Paperless office? Check the writing on the wall

The GCN Reader Survey is intended to provide data on trends and product preferences. This survey on e-records policies is based on a telephone survey of 100 government readers who on their subscription forms identified themselves as IT or systems managers.

We hear a lot these days about the coming of the paperless office. Sounds good, er, on paper, but is it a realistic goal?

A redoubtable 69 percent of government IT managers in a GCN telephone survey about trends in electronic recordkeeping didn't think so. Only 31 percent agreed that the paperless office is likely to become a reality someday.

'People won't change the way they do business,' said an Air Force system engineer in Dayton, Ohio.

'Old habits are hard to break,' added a Nuclear Regulatory Commission resource management director in Pennsylvania.

Indeed they are. Some 82 percent of managers in the survey print out e-mail messages, Web pages and other e-documents at least some of the time.

'People like hard copy,' said an information systems director for the House of Representatives in Washington. 'It's hard to take a computer into meetings.'

Then there's the generation gap. 'A lot of folks that are a little older aren't that interested in a paperless office,' said a Forest Service assistant director in Washington.

Real hurdles

There are also practical impediments to the paperless office.

'Our agency receives too many documents from people who don't have any electronic capability,' said an IRS IT branch chief in Oakland, Calif.

'It's easier to read and move paper,' said a Navy IT management specialist in Arlington, Va.

'We always need supporting documentation [on paper],' said an Agriculture Department network manager in Beltsville, Md.

The fact that systems crash also is a deterrent.

'Since [computer systems are] not completely trusted yet there is a reluctance to turn completely electronic,' said an IRS computer specialist in Kansas City, Mo.

Although the paperless office might not be a realistic objective'at least for now'agencies are still faced with having to manage a growing number of electronic documents.

'The biggest challenge is the volume of documents we have to manage,' said the IRS IT chief in Oakland.

There are other technical obstacles. For example, developing the 'proper architecture for archiving and retrieval is a challenge,' said a Navy IT manager in Panama City, Fla.

'There's never enough backup,' said an Air Force LAN manager in Omaha, Neb. 'Something always gets lost.'


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