By Adam Andrews, ACAC Director of Operations
American business has undergone a “paperless revolution” in recent years, as computer technology makes it possible to create and store a digital version of just about anything.
Business owners who “go paperless” gain a marketing advantage, as it allows them to be seen publicly doing their part to save the trees, shrink the landfills and reduce their carbon footprint – all good things in this environmentally conscious age.
But what if paperwork is the heart of your business? Environmental investigators and remediators depend every day on proposals, estimates, reports, contracts and the like. After all, an air sample that’s not documented, analyzed, interpreted and verified in writing – complete with signatures, a chain of custody and so on – is essentially meaningless. Of no use to customers, it is a liability to investigators and inadmissible by attorneys. Remediators can’t function effectively or profitably without written protocols, scopes of work and post remediation verifications. No matter how deep the scientific background of consulting or remediation work, the fact remains that documentation is what makes it profitable. Thus, record-keeping remains the environmental professional’s primary function.
This goes double for certifying bodies like the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), which maintains professional credentials for investigators, remediators and consultants.
“A certifying body is essentially a record-keeping organization,” says ACAC executive director Charlie Wiles. “Our work of verifying industry knowledge and field experience involves an endless stream of paperwork. We maintain documentation on every individual who has ever applied for an ACAC certification, and we constantly update that information as necessary to keep our certification programs current. Ten years ago, our paper files filled 25 six-foot high filing cabinets, and the pile grew daily as applications and project sheets continued to come in.”
Wiles explains that steering ACAC through the “paperless revolution,” though difficult at times, has been an unqualified benefit.
“We spent almost 5 years converting every single piece of paper into digital format and storing it in secure, redundant cloud-based servers,” he explains. “It was a long process, but we are very happy with the results. That data is now far more secure against fire, flood and theft than it ever was in a single physical location. In addition, our staff can access it instantly from remote locations around the world. The result is that our office operates with a flexibility and efficiency that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. In fact, last year we added 34,974 files to our electronic database without killing a single tree.”
When it comes to investing in the change to paperless operations, ACAC is not alone. Recent research suggests that since 2012, more than 40% of American businesses have transitioned to digital imaging to capture incoming mail. In addition, 20% of businesses are storing documents in cloud-based servers instead of filing cabinets. More importantly, according to one report, both of these numbers are growing every year.
Doug Miles, a researcher for AIIM who surveyed 500 businesses about their document handling procedures, notes that going paperless can dramatically improve efficiency.
“Our respondents estimated that on average their use of scanning and capture [of incoming documents] improved the speed of response to customers, suppliers, citizens or staff by 6 times or more,” Miles said. “[This is] a dramatic improvement to competitiveness in a world that is only too ready to publicize poor service.”
Wiles adds that paperless operations can not only improve efficiency but also create brand new business.
“This month, ACAC introduced electronic, secure online application forms for all of its certifications,” he explains. “Candidates can now complete the certification application process in one sitting without ever turning on a printer, stuffing an envelope or walking to the mailbox. Even the notary seal, which we have required on all our applications since 1992, is now handled electronically through verification emails.”
According to Wiles, the results have been spectacular.
“We received more than 120 applications in the month of September,” he says. “The bottom line is that the forms are now much easier to submit so that qualified people have no reason not to apply. A major barrier to certification has been removed.”
If your business still deals primarily in paper, “going paperless” may help you in the same way it has helped ACAC. With current technology, there is virtually no kind of record that can’t be securely maintained, tracked, recorded and preserved digitally. As recent studies suggest, wherever digital record-keeping replaces paper, efficiency replaces inefficiency, security replaces vulnerability and flexibility replaces gridlock – and in the end, businesses that are flexible, efficient and secure will serve their clients best.
Regardless of your business, getting on board with the paperless revolution might be something to consider.
1. © AIIM 2012, www.aiim.org
2. Doug Miles, “The Paper Free Office – Dream or Reality?” http://www.aiim.org/pdfdocuments/IW_Paper-free-Capture_2012.pdf
Adam Andrews is Director of Operations at the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), an independent non-profit certifying body. Founded in 1992 to serve the indoor air quality industry, ACAC offers third-party accredited professional certifications in various disciplines, including environmental and microbial consulting and remediation, environmental infection control, moisture control and structural drying, infrared thermography and IAQ management. ACAC certifies more than 3,000 professionals in North America and overseas. For information about ACAC and its programs, please visit www.acac.org.