How to Start a Wildfire

If you’re going to solve a problem, it helps to have a grasp of the underlying baseline… you can’t get from the current to the desired state (or even stimulate such desire) unless you establish a starting point. So, for all of us in content management (end-users, vendors, or analysts) it’s as important to be able to describe what threat unmanaged content poses as it is being able first to describe and then prove what the result will be if we get better at managing it. This requires observation and collection of information at a level that virtually no business has an appetite to pay for. Not even those who might be able to sell that information again and again as research – or even use it to help sell some software.

Yet if you’re like many government agencies, professional services firms, or even individual operators of any type of business that depends on paper, this should interest you. There certainly are ways to a) reduce the amount and costs of physical documents; b) increase the value of information stored within them along with digital docs; and, c) save money while bridging the physical to digital divide. Sadly, there are no actual detailed benchmarks delivered by reputable firms to predict the volumes or values associated with doing so – which can make building a business case to reduce paper much more difficult. If Google can’t find it – try copying the search string “building a business case to reduce paper” into the search box – it doesn’t exist, right?

Well, it seems that many vendors and buyers of document management software have been searching for the Holy Paper Grail (HPG) for some time. For so long, as a matter of fact, that Facts (in case studies or research documents) about paper costs have long outlived their freshness date stamp. “That one time, we saved ten thousand Confederate dollars (or Drachmas) by using telegrams instead of …. ” Thus, I can find dozens and dozens of examples of nearly useful claims or opinions or study data from a single departmental or geographical implementation – but not the HPG, or any data closely resembling it:

“Cost of a document”
“Costs to produce a document”
“Costs to reduce paper in document management”
“Benefits of digital documents”
“Improving productivity through enhanced document collaboration”
“ROI of ECM”

Oh, I know there are lots of results to be found online that challenge my assertion that the HPG hasn’t (yet) been found. Lots of researchers – whether paid by a Gartner or by a project sponsor building a business case or even by a vendor hoping to stake a claim – have been down this well-trodden path I might call the trail of tears were I insensitive to the history of the Cherokee people (among others). Yet, here I am proposing that even vendors like the one I work for might not be able to fully support their claims of finding ROI by better managing documents and their processes in every case. With facts.

As an example, here at Litéra, we sell content confidence. Meaning that in combination, our software apps deliver increased productivity and reduced risk through document processes and controls that also virtually guarantee ROI. And, our ROI calculator is very simple: the average knowledge worker (lawyer, accountant, consultant, project manager, etc.) works on 6-20 document processes each week, and collaborates with others on more than 90% of those. Our applications EASILY save those participants an average of 10 minutes per day. We might presume a professional works 261 weekdays in a given year and makes no less than $40 an hour given benefits, etc. Some likely make much more – and charge out time to clients at an even higher rate. So, no matter what the value of their time, our software – in some cases, as little as $180/yr. – costs less than the $1722 saved annually. It’s a great story and many customers would swear by the results they’ve achieved. So much so that more than 90% of them are willing to serve as named references when we talk to our prospects.

But – until we can both certify results with an outside auditor and promote our story relentlessly to gain visibility, I suspect things will stay the way they are in most businesses. Therefore, if you wanted to start a wildfire in your office, the best fuel would seemingly still be paper – at least for a while. Colloquially, office wildfires get started by rumor, not paper: e.g., “John’s been dipping his pen into the company inkwell.” If that even makes sense in your world, it is very likely that you could improve document processes by removing John’s pen (and the paper he writes on) and giving him better productivity tools. Or maybe in your world – like mine – rumors combined with some facts about paper costs could do the job. Imagine the wildfire I could start in the document and content management world by combining all known facts about document management costs and ROI potential in a single blog posting. Buyers, sellers, and end-users of software that might improve the way people work with information would love it.

We don’t even need facts, I think. We could merely use some figments disguised as facts. In my years at Gartner, one persistent element of inquiry was the helpless search for verified <actual> facts about the document problem in macro terms. They knew roughly how bad things were in Boise or Bahrain, but not in the overall context of global content mismanagement. Anywhere. And, to get the business leadership to invest in better technology, they need to make a strong case based on detailed analysis. So they’d ask – again and again – what fresh, relevant survey data or case studies were available, and I’d open a file drawer and draw out the dusty folder o’ facts and hope elves had updated the data. They never did. Moreover, of all the years I spent invested in finding solutions to the problem, I was more easily able to count Failure Measures (TM) than Success Measures.

It was never hard to find disillusionment and despair – more than enough to obscure the one shining example of a company that set expectations about what outcomes they wanted, and then measured them when the time came. Worse still, all things once fact become hypothesis again after a period of time. So a fact can remain relevant roughly over the span of about a year or two – which sadly corresponds almost exactly to the lifespan of most software implementations. On the other hand, there’s good news about document software figments (like all dangerous elements) – they have a half-life instead of a shelf-life. You can find them easily but should trust them sparingly. And publish them never. That’s why Gartner can’t – because unless it is the source of the data, it can’t trust it.

But I am no longer bound by the constraints of fact-based research. So, I’ve done some scouting for facts and figments on high performance workplace issues like documents and their costs – just so you don’t need to. I have found a number of them. Many are woefully out of date, but several are attributed to Gartner and I could suggest minor edits might bring them up to 2012 standards. Many tie back to a Coopers & Lybrand survey commissioned so long ago that the firm’s convoluted history alone suggests the data to be diluted and the original research team likely disbanded and out of reach. Most are still relevant in some ways, though many favor one geography over others (the average office document no longer gets photocopied 19 times in North America, I’d warrant, but perhaps it’s still true in parts of South America or Asia or North Dakota). I’d be happy to discuss this further if you are interested. Happier still to work with you on finding ROI by buying some really great software from Litéra. Comments are welcomed.

Undifferentiated Facts and Figments* Worth Considering (especially if the authors added an exclamation point!):

Through 2014, at least 30% of content management projects will be perceived to have failed because they had no agreed-to business success criteria.

30 billion paper documents are copied or printed by US companies annually.

When factoring copying, archiving, and time to locate activities, the cost of each document can reach $60-$120.

Only 1% of archived documents are ever retrieved.

Of the archived documents retrieved, only 10% are the correct version.

Of the 10% correct versions, only 10% get read completely. The rest are printed, skimmed, then archived as paper.

More than 80% of business processes are forms-based and organizations today require end-to-end solutions that make it easy for people to enter, access, integrate and route important business data to multiple systems across their entire organization.

Of all documents that are handled every day , 90% are solely shuffled.

The average company spends $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misfiled document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document. Meanwhile, 7.5 percent of all documents get lost, 3 percent get misfiled, and the average professional spends 50% of their time looking for information.

7.5% of all documents are lost.

3% of the remainder are misfiled.

Professionals spend 5-15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% looking for it (approx. 400 hours a year).

Digitized documents only need to be prepped once (all staples removed etc.), while hard copies may be prepped up to 19 times during their shelf life.

There are over 4 trillion paper documents in the U.S., and this number is growing at 22% per year.

Nearly 75% of time spent working with paper-based information is wasted in searching and filing.

The average office worker maintains 20,000 pieces of paper annually.

It costs $25,000 to fill a four drawer cabinet, and $2,160 per year to maintain.

In spite of reports to the contrary, paper use is huge and continues to grow. Each day, U.S. workers generate 2.7 billion new sheets of paper.

U.S. businesses spend $350 billion on computer printouts annually. Paper copies cost between 6 and 12 cents per page (though 130 billion of the 350 billion copies per year are not needed).

The average American office worker is estimated to use a sheet of paper every 12 minutes—a ream per person every two and a half working weeks—and to dispose of 100-200 pounds of paper every year.

The number of pages consumed in U.S. offices is growing by about 20 percent each year.

The introduction of email into an organization resulted on average in a 40 percent increase in paper consumption. A worldwide growth of 600 percent in printer accessibility is part of what contributes to this.

The U.S. is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of paper. Per capita U.S. paper consumption is over six times greater than the world average and about 25 percent greater than Japan, the world’s second largest per capita paper consumer.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global paper products consumption  tripled over the past three decades and was expected to grow by half again before 2010.

Professionals spend 5-15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% of their time looking for it.

U.S.-based companies spend $25 to $35 billion processing (filing, storing, and retrieving) paper. Management of documents over their life cycle pushes that figure up to $100 billion per year.

Of managers surveyed, 49% feel they are often unable to handle the volume of information received.

Paper Management reduces office productivity. Of a total 8 hours wasted per week in paper document management activity, finding documents wastes 1 hour, difficulty sharing documents wastes 1 hour, distribution & storage wastes 1 hour, and archiving and retrieval wastes half an hour.

The most valuable documentation is littered across department manager’s desks. It is a gigantic organizational problem – where do documents exist?

The number of pieces of paper used in offices in the United States is increasing at 6% per year. Personal computers and copiers make it easier to generate paper output.

90% of corporate memory exists on paper.

The average office spends $28 in labor filing or retrieving a document.

$150 in labor is spent finding a misfiled document.

$350 in labor is spent recreating a lost document!

The average Fortune 500 company sends 150 million paper documents and receives 150 million paper documents annually.

In addition, over $17 million is spent by each company just on faxing!

Professionals spend 5 to 15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% looking for it.

The average business document is copied 19 times – over 81 billion sheets of paper are copied each month!

There are over 4 trillion paper documents in the U.S. alone – growing at a rate of 22% per year!

Over $5 billion each year is wasted on printed materials that become obsolete before they are ever used!

For every 10 printed pages, only 1 is ever consulted.

That blog you thought people were following closely is buried among 700,000 others in a feed reader.

People subscribe to/follow/download/watch more content daily than they could collectively consume in two lifetimes apiece!

Most written information on the Web is most often read by the person who wrote it!

Of all the documents stored on network drives, file servers, and in document repositories, 22% constitute those authored by a single person. They were never reviewed or distributed again – and typically, the person creating them left the company 5 years ago!

More people on Earth will read any one specific tweet from Ashton Kutcher tomorrow (25/1/2012) than will read To Kill a Mockingbird – ever!

*some likely sources: Gartner, Ernst & Young, Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC), Orfal, Harkey, and Edwards, Cap Ventures; PC Magazine, AIIM, Imaging Magazine, Lotus Development, IDC, ATG & Rheinner, Reuters, Orfal, Harkey, and Edwards, Forestethics

About Toby Bell

Toby has over 25 years of leadership experience in technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. He's managed people, products, projects, and profits equally well. His work history ranges from marketing and communications to software design and development to global consulting to technology research and analysis to business leadership. He has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker for Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, and their clients. Toby Bell has spent over 30 years as a global technology executive with experience ranging across enterprise technology strategy, analysis, development, and delivery. His perspectives about idealizing the interplay between people and emerging content, analytics, and process technologies stem from a balanced career as an enterprise end-user, industry analyst, and vendor in this evolving marketplace. Toby has provided strategic advice to many companies; has written a strong body of research; is widely quoted across technology and business media; and has been a keynote speaker on behalf of Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, Gartner, IBM, AIIM, and their respective clients.
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1 Response to How to Start a Wildfire

  1. Norm Thomas says:

    Not to pile on with the factoids, but when I worked at Microsoft, we calculated that Xerox Corp. made more money from PowerPoint than Microsoft did.

    The revenue from photocopier parts and machinery, toner and paper generated from presentations far exceeded that from the licenses of software used to create them!

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