81.1 F
San Fernando
Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Pursuing Path of Paperlessness

As Kenny Lund takes his visitor on a tour of Allen Lund Co.’s corporate offices, he seems especially enthusiastic about what is not there. The La Canada transportation logistics and brokerage company took its first steps to creating a paperless environment in October and so far is six or seven file cabinets lighter. If all goes as planned, Lund, the vice president of support operations for the family-owned company, expects that 90 percent of the paperwork at the firm will be eliminated within the next two to three years. Although many companies are moving to reduce the amount of paper they store, Allen Lund Co. is among the few that is hoping to reduce nearly all of its reliance on paper documents. Lund is pleased that the move comes at a time when interest in the environment is high, but there is a more pressing business reason behind the move to a paperless workplace. “We need more access to information faster,” Lund says simply. The company took its first step with its carrier resources department the place where much of the data about the trucking companies it works with is stored for retrieval by a range of different departments. The paperwork is scanned into the computer system, assigned to a file in the system and then the paper documents are destroyed. The next step is to bring its bills of lading online, followed by its 29 sales offices, accounting and human resources department. Lund has been trying to make the move to a paperless office for about five years, but the systems required were costly and reliability was questionable. “It was a $500,000 to $1 million investment,” said Lund. “The disk space, additional servers, training and software were all very expensive and then it didn’t work that well. But software companies have worked on compression technology and computer equipment got faster, so all this stuff converged.” Lund figures that in contrast to the expense five years ago, the cost to make the transition now is more in the neighborhood of $30,000. But cost is not the only deterrent to moving to a paperless workplace. There is the people factor and the anxiety over letting go of familiar processes. But perhaps more important, until very recently, most of the regulatory requirements imposed on businesses meant that companies had to keep hard-copy documents, particularly where contracts and other signed documents were concerned. But largely through the efforts of banks to persuade regulators to accept electronic versions of documents, those requirements are slowly eroding and digitally-stored documents have become acceptable even for many court transactions. The larger issue for many companies these days is access to data. “A lot revolves around litigation,” said Joe Kadlec, vice president and senior partner at Consiliant Technologies LLC, an Irvine-based data storage and management company. “We have an executive of an architectural firm getting sued on a building built 10 years ago. They can’t go back 10 years and find the data electronically because they were using archaic operating systems they don’t have any longer. And searching paper documents, legal companies charge thirty cents to $2 a page just to review the documentation.” For many companies, storing data electronically, even today, can be equally challenging because it is often stored by date or by the name of the document, making it difficult to locate specific information within a document. Newer systems that rely on tiered storage and data classification systems are increasingly reducing the reliance on paperwork. “Electronic discovery and data classification helps people move to paperless because they can search for documents and find them with relative ease, whereas a year and a half ago if they were in a paper environment they would have to go back to physical storage,” said Kadlec. For Lund, immediate retrieval of information is critical. The company operates in a highly competitive environment where minutes can literally make the difference between getting business and losing it. “If you’re shipping and I say I have two qualified trucks that can handle it, and someone says, I have to check the insurance they carry, in one minute you can lose a $3,000 load,” Lund said. The company’s brokers, who are charged with putting shipping companies together with carriers, typically spend two minutes on each phone call, usually handling multiple inquiries at once. Under the old paper system, brokers had to physically retrieve documents like insurance coverage and certifications, delaying their ability to connect a truck with a shipper. If all the information is accessible electronically, the brokers can make that connection almost instantaneously. The company’s competitive edge also depends upon amassing a large inventory of carriers it can call on to service its shipping company clients. Lund, with sales of about $300 million, moves about 150,000 loads a year. “If we only used 100 carriers, that’s easy, but we have over 60,000 in our database,” Lund said. “We added 534 new carriers last month. That’s two file drawers every month.” The savings in rent on the physical storage space alone pays for the cost of the system. So far, the transition has been relatively easy, largely because the carrier resources department, which houses documents such as W-9 forms, emergency information, safety ratings and contracts for truckers, is self-contained and involves a small staff of seven. As the company moves on to include its sales offices and accounting personnel the process will probably get a little more complex, Lund said. The company is upgrading its systems to prepare for the transition but, with so much of the heavy lifting behind him, Lund said he is confident of the plan. “We have the vision now so we know it will work.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles