demand. What's worse, the university discovered that space comes at a premium, so much so that paper documents were becoming difficult to store, especially considering that CityU has a staff of roughly 4,000 current members and a host of former staff members whose information needs to be stored for quite some time.

But, as CityU CIO Dr. Andy Chun noted, taking EMC Documentum and adding in a little extra in terms of document management, gives CityU the opportunity to take what would have been paper documents and store them as digital equivalents instead. This makes the documents in question more secure, and it allows for saving both trees and space.

What's better, based on the current numbers, is that the project—assuming that the initial savings hold true for the long term—will pay for itself in around three years, as the project cost $1.4 million to set up, and has already saved $0.5 million. The system, at last report, was able to handle approximately 1.3 million documents in the first year, and then from there could grow to accommodate an additional 300,000 documents each additional year, just in the HR and Finance offices.

Considering that, under the previous system, new documents would have to be photocopied every time new decisions regarding personnel were made, the savings get pretty substantial. Performance improves as well--by a factor of six or more, according to reports—thanks to instant online searches that cut down on the amount of time needed in document filing and recovery as needed.

The idea of the paperless office, in theory, had always been similar to this. All the documents that formerly were paper are converted to digital format, and then stored like paper would have been, accessible via desktop, laptop or even mobile device. After hours, simply cut off the network and the ability to access said files from the outside would be as easy as accessing files on a computer disconnected from any network that was also shut off and kept in a locked windowless room. It's secure, it's efficient, and it saves a pile of money. CityU is demonstrating just what kind of savings in both time and money can be had with this approach, and the end result looks very positive for its users.

Perhaps more universities—indeed, more businesses as well—will take to such methods to control information and save money. It's certainly worth looking into for those who aren't already putting these methods to work, especially with the concrete example CityU is presenting.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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