Although the wheel is widely regarded as the greatest invention of all time, paper must be a close runner up. The invention of paper was fundamental both to mass communication (think the printing industry) and global communication (think being able to write a letter rather than having to rely on messengers remembering what they needed to say).
Time, however, can erode the greatness, or at least the usefulness, of many inventions and while paper certainly hasn’t had its day, it’s now become a niche market. It’s increasingly used for books (especially coffee-table ones), journals and decor, but industries (and governments) are largely giving up on it. Here are several reasons why.
Paper is really bad for the planet
This may come as a bit of a surprise, given that it is both biodegradable and recyclable and as such is often used as an alternative to plastic, but the fact is that manufacturing paper uses a lot of chemicals and a lot of water (and quite a bit of energy).
Recycling paper has a much lower environmental footprint, but it’s still not great. It’s likely to be less bad than plastic but that doesn’t make it good.
Getting rid of paper can lower costs substantially without inconveniencing consumers
When Smile bank launched in 1999, the concept of doing everything over the internet was still very much a novelty. Fast forward 20 years and it’s become the standard for most people, even older generations.
Companies which produce regular statements, for example banks and utility companies, are now routinely signing people up to digital statements as the default method of communication. Most still offer the option to have free paper statements sent to your home, but very few customers are likely to want them anyway.
The government’s movement towards a digital-first approach is a bit more controversial as it has more potential to impact people who do not have easy access to the internet, but even here the general consensus appears to be that it would be best to resolve the issues with internet access rather than going back to a “paper-based” approach as the digital-first approach is not just more cost-effective, it is more effective in general.
Even if you don’t have to factor in postage costs, paper can be expensive – especially if your employees still insist on using single-sided printing and copying. It’s not just the cost of the paper, ink and associated equipment, it’s the amount of storage space it needs, both in its “raw” form and as printed material.
Digital data is easier both to access and to secure
The NHS is probably the ultimate example of how the move to digital storage can benefit consumers by making data both more accessible and more secure. Under the old, paper-based, records system, any medical professional who needed to access a patient’s medical history had to go and find a physical file and hope that it contained all the relevant paperwork.
It’s clear how this situation had the potential to create life-threatening issues and that’s even before you get to the fact that there was a time, not so very long ago, when most NHS paperwork was completed by hand.
Now that the NHS has gone digital, medical professionals can pull up a patient’s file anywhere at any time. That means that if a patient from Cornwall falls ill when they are on holiday in Aberdeen, the local medical staff can get all the information they need straight away, which could literally be a matter of life or death for the patient.
What’s more, digital data can also be easier to secure than physical data. First of all, you eliminate all the issues with paperwork literally going missing because busy people weren’t able to keep track of it the way they should have done. This was bad enough in the days before GDPR, now, with GDPR in place, it has the potential to be both a PR and a financial nightmare.
Secondly, you can entrust its safekeeping to dedicated professionals, rather than having to rely on local security guards, with many other matters to occupy their time. What’s more, when the data comes to the end of its useful life, you can simply scrub it clean off the disk rather than having to organize the cross-cut shredding of paper (possibly with staples in it).
Insight provided by provide by secure document storage experts RADS