A couple a years ago I made my office paperless... What was my secret for reaching this holy grail of digital nirvana??? I moved all my papers into my wife’s office. Now I'm not completely cheating... My goal is still to digitize all my physical papers that I need to work with. But, in order to go completely paperless I really needed a station in my house where paper flowing into the home is turned into bits and when ever I needed a physical printout to leave the house, this station would be able to print the bits.
The reasoning for moving this scanning to a separate workstation in my house (in this case my wife's office) is because no matter how on top of the scanning of incoming paper I try to be, inescapably the stuff stacks up every so often. If you are trying to maintain a paperless office and you do your scanning in the same office that you are trying to remain paperless in, well it won't take long for that concept to altogether break down. Eventually you will find yourself surrounded by paper you intend to scan but never have. You'll fall back to your old practices and the paperless dream is gone. If you scan in everything at a separate office/station rather then the office you work in, then you will be forced to scan in that one piece of paper you need in order to work on it in your normal office. The thought of bringing in that one piece of paper into your perfect paperless world will seem deplorable when it is so easy just to scan and store that single document to work with it in your office. Likewise, it is easier to keep the perfect paperless world intact when backlog of documents that you do not necessarily have time to scan are allowed to stack up safely away from your office.
Now in my case, my wife did not have the same aspirations for a paperless paradise. Also a lot of the incoming mail would end up in a bin next to her desk anyways. So I use her office as my analog port to digitize incoming documents and print outgoing documents. For your own home you may want to do something similar, or maybe you have a common computer that everyone uses in a central location in the home. This would be a great option because then everyone can share the scanner and printer. Another idea you may want to look into is a networked multifunction printer/scanner/copier. Multifunction devices are really powerful now. If you have a particular counter or cubby in your home that you set your mail down on anyways when walk in the house, perhaps there is room in or next to it for a nice multifunction printer. Everyone in the home could print to this printer, or any incoming paper could easily be scanned to the computer in your office from this device. The most important point here is to do the scanning and printing somewhere else than you typically work.
Is this really such a big deal to have a paperless office when the possibility of stacks of paper could exist somewhere else. For some, it probably wouldn't mean anything to them. For myself at least... definitely! Having the primary office where I do a majority of my work on a regular basis completely free of stacks of papers and junk mail, and documents I should have scanned, shredded or filed away is a very great feeling. It cuts the clutter way down (in my office anyways), and since this is where I do most of my creative thinking, concentrating, and work... It just seems to allow me to think more clearly.
Moving on to the hardware I use, my wife's workstation is a Mac. This is nice since the rest of the computers in the house are Linux boxes and since driver support for the scanner and printer I use is nicer for the Mac then it would have been for Linux. The printer is nothing special... An Epson R1800. The scanner however, is very nice and noteworthy. It is a Fujitsu ScanSnap S300M. I love the Scansnap and it is one of the key pieces of technology that make scanning everything in possible. It scans both sides of the document extremely fast and it will take a stack of papers and create a multi page pdf file for you. The newer Scansnaps even have OCR software bundled with the Scansnap software. Regarding the scansnap software packaged with the scanner; it is unbelievable. In the past I have never liked software that was packaged with a scanner or printer. The Scansnap changed that for me. The engineers who put the software together did a wonderful job at making it both reliable and extremely efficient at getting documents scanned and converted into a pdf file. It also supports a couple of other file formats as well.
Regarding the software I use to store and search my documents, I went back and forth on a couple of solutions before finally settling on OpenKM. OpenKM at first seemed a little heavier than I wanted to use. It's a full-scale open source document management system. However I found it simpler to get up and running than I originally expected and it capabilities are pretty impressive. The nicest features that I like are
- it's ability to index open office, pdf, and other formats
- preview open office, pdf and other formats
- a web services api
- tagging and categorizing of documents
- a fairly well designed web interface
So far I am very happy with OpenKM, but I will confess I have not been using it that long. To speed up getting my documents into OpenKM, I have been able to write some simple groovy scripts which upload documents into OpenKM via the webservices api. Once I get the rough edges rounded out of the scripts perhaps I will post them here. In the mean time if anyone needs them sooner, send me an email and I will see what I can do.
For the most part this covers the extent of my paperless office (and my wife's somewhat paperless office). I am sure I still have some more modifications to the process to make before I will be 100 percent happy though. I have a backlog of old archived documents that I would like to get into OpenKM. I have some improvements to the groovy scripts that upload documents into OpenKM that I would like to make. I also hope to get an android based tablet later this year for working with my digital documents. I guess it is not a perfect solution, but this is the furthest I have ever been in my endeavor towards my futuristic paperless universe.