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Digital Files Replace Paper

Mark Warfield, associate patent counsel at Johnson & Johnson, has six recommendations for general counsel interested in converting from paper to digital media.

Such programs are most successful when they focus on the goal of increasing efficiency, rather than on how much paper can be eliminated, Warfield says. So the first of his recommendations is: "Drop the paperless office goal."

"I think of the project in terms of how to handle information," Warfield says. "Whether located on a printed page or as bits in computer memory, the goal of the project, for any business, should be to get the information as quickly and efficiently as possible into the hands of the people who need it in order to do their jobs."

Warfield says that goal is sometimes met by converting information on a printed page into some electronic form so that it can be easily stored and retrieved, and other times the information is electronically stored but printed out when needed.

"It all depends on the situation and the needs and structure of the business," he says. "A paperless goal, though, should never dictate how a person uses or interacts with the information. It should be the other way around."

His second recommendation is to map out your process, getting as detailed as you can. "It's a very surprising exercise," he says.

Third, establish the goals you want to meet. "In our situation, we established eight goals that we wanted to meet--all directed at the information," he says. "For example, we set as a goal that we wanted to get incoming documents in front of an attorney within five business days--our then-current process varied anywhere from two to 90 days."

Fourth, stick to those goals and only those goals. "One of the biggest problems as we got going was mission creep. A software vendor would have a new bell or whistle and people would start clamoring for it. Going after everything like that only adds time and cost and it won't help you meet your stated goals," he says.

Fifth, be honest with your staff. "It's easy to overstate how lives will change for the better when new systems are put in place, but acceptance is easier if you say up front what it won't do and why you're not going for that right now," Warfield says.

Sixth, find out how to use the system and train the staff yourself. "Software vendors know their product, but they don't know how you'll want to use it," he adds.

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