Sunday, May 8, 2016

Make Your Own Paperless Office?

I have been asked this question several times:

"Can I make my own paperless office solution instead of buying one?"

I can see why this question is asked.  If you make one it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.  Fairly understandable reasons for building one that cannot be argued with.

Well the answer to the question is a surprising 'Yes' you can make your own paperless office solution.

First you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL, FileMaker Pro, MS Access, Oracle or SAP.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access and FileMaker Pro standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle and SAP.

Next unless you are up to the task you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC if you want to use a web browser unless the person who does the database work knows html.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.  Plus depending on the type of paperless office you are planning on building, knowing ASP, JAVA, XML and some other languages may prove useful.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database in general and the particular DBMS first.  Plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well, plus the other languages I spoke about but that can be optional as most DBMS’s can create a front end.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering the databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your paper documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.  These become .pdf, .tiff or .jpg files which you can scan into a directory on your computer then where you can now move them into the paperless office solution.

With the pdf files, you can OCR them, that is run an Optical Character Recognition utility on them to make them searchable.

Of course when you create the documents in the first place, as in Word, Excel or any number of programs, they are already in an electronic format so it is a very simple matter to move them into the paperless office.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

But if time is one thing that you are in short supply on, then you might want to look at a cloud provider that can build and host one for you.  There are plenty of advantages of having a hosted paperless office over having one that you build.

First all upgrades and software licensing is the responsibility of the provider as well as backing up the data.  A hosted paperless office is or at least should be available to you via an internet connecting regardless of where you are especially in the event of a major disaster.

If you elect to build your own paperless office, you bear the responsibility of software upgrades, upgrades to the solution, license fees if any, and tech support.  Plus if you build your own most likely you will host it internally.  If so then if your building is destroyed or damaged you just might not be able to gain access to the data.  But you can save money on monthly and setup fees plus you remain in total control over your data.

So can you build your own paperless office? Yes.  Do you want to?  Well that depends on you and your situation.  You just might decide that instead of adding another potential headache to your plate then you just might be better off to go with a hosted solution instead.