Paper will play a key part in every business’s operations for the foreseeable future. That makes it imperative for every business to find ways to ensure that its printing environment is as cost-efficient and sustainable as possible, writes Coenraad Van Heerden, business unit manager for managed print services at enterprise workplace solutions provider, Nashua Kopano.
Digital technology has changed our lives in dramatic ways over the past 25 years, with many processes that were once paper-driven and manual becoming replaced by automated, digitised ways of doing things. Yet decades after the phrase ‘paperless office’ was first introduced, paper and printing still play a significant role in nearly every business’s operations.
The reason for that isn’t just that it’s difficult to change entrenched human behaviour, it’s also because paper has some advantages that digital content can’t easily replicate. Paper is tactile, tangible, and trusted. These advantages mean that it is still the preferred medium for many functions and processes where trust, formality, compliance, and professionalism are key.
This is most obvious when it comes to certain legal and official documents where digital signatures are still not accepted and where physical copies need to be retained for authentication. You cannot yet avoid printing the document and making a ‘wet’ signature when you compile a will or buy and sell immovable property, for example.
Advantages of paper in a digital world
Outside of documents that can’t be replaced with digital versions due to legal and regulatory reasons, printed material offers security and privacy benefits in other contexts. A printed document isn’t susceptible to digital breaches. Provided the correct steps are taken to store it securely, a confidential printed document also can’t be easily copied and distributed.
In an environment of constant load shedding, the fact that paper doesn’t depend on power sources or network connections is another advantage. The printed page can serve as a backup in case of data loss or other digital mishaps. You can also review a paper-based document anytime, anywhere without concerns about battery life or connectivity.
Paper also retains some aesthetic and usability advantages. A colour brochure on glossy paper, for example, has higher perceived value and aesthetic appeal than digital brochureware. Presenting a well-designed document printed on premium stock can convey a sense of professionalism and quality when you’re pitching to a potential client, for example.
Finally, as much as we’ve all become used to working on digital screens, there is evidence that working with paper has a host of cognitive benefits. Many people find that reading from physical paper can enhance comprehension and memory retention compared to reading from screens. It’s also easier on the eyes when reading a longer document.
Printing has changed forever after Covid
All of that said, there’s little doubt that printing has changed dramatically over the past decade, with the Covid-19 crisis in particular causing businesses to hit the fast-forward button on digitisation. Concerns about printing and paper’s environmental footprint are also driving change in how companies use printers and paper.
To remain competitive in this world, we’re seeing organisations look at paper and print within the context of a wider document management environment. All-in-one multifunction peripherals (MFPs) and shared centralised printers are becoming key elements of a digitised workflow, with an emphasis on smarter usage of printing resources and efficient capture of paper documents in digital formats.
While some companies have cut back on general office printing, we are seeing strong demand for certain specialist requirements. Wide format printing for CAD drawings and other technical documents, high-quality colour printing for marketing documents, and direct printing to garments and other materials are just a few examples.
We’re also seeing many companies leverage print management software to gain control over the print environment. These solutions enable companies to reduce costs, increase document security and minimise the environmental impact of printing. They enable companies to track, analyse and allocate the cost of every printed, copied, scanned, faxed, or emailed document.
ESG at the front of mind
In the background, environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) concerns are playing a key role in shaping printing. Leading printing and office automation companies are moving towards helping their customers to digitise paper as well as transform the environmental impact of printing and copying into a trigger for ecological renewal.
Technologies such as low-energy multifunctional printers, recyclable ink packs, high-speed printhead and heat-free inkjet printers are vastly reducing print’s impact on the environment. Meanwhile, there’s widespread acknowledgement that print management initiatives need to move beyond recycling and reducing paper wastage. Investing in reforestation mitigates the impact of print on the environment.
As digital technology continues to evolve, paper’s role is changing, too. But while we’re using less paper, we’re far from becoming truly paperless. This reality underscores the need for companies to strategically align paper and print within broader digital strategies, ensuring they remain competitive and responsive in a rapidly changing world.