FAQ about going paperless



Here are some of our frequently asked questions.  If you have a question that you do not see answered here, please email me at lphelps at hemingwaysolutions.net and I will be glad to answer you.

Community Action Partnership - CAP - Community Action Agency

Laserfiche is an enterprise content management system (ECM).

The first version of Laserfiche was released in 1987. It was the first Microsoft-based document imaging system in the world.

Laserfiche is highy rated by most experts. Info-Tech Research Group rated Laserfiche as it as one of the top products in its category.  They said, “The records management based tools and long history of working with large governmental organizations makes Laserfiche a key ECM vendor in highly regulated industries.” Forrester Research, in a recent report stated: “Laserfiche offers strong transactional content services — workflow, forms, capture, and robotic process automation. Its template and design tools give users flexibility; they can tailor apps for specific needs.” Nucleus Research “found that Laserfiche delivered a high degree of functionality that allowed users to benefit from greater productivity and fewer errors in their document management.”

Laserfiche has had great success in the state and local government sectors.  It is used in over one thousand cities across the country. Texas A&M has over thirty thousand users and is used across most of the functional units of the university.

But, Laserfiche is not strictly for large organizations.  It is also ideal for small organizations that need only a few users.

More info on Laserfiche


Did you know that one of the biggest hidden costs for businesses is the time it takes to handle paper files? Industry studies have shown that the typical worker spends over 20% of their day searching for documents.

It’s not so hard to believe if you think about it. Let’s say an office worker has to find 10 documents throughout the day. She gets the request, leaves her office, walks to a records room, and finds the right filing cabinet. Then, she has to flip through folders to find the necessary file, copy the paper, and re-file the folder. And, of course, walk back to her desk.

How long do you think this whole process might take? 5 minutes? 10? 20? If we estimate it takes 10 minutes for each file, 10 files a day quickly adds up to 100 minutes – 30% of her work week!

The beauty of ECM is that it cuts out all the legwork. Instead of spending time searching through file cabinets, you can retrieve the right one in seconds. All that time that she previously spent making the trek to the storage room can be used in more productive and lucrative ways.

A Garter Research has found, for example, that on average, “professionals spend 50% of their time searching for information and take 18 minutes to locate each document.” And the Delphi Group notes that “companies on average spend $25,000 to fill a typical four-drawer filing cabinet and $2000 to maintain it each year.” This means that “over its life-span, a single sheet of paper ends up costing an average of $30.”

A recent study examining work habits compared the amount of work that people were being asked to do today to that of ten years ago. 35% of those questioned said that they’re doing the work of two people, and 33% are doing the work of three people.

The study also found that that work is much more complex: 40% of people have between 2 and 5 windows open on their computer at any given time, and 25% have between 6 and 10!

Our American more-is-more business ethic may seem best, but in the end, it only serves to push employees past their limits and create high levels of burnout.

When you implement a good paperless (ECM system), you’ll find that you have much more time to work with. The secret is in how you choose to use that time.

Over the years, I’ve seen companies take three different approaches with this influx of time:

  1. They do nothing and let their employees find ways to fill the time. If their employees are self-motivated and resourceful, they may choose to use that time wisely and do something that increases productivity or quality. But this can also backfire if the time saved is wasted on other unimportant things.
  2. They work with their employees to find other areas in the office where they could become more efficient and thus, more profitable.
  3. They change how tasks are delegated, making sure things are better dispersed and everyone has a greater margin. When things are appropriately delegated, everyone is able to achieve that elusive work-life balance. Additionally, time is freed up for new ideas to grow. Creativity requires space, and those companies that want to be on the cutting-edge of their industries are making time to develop the ideas that will eventually make them more profitable.

In a way, my customer was right: simply purchasing an ECM definitely saves time, but it’s up to you to translate that time into money. Like all other resources, you have to use time wisely to improve other processes within your organization.

Just think of the long-term effect it could have on your organization if an ECM saved each employee one hour a week, and each employee used that time to find ways to save another hour each week. If this refinement process continued, it could transform your organization!


The benefits of an automatic workflow like Laserfiche are innumerable. Here are a few:

  • Management knows exactly what the workflow is and can be confident that the correct business process was followed each and every time.
  • Training of new employees is easier because they don’t have to learn business process rules; instead, they can focus on their part of the process. The Laserfiche workflow takes care of the rest.
  • Management is alerted when certain processes are not completed in a timely manner.
  • It’s easy to see where a file is in the workflow: no more searching the office to figure out who has it!
  • Your organization is less dependent on key employees who know the business processes.
  • The workflow does not stop if an employee is on vacation or leaves the organization.
  • Streamline processes by reducing manual entry, routing, and request handling.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Reduce the risk of improperly approved requests, applications, contracts, hires, etc.
  • Identify and remove process barriers or bottlenecks.
  • Identify performance trends (group and individual) over time.
  • Reduced chance of human error

To go paperles means to use electronic documenst rather than paper documents. This is most often accomplished by implementing an ECM system.  Some people get the mistaken notion that you must eliminate all paper documents from your process.  Paper documents are, admittedly, still important to a business. We are familiar with paper documents. We’re comfortable with them. To eliminate paper documents and do everything electronically would force us to give up what we know. We’d have to change. And for most of us, change is not easy.

If we try to make drastic changes all at once, people will resist and return to what they know.

If you had to guess the hardest thing for records managers to do when implementing an electronic document management system, what would you say?

Perhaps you’d think it’s getting used to the technology, justifying the cost of the system, changing people’s habits, or knowing how to best implement the system.

While these things can sometimes be difficult, I’ve found that the hardest thing for customers is actually getting rid of the paper once the information is in the system.

I think that going paperless is best accomplished as a journey toward going totally paperless.

Think of paperless as less paper, not no paper!

ECM stands for enterprise content management system.

ECM is computer software that is designed to manage an organization’s documents. It replaces filing cabinets. Paper documents are converted to electronic image files. These image files and any other electronic files, such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, audio, and video files are stored and made accessible to the right people at the right time.

ECM systems allow you to create, capture, distribute, review, maintain, store, retrieve, and dispose of information. It also allows you to streamline your business processes and can become a crucial part of your organization’s overall records management strategy.

The goal of an ECM system is to make storing and finding documents easy and efficient. It’s as simple as that.

While ECM system may sound like a new technology, it’s actually been around for a long time. In fact, a Business Weekly article from June 20, 1975 that was titled “The Office of the Future” suggested that a paperless office was not far off.

At the time, several manufacturers had specialized systems that could image paper documents. However, this technology didn’t gain acceptance as quickly as the article predicted.

I think the main reasons for the delay were that disk storage costs were high and that these systems were proprietary (meaning that the hardware, software, and file formats were unique to each different manufacturer).

But in 1987, Laserfiche released the first PC-based document imaging system. This system was based on industry-standard hardware and image file formats, and it started the document imaging/management revolution.

While I like to refer to electronic document management as ECM, people use different language to talk about this technology. Depending on who you’re talking to, you might hear ECM called any of the following names:

  • Paper-less system
  • Content Management System (CMS)
  • Content Service Platform
  • Document Imaging
  • Document Manager (DM)
  • Document Management Software (DMS)
  • Document Management System (DMS)
  • Electronic Document Manager (System) (EDM or EDMS)
  • Enterprise Content Management System (ECMS)
  • Business Process Management System (BPMS)
  • Business Process Management (BPM)

Read about Laserfiche ECM

I have people almost weekly tell me that they cannot go paperless because the State or some other agency requires them to keep paper documents.

I was recently at a CAP trade show where a weatherization director came up to me and said he would love to go paperless, but the State wouldn’t allow it. The same day I had the State weatherization assistance program manager, from the same State, come up to me and say, “I wish all of our CAP’s would go paperless.”

As electronic document management becomes more commonplace, laws have emerged regarding the legality of electronic documents and electronic signatures.

The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, which was adopted in 1999 by the National Conference, stated that electronic documents are to be treated the same as paper documents.  The Act states that any law that requires a physical record will be satisfied by an electronic record and that any signature requirement can be met by an electronic signature.

This Act has been adopted by every state except Illinois, New York, and Washington. But, each of these also has laws recognizing electronic documents and electronic signatures.

E-Sign is a federal law that was passed in 2000 that grants legal recognition to electronic signatures and records if all parties to a contract choose to use electronic documents and to sign them electronically. You can read this law here: https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/compliance/manual/10/x-3.1.pdf

CAPLaw has a good article on this subject. It can be found here:


So, if you are thinking you are required to keep paper, I urge you to talk to your State program manager about going paperless and I think you will be surprised.

Please note that I am not an attorney. Before getting started, consult with an attorney on the specific statutes governing your industry and geographical area.

There are countless benefits to implementing an ECM system, but here are a few major areas where going paper-less will give you more!

  • Increased productivity
  • Find Information Quickly
  • Saving Money
  • Reduce Stress
  • Saving Space
  • Saving Time
  • Improve Customer Service
  • Automating Business Processes With Workflow
  • Keeping Your Information Secure
  • Integration With Other Software Systems
  • Minimize Risk
  • Reduced Storage Costs
  • Business Continuity
  • Reduce Duplicate Data Entry
  • Manage Documents

Community action agencies and non-profits today use a variety of software systems: Abila, empowOR, CAP60, ChildPlus, just to name a few. Each of these systems has some information that overlaps. For example, each one might have important contact information for clients, such as address, demographics, phone numbers, and email addresses.

The problem is that these systems cannot communicate with each other, so they become, essentially, silos of information.

While this is not inherently bad, it can be a big problem if a customer changes their fax number. Instead of making the change once, you have to go into multiple systems to update the information. This duplicate data entry is a big problem for many community action agencies.

This is where ECM comes in. A good ECM has the capability to become the bridge between these silos of information.

If an ECM is designed correctly and has agile functionality, it can be used as the middle man (middle-ware) to pass data from one system to another, making the two systems function as one.

For example, in a Minnesota CAP, the users in the energy assistance department have to enter client information into the State’s system. Rather than re-keying that information in their case management system, they just hit a button, and Laserfiche copies the data off the screen and populates it in their case management system.

Another area where we have used the ECM system to save data entry is accounts payable. We have an organization that scans their invoices and Laserfiche captures the critical data off the page, such as vendor, amount, and date, and then populates the index fields associated with the invoice. The workflow then automatically matches up the PO and packing slip. The invoice is then routed to the appropriate people for approval. When it is approved, the data is automatically entered into Abila MIP, eliminating order entry.

For some agencies, we have made electronic forms that are the central portal of several of the CAP’s software systems. Here is a story about one: https://www.hemingwaysolutions.net/works/douglas-county-cap-electronic-signature/

With a good ECM, a good share of duplicate data entry goes away and so does the chance for additional errors.

CAP Agencies and Non-Profits Use Paperless Technology For?
• Expense reports/travel voucher approval process
• Energy Assistance approval process
• Weatherization approval process
• Head Start student on-boarding process
• HR on-boarding
• Storing employee files
• Storing client files for Head Start, Housing, Weatherization, Energy, Health, Finance, Insurance, Immigration, and all other departments
• Accounts payable approval process
• Grant management
• Electronic forms as the main portal to other software applications

Common Uses of Workflow in a Community Action and Non-Profit

  • Energy assistance approval
  • Weatherization
  • Head Start registration
  • Expense and travel voucher approval
  • Accounts payable approval
  • HR on-boarding
  • PTO requests
  • Purchase requests

More info on workflow

Common uses for electronic forms in community action agencies and non-profits are:

  • Employment applications
  • Head Start student registrations
  • Purchase requisitions
  • EA applications
  • Inspection reports
  • Time off requests
  • Travel and expense reports
  • Maintenance request form
  • Monthly calendar and newsletter report
  • Weekly and monthly child plus report
  • Student trip approval form
  • Weatherization application
  • Weatherization inspections
  • and many more.

Essentially any paper form that your agency uses can be converted to an electronic form.

More info on electronic forms

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