Monday, March 30, 2009

50% of the worlds information still lives on paper: IBM's pragmatic solution "No Paper Weight"

Today I listened to an IBM presentation by Craig Rhinehart, Director Product Strategy, Compliance & Discovery and to say it was a bit of an awakening is a bit of an understatement.

The subject of the presentation was IBM’s “No Paper Weight” assessment service designed to help organizations who are still printing and using paper based information, (guess that is most of us) manage the challenge of using, transporting and storing large amounts of paper.

Did you know that;

  • 50% of the world’s information still lives on paper

  • that the volume of paper is increasing by 20% per year

  • that paper currently occupies 30% to 40% of landfill space

  • that storing paper in a warehouse is a $52B industry

With our fascination of storing and managing digitally formatted data I think we (at least I) may have forgotten about the somewhat large elephant on the table, paper based enterprise data.

The significance of the paper problem was highlighted by the results of a recent electronic discovery project IBM conducted for the DuPont Company. When the legal discovery results of nine cases were analyzed it was discovered that of the 75.45M pages of information that were reviewed 37.7M were found to contain data that had past its obligatory retention period. The failure to adhere to the corporate retention policies resulted in an unnecessary review cost of $11.96M, and a potential liability that could have created more impactful and unfortunate consequences.

Another factoid presented was that three multinational companies they had talked with had, as a common practice, the printing of email which was eventually scanned back into their archive system along with the manual input of the descriptive metadata! Mindboggling!! If 90% of information is born digital (email) why can’t it just stay that way?

Next week I will be presenting at SNW on the subject of holistic approaches to green storage. How appropriate to have such a discussion on the most of traditional storage mediums, paper.

Borrowing from Craig's presentation here are some final thoughts on how to make paper smarter …

1. Convert to digital format and extract paper based information as early as possible in the business cycle. Information is not just a valuable commodity for the litigator; it is a valuable business commodity. By converting the information analytics can be applied and who knows what advantage can be gained.

2. Stop unnecessary printing of information that is born digitally. How many times do you go into meeting and there are 50 copies of a 50 page presentation neatly bound and unlikely to be ever read.

3. Track your information, retain only for as long as necessary then destroy. With paper based data, be green and recycle!

4. Data has value. The wealth of paper based data within an enterprise should be analyzed and leveraged for business advantage. Remember however, data also carries a liability and should be destroyed appropriately and early.


SandyB said...

It is a good reminder to think about all this paper. Well written summary.

josepph martins said...


It is an important issue, but one we must consider carefully.

Rest assured corporate librarians and paper handlers have always been aware of the problem. This is only news to the digital crowd. Most modern information management solutions are well equipped to address new content. That is to say, content created after the implementation of the solution. However, many of these systems still fall short when it comes to ingesting and leveraging existing content - physical and digital.

As an aside, I would argue that we definitely do not want to migrate everything to digital form. While paper documentation has its own challenges and costs, migrating everything to electronic form is one too many steps toward a world where our only proof of existence lives as bits and bytes on storage media.

Already we have seen what can happen, in the world of finance, when tangible assets are replaced by virtually intangible
bits and bytes. Risk and abuse skyrockets.

I have not yet viewed Craig's presentation so I will limit my comments to the points in your post, and number them to match yours.

1. The ability to query and view electronic assets is probably one of the greatest time savers of the digital age. We now have the ability to find needles in haystacks. So I agree with Craig that upstream digital conversion is valuable. However, I would caution against believing we can then discard the physical documentation. Thankfully the original Constitution and Declaration of Independence are still on paper.

2. I have to agree that we often print digitally-born documents. But much of it is a product of our environment. Try sending required copies in triplicate for court proceedings, for example. Unacceptable...and I would argue, for good reason. Try reading a proposal or presentation during a flight if you're not one of those fortunate enough to be equipped with a laptop, PDA, Kindle or other document viewer. I was selling a "paperless classroom" to the military in the mid 90s...ask the military how that worked out for their trainees trying to view large blueprints and diagrams of friendly and enemy weaponry.

3. This one is largely political in my opinion. I can guarantee you that IT whines a lot louder than the corporate librarian. It's no surprise who draws the short straw for budget. This despite the fact that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pages of paper documentation continue to exist in the enterprise. This despite the fact that it's growing by 20% annually. If companies are worried about the risk buried in mountains of paper documents, they certainly aren't showing their concern in their annual budgets. Ask the information managers and librarians why they have such limited resources for such an enormous responsibility. Forget terabytes per storage about several tons of physical documents (or more) per information manager without the luxury of compute power at their disposal?

4. Last but not least, the value of information. Much of the value of information isn't intrinsic to it. It's about the people using the information. I wrote about the outcome-based value of information a few months back ( All this to say that digitizing and electronically managing information is a great idea, but companies must not overlook the employees who give information its value.

My two cents.

Craig Rhinehart said...

Bill is correct to point out these things out. having a deep understanding of No Paper Weight, I an assure Bill and others that we address these issues and many others when we work with customers to understand and address the paper problem. Paper management isn't a new thing of course, but what customers are telling us the value of this initiative is:

1) Convert and extract paper based information as early as possible in the business process to enable process optimization and elminate paper handing
2) Stop unnecessary printing of born digital information and preventing the proliferation of paper to reduce costs and risks ... this of course is a very "green" to do as well
3) Track and retain paper only for as long as necessary throughout the records and legal lifecycle ... then destoy and recycle
4) Analyze and leverage paper based information and process data and to gain new operational visibility

The cost removal aspect of No Paper Weight is compelling and most customers care a great deal about that these days.