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Document management is crucial to going green

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The plan highlights key areas public sector departments need to address to achieve carbon neutrality by 2012. These include cutting the number of printers across the organisation, which are significant carbon emitters, and reducing the amount being printed. Under the plan, FDs are tasked with ensuring that the environmental consequences of ICT procurements are fully evaluated.     

If public sector bodies are to cut the number of printers across their organisations and reduce printing, they can’t do this without replacing the printing of documents with an alternative. It would be ridiculous to simply remove all an organisation’s printers, and expect a business to continue to run as smoothly and as efficiently as before, because organisations still need to produce, copy, authorise, manage and store documents in some form or other.

Document management systems are therefore the key to achieving carbon neutrality by 2012. These systems replace the printing-out, postage and manual filing of documents with electronic processes for document creation, delivery, authorisation, management and storage. By moving to electronic document management systems, organisations reduce paper-use and significantly cut CO2 emissions by eliminating toner cartridges whilst also reducing the need to print, photocopy and transport documents.

As each printer typically emits 456 kgs of carbon dioxide each year and each tree typically absorbs 13kg of CO2 per year, an incredible 35 trees need to be saved from destruction every year to offset just one office printer’s emissions. When you also consider that every financial document arriving into an organisation is typically photocopied at least once and an invoice can be photocopied up to 11 times (according to research by Gartner), this creates a powerful case for implementing paperless processes.

The introduction of the ‘Greening Government ICT’ plan will undoubtedly force FDs and CIOs in public sector bodies to take steps towards reducing their carbon emissions, especially as they will be expected to report on their progress towards carbon neutrality by January 2010.

Regardless of whether this new plan will be welcomed or resented by public sector FDs and CIOs, its call to action can’t be avoided and they need to remember the business benefits of ‘going green’ in addition to the environmental benefits.

Sometimes these are overlooked and instead, ‘going green’ is regarded as being both costly and ‘a hassle’.

Document management obviously cuts paper use and CO2 emissions. It also cuts a business’s operating costs, improves business-wide efficiency, frees-up document storage space and aids compliance. Some companies enjoying the business benefits of document management include Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust which is saving tens of thousands of pounds every year by using document management, and M Barnwell Services, which has improved cash flow by £200,000 and enhanced company-wide efficiency by implementing document management systems.

It’s only now that the environmental benefits of document management are truly being appreciated. Until recently, its appeal has always been business-driven and so it’s important not to lose sight of the full range of benefits technologies, such as document management, can deliver and not just look to implement new systems as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the government’s green IT strategy.

We’ll undoubtedly be seeing a dramatic increase in the implementation of document management systems within the next few years. If we fail to see this upsurge, it’s difficult to see how public sector organisations can achieve carbon neutrality by 2012.

*Lynne Munns is general manager of Version One

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