Switching from Paper to Digital – How do you convince the boss?

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This topic contains 18 replies, has 13 voices, and was last updated by  Terrence Hill 5 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #152026

    Steve Ressler
    Keymaster

    Last week, we had a discussion with the GovLoop communications facilitators and one issue that came up was the switch from paper to digital.

    A number of members had mentioned that while they’d like to make the switch from costly print statements, magazines, flyers….that still senior leaders had a strong attachment to the original paper products (plus an argument about the audience-like retirees- not being online).

    If you’ve been in these shoes, how did you convince your boss to move digital?

  • #152062

    Terrence Hill
    Participant

    Everything comes down to a matter of cost. If paper costs more, management should be convinced (eventually) of the efficacy of the paperless approach. I’ve seen this done with paychecks, leave and earnings statement, training requests, leave slips, timesheets, vacancy announcements, newsletters, and even the official personnel folders. All were at one time printed on paper, mailed to employees or maintained in big file rooms. It is a matter of time before all communication methods go virtual.

  • #152060

    Jeff S
    Participant

    Cost is the answer. If you can show that digital version does not cost as much as print the older staff will go along. We finally were able to switch to electronic CFR’s after several years of discussion. Its also easier to find regs in the CFR by searching than reading thru it.

  • #152058

    Dustin Haisler
    Participant

    Sometimes it’s easier to convince management to start small, with something easy- like paperless statements. Use that to prove value of digital documents and let the fun begin!

  • #152056

    Dave Hebert
    Participant

    Cost is certainly primary. And a good follow-up is “How many people can or do get to our paper products in a given time period vs. getting to our web resources and products?” The disparity between those numbers should be pretty big.

  • #152054

    Henry Brown
    Participant

    IMO Two issues at work here.

    Cost:, others have beat that horse bout till it can’t walk anymore….

    “That is the way I have always done it” or if you will resistance to change …

    Much easier to justify change via cost analysis, but much harder to convince people that change is good (in some cases)

  • #152052

    Raymond Clark
    Participant

    In my experience, cost is a smoke screen. Some folks, even the modern hip young crowd, want the paper. Why? Its accessable, tabable, and you can write on it. Yes, you can do this with a bookmarked searchable PDF, but its not as easy. And, folks with severe time contrainsts demand the ease of access paper products provide.

    Real world example: I am responsible for providing the Congress with the Air Force Budget every February. These products are called J-books; large detailed budget justification paper documents. The cost to produce these is enormous for the entire defeense department compared to digitization. I started an initiative to digitize these into a seachable, self-executing PDF files. Here is what I found, irregardless of age: Those who worked with the products on a daily basis wanted the paper copies. Those who only used them for occasional reference preferred the CD version.

    So, even though products such as Adobe Professional have made digitization more accessable, we have yet to solve the immediate and continuous accessability desired by day to dat operations.

    Is there a solution? I open it up for the community to discuss.

  • #152050

    Elliot Volkman
    Participant

    I have been in very different shoes, but based upon what I say next will make it very relevant. Newspapers. While some of you may still enjoy your weekend coffee and the features sections it is very likely that based on the fact that you are reading content on this site that you no longer get the majority of your news from a newspaper.

    A few years back I was the editor for one, it was dedicated to a small community, but there was a massive decline in ad sales and readership. While we had a rather terrible site initially I started to play with certain features that made it more interactive and easier to read. When I showed the data to my boss the answer was quite clear. They wanted to start with digital subscriptions, increase engagement on their content, and move away from paper.

    Granted when it comes to agencies it’s more about ease of accessing information and saving money, but in my case it was about still adapting to the needs of others. If employees and citizens would be better accessing information online, it takes less time to publish, then why not?

    However, I still prefer holding a book when I can, but an e-reader is much easier while commuting or traveling.

  • #152048

    Raymond Clark
    Participant

    Interacting with news on line is very different from accessing daily working files, especially detailed budget or technical documents. I love to get my news from my kinfle fire or Window’s 7 phone because I can see what I want and get to it rather quickly. Finding all the references to the “ADS-B integration into APX-119” is a bit more of a challange electronically. People who work such technical and budget data still like to “touch and feel” it.

    But, Elliot, you’ve go m ethinking. Perhaps I’ve been looking at this wrong. We are taking a paper product people are used to touching and handling and simply turning into a PDF that can be viewed electronically. Maybe the answer is to design an online/electronic version of our budget information from the ground up as an electronic product?

    Has anyone done something like this?

  • #152046

    Elliot Volkman
    Participant

    You are exactly right Raymond! Many times the transition from paper to digital has come in the form of protected repositories with search engines built in. That way when you are going to look for specific information you can access the repositories based on what information was needed. I won’t say which agency it was for, but when we were designing ours we also made it so that people were given access based upon their clearance and need. It worked pretty well, was accessible anywhere with the proper credentials, and you could still print it if needed. I’m sure there are other agency examples of new systems that have been designed specifically for the transfer of paper to electronic/new library of content information storage though.

  • #152044

    Kanika Tolver
    Participant

    Let’s go green and save some trees!

  • #152042

    Peter Sperry
    Participant

    Keep in mind that you may be dealing with leaders and managers who have had painful personal experience of what can happen when hardcopy documents are unavailable. Many in DoD continue to deal with the aftermath of the great St. Louis records fire. Back in the 60s the military records center went up in flames, the physical equivilant of electrons disappearing into the ether. DD-214s burnt, so did pay records, and military birth certificates (my own included), discharge records, retirement records etc. The immediate impact was bad enough but as veterans aged and began to claim benifits based on prior service which could no longer be documented, the problem snowballed. I have known of veterans as recently as 2007 who were trying to retrieve W2s through the IRS in order to document their service in the 50s. However, there are always those who carefully collect and save every paper document they ever recieve. Trust me a veteran walking in with an original copy of a DD-214 issued in 1964 is a whole lot better off than one hoping the IRS scanned his W2.

    We all drink the kool aide regarding electronic record keeping but I still have paper copies in a fire proof lock box of every critical financial document, including monthly pay statements. It systems crash and government records burn. Do you want to walk into an OPM office in 40 years and try to prove your eleigibility for the pension you live on for the rest of your life based on their computer records or your paper documents?

  • #152040

    Tom Scibek
    Participant

    This depends on what you are trying to communicate. There are areas where going to paperless is definately the way to go( and this is coming from a guy who has 30 plus years in the printing industry) in certain instances and that you have enough back up that if one set of servers burn down, get fried, you have backup to retrieve the original. It was hard enough for people to recreate records when they kept paper records, but if all you have is digital and all that gets lost, what can you do? If it is stored on an older server, can you retrieve those records. I am not digitally savy, but I know that I cannot open a windows 95 program with my current software. By the way, paper is getting less expensive, and there are many ways to reduce the production cost of print. Print production prices have been going down, and your printed products should be less expensive today than even one or two years ago.

  • #152038

    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    Here’s one of the problems. Unless one medium can COMPLETELY replace another, there’s little cost reduction, and in fact there’s a tendency for costs to actually go up to convert, and continue both. It’s the same concept as adding channels — social media — without them replacing existing high cost contact points.

    There’s lots of exceptions, of course, and government has made some huge strides in paper reduction and convenience by making forms available and even fillable online (pdf).

    The real payoff comes down the line if and when the paper steps can be completely skipped.

    Think also about digital vs. analog tv. It’s a good example of how transitions are challenging, and don’t immediately produce cost savings if you have to run two different “methods”.

  • #152036

    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    Here’s the thing so many people miss on a number of e-issues, and you come close to hitting it. The MEDIUM changes how people interact with the content of the media. More specifically, eye scan patterns, how people read content, and a lot more are different across different media, and in particular print vs. e-reading. It’s even going to be different from one e-device (let’s say e-ink) and reading on a monitor.

    So, it’s not just an issue of preference, or age, or anything like that. When you change the experience of dealing with the content, you change how people assimilate that content. Even more to this, there’s some evidence that suggests that content served via Internet/Social coupled with the fact some people have stopped reading print, actually changes brain structure for those people, and in negative ways — brain plasticity.

    One unfortunate thing about the technos and thinking about techno solutions, is that where the rubber meets the road is at the nexus point between human and machine, and very few people who push the technology as fixer upper have any clue about human information processing. And of course, that’s why we get such bad e-learning, and a range of bad stuff, that “should” work, that is so long as you pretend human cognition and emotion doesn’t come into play.

    Same for social media. It’s never worked the way so many people think it “should”, because it doesn’t fill the human needs its supposed to fill. It’s kind of obvious.

    Off soapbox.

  • #152034

    Robert Bacal
    Participant

    Waiting with anticipation for the RESULT, sir!!!! So compared to your high point of print circulation, what was your high point with digital subscriptions?

  • #152032

    Raymond Clark
    Participant

    Excellent point! This is really the issue isn’t it? How people interact with the media is key. Definitely something I need to learn more about.

  • #152030

    Justin Kerr-Stevens
    Participant

    Oddly enough – I had to make a case the other way. When the Coalition came to power in the UK there was a moratorium on UK Government printing. This wasn’t so difficult with things like annual reports and we made the transition quite easily. We did have a legislative requirement to remind people of things like breast cancer testing and this was, and continues to be, done through a paper based mechanism. Without a change in the legislation we couldn’t action a digital solution so the paper based pamphlets had to stay.

  • #152028

    Lauren Hersh
    Participant

    While I first had to convice my boss, we then had to convince a board of 15! I began with a cost/benefit analysis- how much we were spending on printing and mailing 85,000 24- page newsletters three times a year. The savings from mail alone could fund other desired projects, and the savings was in keeping with the Governor’s charge to smart and green projects. Since we were already assessed fees every year that covered publication design services from an award winning design team we were hardly using, I presented samples of other newsletters produced by the team. After consulting with our in-house publications layout person who was more than happy to let go of the responsibility, I factored the reduction in staff-hours into the equation. My boss and the board bought into the change, although one or two board members insisted we continue with hard copy mail-out for the first few editions. So far fewer than 2,000 of 85,000 subscribers have opted-in to receive the paper copies.

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