It’s the challenge facing all organizations: What to do with all that paper.

For Federal White Cement, which provides construction and masonry products used in architectural projects across North America, though, the answer is simple.

After all, why implement an expensive document system

when all you need is a scanner?

FWC produces nearly half a million documents a year and the company is required to keep financial records for a number of years to meet Canadian and U.S. audit requirements.

Maintaining such paper volumes put the squeeze on its space, eventually requiring offsite storage. FWC employees would often have to travel 30 minutes to retrieve a needed document, and as a result, there was often a one- or two-day delay in obtaining records.

That’s when FWC decided to digitize all of its documents with the help of the Canon DR-9080C high-volume scanner. The move not only saved its accounting department countless hours searching for documents and significantly cut its audit preparation time, it also ensured safe storage.

“”There is so much paper,”” and the prospect of even more as reporting requirements become more complex, says Tony Lopes, vice-president of finance and administration for FWC.

FWC didn’t have the economies of scale to take advantage of a full-blown document management solution. Microfiche was also considered — a good way to store documents and save space, but it is not digital, Lopes says.

Enter the scanner, and one student who spent an entire summer scanning a year’s worth of accounts payable documents.

All the documents needed were indexed and all the information about that document, including corresponding cheque number, was entered in a database.

According to Lopes, the biggest challenge was removing the staples and coping with the different document sizes. That was more complicated than the scanning itself, but the entire effort proved successful.

Eventually, FWC hopes to rid itself of all paper — not just financial records but any kind of document. Until that day, however, the physical files will be maintained until the company becomes “”more comfortable”” with the system, and that could take a few years, says Lopes.

Eventually, though, FWC will run out of space. It’s not just finance that’s papercrazy — the document storage and special reporting requirements involved in R&D of a new product can also be staggering.

But such investments are very easy to justify, says Lopes. What helps is that all the scanning and preparation of documents can be done by low-priced labour. Lopes uses a summer student to scan all his financial documents.

At the same time, “”the benefits go to the people who are paid the most,”” he says — skilled professionals such as auditors, who had been spending a lot of tme searching for and retrieving documents when they should be doing their auditing work.

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