Even the business community has considered going paperless for many years, no business leader had taken the bold decision to go paperless. We thought of discussing how a paperless system should look like for the awareness of community.
Role of paper
We first looked at the purpose of using paper. First use of paper was for communication. Even though the default medium for communication was verbal, people used paper to carry a message from one person to another. In such instance the message on paper tend to go a distance that a voice message could not go. On the other hand, paper is used for evidences of events. Used as a proof for establishing that a agreement was arrived at, when they put the terms on paper and put the signatures of parties involved and witnesses. When a customer makes a payment, give a durable evidence to the customer in form of an evidence on paper. Some times people will sign or may print on letterheads and provide to the customer. In essence there are only two ways we use paper in businesses, as a means for communication and as durable evidence for a business event.
How paper is used
In either way, be it used for communication or evidence of events, paper is used to prove that either the communication or the event happened to a third party or to the parties involved. If one party takes up the position that firm did not issues instructions, management could take the evidence of communication and show to the employee to establish that the communication actually happened. If one party denies that an agreement was not made between two parties the other party may take the paper that contain the agreement with signatures of two parties and witnesses and establish that the agreement was made. If a customer has paid and the firm denies the payment, then the customer may produce the paper evidence and establish the fact that customer made he payment.
Such proving may go beyond the social settings and go in front of arbitrators or courts as well. Usually in such situations two parties in dispute may be represented by lawyers. What lawyers do is to provide paper-based evidence and attempt to prove that either the communication or the event had actually happened. Opposing lawyers sometimes required the authenticity of the evidence provided and may say “subject to proof”. So, the lawyer who lead evidence may have to go beyond the paper-based evidence and establish that the paper is authentic and is a credible evidence to establish the event represents the said event.
More often these paper evidences have to be produced in front of auditors. In such situations, what they do is to check to their satisfaction that accounting entries that firm has recorded has actually occurred, by examining paper-based evidences. Procedure here will no be serious as in front of a court. As long as an authorized officer has accepted the evidence as credible, they will take it as valid evidence for business events. A vital fact is that if the internal management system accepts the paper-based evidence auditors will not object.
Apart from the above two uses of paper, how paper traverse within a form and between firms as well becomes vital for understanding how paper is used. There are places of origin, where usually they place their signature and certify that paper was generated. Copies of the original document once same becomes a record of an event, copies of evidence as well may be circulated among parties who should hold evidence. Such evidence may traverse from one party to another, one department to another, and one firm to another as appropriate. When paper-based evidence traverses the organization, people tend to sign on those paper-based evidence as they have “seen”, “approved” or any other appropriate comment, including a long text.
A paperless system that a business establishes should cater for this basic operation and behaviour of people. In our next article we shall discuss the next step in going paperless.