- THE PROMISE OF PAPERLESS
In most cases, computers have actually enabled the creation of so much more paperwork, that few of us even consider the original promise of the "paperless offices."
While the concept may be largely forgotten, it's certainly not dead. In fact, today's technologies now offer many opportunities to reduce the clutter of paper that covers our desktops and fills our filing cabinets.
The first task in becoming paperless is getting paper-based documents into your computer system:
- Most small business people now use scanners, but often haven't explored the document management software that comes with them. Products, like Visoneer's PaperPort Deluxe, offer the ability to quickly scan, sort and store just about anything to your hard drive.
I've used this program to scan all of my business documents, purchase receipts, banking statements, contracts and magazine clippings to my "electronic filing cabinet" for several years now. Not only has this practically eliminated my paper storage, I can now actually find any document I own in a matter of seconds - and print a copy if I like. This is particularly handy for notebook users, who can now view or print any document or contract that might be needed - wherever a meeting with the customer might take place.
- Often, what you may want is not the image of a document, but the actual text (words) contained within. Be sure to fully explore the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software that came with your scanner. This software allows you to scan a document and then have it translated into text that can be edited in any word processor.
This is particularly handy for quickly converting documents into text that you can then use in creating your own newsletters and adding phrases to your contracts, among other things.
- Voice recognition software programs, such as IBM ViaVoice, are now very fast and accurate in translating your voice into text. This is often the quickest way to get short paragraphs of text into your computer. Say there's just one paragraph in a contract or newspaper article that you want to internalize into a newsletter or personal document. Why not simply read the text into your computer and eliminate the time and effort needed to scan or file the document at all?
- With everyone in the industry now considering digital cameras for taking property photos, many have overlooked the document management ability of these new devices. Most all of them have "macro-modes" which allow for extreme close-up shots, perfect for copying documents.
Imagine the time you can save by simply taking photographs of your seller's previous deed, mortgage, survey and other related documents while on a listing interview. Not only does this save the time and effort of taking them back to the office for copying or scanning, but adds quite a boost to your professional image, as well.
- For those of you who still don't have scanners, you can also fax documents directly into your computer. As long as you've got a fax modem in your system, and most do, this can be a simple way to capture basic documents to your system. The quality won't be the same as a scanned image, but it's certainly a convenient and simple operation to perform.
Now that you've got the "paper" into your system, the second half of the equation is getting these documents back out.
- Naturally, you can print anything thatís within your system whenever you need it. This makes sense for disclosure forms, contract and other document that legally must be provided to customers and clients.
- In many cases, it's easier to simply fax documents to your clients, directly from your computer. Highlight sheets are a great example of items that really do not need to be printed to paper prior to faxing.
- If your customer is using the same software as you are, then you should consider sending the file by e-mail. This eliminates the need for paper entirely, and offers instant delivery - postage free.
- However, in many cases, you will not be using the same software as your client (it's unlikely they've bought Top Producer, for example) but you still want to e-mail them a document, and retain the quality of the image, something that a fax really won't do.
In this case, a great solution is a program called Adobe Acrobat. This simple utility allows you to "print" any document to an electronic file in a format known as Portable Document Format, or PDF. The two features that make this a important convenience are format retention and transportability.
- The value of format retention is that the "look and feel" of the flyer, CMA or contract you create will be retained when viewed on the customer's computer.
- Transportability is addressed by the fact that any computer running the Adobe Acrobat Reader can view these documents. Not only is this "Reader" already installed on most of your customerís computers, but it can also be downloaded, for free, from Adobe's web site at http://www.adobe.com/prodindex/acrobat/readstep.html
Using the PDF format enables you to provide CMAs, contracts, area maps, or anything else, in an electronic format that can be sent by e-mail (or floppy disk) and then viewed by your customer just as though they were viewing the originals.
Not only will these electronic documents have the same unique "look and feel" of paper, but they can also be printed by the customer, is they so desire.
Simply put, the ultimate solution to the paperless office can now be realized because it does not actually force you to abandon paper, but instead simply provides you with the powerful option of storing and viewing documents electronically, and printing them only on an as needed basis.
Copyrighted with all rights reserved by Stephen M. Canale