Old Habits Die Hard

a hand throws a scrunched up piece of paper into a wastepaper basket, containing other scrunched up bits of paper

The hidden costs of paper-based processes

For as long as there have been businesses, there have been facilities to manage. Ensuring those businesses had a functional space within which to operate has been business-critical throughout history.

While the general concept isn’t new, the business conducted in those facilities, and thus the management of facilities, has completely changed.

Technology has significantly disrupted life as we know it, and facilities management is no exception. In the past few decades, we’ve seen an acceleration of this disruption that nobody could have predicted.

Not 20 years ago, a phone was simply something you’d use to call people with (and you’d be sure to keep it brief, given the per minute charges). These days, phones are the world at our fingertips. Our phones are for banking, directions, connecting with people all over the world, finding the answer to any question, and more recently, managing facilities.

In a world that feels like it is changing every day, it’s easy to get left behind, stuck in processes of the past.

Many facilities have multiple decades of information stowed away in filing cabinets. Digitising all that information, and adapting to a new process, have up until now been a “future me” problem for facilities managers.

Paper-based processes are a bad habit that it’s time to kick. While there’s comfort in sticking to what you know, these processes pose risks that you might be unaware of.

Insidious inefficiencies

The nature of paper-based processes is such that things just take longer than with more tech-savvy solutions. It is faster to type records straight into the information repository than it is to write it out, and file it away.

In addition, paper-based processes often require the disruption of other work to be executed. The person tasked with processing these requests often represents a single point of failure, and as other tasks come across their desk, lag times can be exacerbated.

On the other end, it’s faster to just search something in a software platform than it is to rustle through piles of paper. The actual time spent finding files, Gartner puts at between 18-120 minutes per document, depending on whether or not the document has been correctly filed.

Reporting, when done with an online system, can be as simple as clicking “run report”, as opposed to searching for and compiling information in paper-based records.

Some clients we have worked with have reported time savings of 2-3 days a week that would have otherwise been spent on administrative tasks. According to the ABS the average weekly salary in Australia is around $1,737, assuming a 5-day workweek, that’s about $347 per day.

Even if you’re only spending two days on admin, that’s over $690 worth of time each week that could be better invested in other activities.

Storage costs

Another problem with paper is that it is a physical product, and if you can hold it, you have to have somewhere to put it. You might be used to the sight of the storage itself, but what’s harder to see is the ongoing cost.

Say you have two filing cabinets right now, solely used for storing information relating to facilities management. In a conservative scenario, you might have two 76x76cm storage cabinets, taking up 5,776cm2 of floor space when closed, plus the room you’ll need to leave to open them, for a total of 11,552cm2, or 1.16m2.

On average, commercial spaces cost approximately $790 per square metre, per year in the CBD. Meaning the cost of those cabinets sitting there is around $916 per year, or $17.60 per week. This storage requirement typically increases by approximately 22% every year, according to Forbes, meaning nearly every four years, you’re adding another cabinet.

When we consider that most of those documents will likely never need to be accessed again, that’s a lot of money gone completely to waste. With most O&M manuals now available digitally, that’s a whole lot of shelf space you can instantly reclaim.

Potential errors and loss

Paper passed processes by their very nature, carry a huge amount of risk in terms of potential error and loss. Misinterpreted handwriting, misplaced files and incorrectly recorded information are just the start of the problem.

You’re only human, and it’s impossible to validate every single piece of information you manually record, so these errors happen to the best of us.

The risk of error or loss can rear its head at any time. It could be something as small as wasting 10 minutes because the tradesperson can’t read a work order, to as big as being unable to locate records during an audit.

You might lose half a day trying to find a repair manual for an air conditioner, or you might incur the whole cost of replacement with a misplaced warranty.

Additionally, given the fragile nature of paper, there is the potential for complete data loss. Fire and flood might seem dramatic, but they do happen, and would cause the complete destruction of all records. Even if the entire building isn’t at risk, a single spark from an electrical socket could literally cause all your data to go up in flames.

The cost of these potential errors and losses might only equate to a few hundred dollars a year right now. But with potential fines, critical failures and inefficiencies, there’s hundreds of thousands in losses lurking just below the surface.

Environmental impact

Across the world, there has been a significant cultural shift towards environmentally conscious decision making. Businesses aren’t exempt from this, and these days, environmental impact is being considered more and more at a board level.

According to the world counts, paper makes up 50% of business waste. For businesses wanting to reduce their impact on the environment, paper use is one of the first things in the crosshairs.

Recycling is only part of the solution, and the focus is generally on reducing waste, rather than just recycling. From the tree and water raw materials to carbon dioxide emissions in production, to huge waste contribution, paper’s big environmental footprint can be almost completely alleviated with the help of technology.

While we might get to hold onto using toilet paper in favour of a bidet for now, removing paper-based processes is a must for environmentally conscious organisations.