Talking Paperless for Years
For years people have been talking about the paperless office and the wonders such a transition would bring. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been that practical up until recently with more advanced software and hardware to accomplish this in a reasonable fashion without a lot of time being expended and headaches created. However, no one has ever forgotten the benefits that going paperless entailed.
What’s Needed to bring about this Transformation
There are really two things that are needed to bring about a paperless office.
- powerful software that can not only process the reams of paper that might be input but also manage those inputs
- powerful hardware to get the paper into the the software in a timely manner (interpret that as fast)
- basically we’re talking about a good scanner
In this article I’ll talk about the best software I think that is available to accomplish this and the best scanner that though in some ways seems pricey really is not for what it can do. The software product I speak of is DEVONthink Pro Office and the scanner which is a perfect match for DEVONthink is The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 which was just recently released.
Keeping it Simple
For the purposes of this article, I’d like to focus on only the process of going paperless and not concentrate on the power of DEVONthink Pro Office or the Fujitsu scanner except at a relatively high level. In terms of DEVONthink Pro Office I will however, provide you with references to material that will help with understanding this software and its broad capabilities but were I to broach that in this article it would potentially scare you off from really doing something which is very straightforward using the ix500 and DEVONthink Pro Office.
The ix500 provides an interface that natively supports DEVONthink Pro Office and DEVONthink Pro Office has built in support for the Scansnap series of scanners. Granted DEVONthink Pro Office can support a variety of scanners but as we get into this many scanners will only impede you in your efforts to go paperless.
So in essence, the intent is to accomplish one thing but an extremely significant thing and that is to go paperless. What we want to do is get all that paper into digital format not only for efficient storage but efficient management. To do this I’ll outline a complete system that meets our requirements for:
- handling incoming paper or paper that already exists quickly and efficiently
- storing that paper in a searchable digital format so that it can easily be managed and found
- that is you can scan a document in not using what is referred to as Optical Character Recognition software but it is not searchable. What you want then is software that provides OCR functionality and DEVONthink Pro Office provides exactly this.
First I’ll discuss the scanner, its capabilities and most importantly its benefits to you in this undertaking. Then I’ll discuss the software however, as I mentioned, focusing on the software as it accomplishes this one specific goal.
The Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 is an excellent scanner with a great reputation. Of the scanners I’ve used there’s nothing that even compares to it in this price range range ($450-$500). It certainly lives up to one of the primary goals here in the process which is to keep it simple. Yet, this is a fast scanner that comes loaded with software for scanning purposes. It pushes through pages quickly. If you’ve ever fumbled with a flatbed scanner you’ll never go back after using a sheet-feeder such as this. I guarantee you’ll never look back.
Not only does the paper pass through it fast, it processes it fast and in no time you’re being presented with a iconic dialogue asking you where you want to send the scanned documents. Just click DEVONthink and then start feeding in another page or group of pages for scanning. Make sure you give the note your presented with a descriptive name and possibly in the subject line under the header some additional information related to the note/record. You’ll be glad you did when you go to manage or search for your documents.
The powerhouse of course really to deliver a robust paperless environment in a well managed digital system is the software. The software that fills this bill to a tee is DEVONthink Pro Office. To be honest, this is a very powerful software system and it can do a lot. However, just to re-iterate, for the purposes of this article I’m going to keep things very simple. There is a learning curve associated with DEVONthink Pro Office. However, to accomplish what we want to accomplish here is actually very straightforward in conjuction with the ix500. These products, in a way, were actually built for each other.
DEVONthink Pro Office is a very flexible system and at the end of the day this is exactly what you need to bring about a satisfactory solution for going paperless. I’ll elaborate more on this later.
Meets the Requirements for an Effective Software Solution
In the post I did entitled Sync is Where it’s At: The Cloud as Enabler I outlined my requirements for any software solution for the Mac. In a nutshell:
- the software needs to run on both OSX and IOS which enables mobility so in this case your paper based documents can go anywhere you go with your iPad, iPhone or both.
- the software needs to provide sync so that the data can be easily transferred between computers and an iPad or an iphone
- it is preferable that sync is delivered via the cloud so that you can sync regardless of location as long as you have access to the net
DEVONthink Pro Office meets all the requirements but the third requirement is met in a slightly skewed fashion. Sync between computers (OSX) is handled via the cloud and has just been recently introduced. Using Dropbox sync is provided nicely via the cloud and ensures that your computers are all up to date with the same information. Its likely, if you have two or more computers, that you’d connect your ix500 to one computer that is primarily stationary, more than likely a desktop such as an iMac and that would sync your scanned documents to your other computer/s. Sync is of course a two way street and there will be things you’ll do, without a doubt, that will generate sync in the reverse direction but its most likely that you should enable your scanning in one spot for ease of use and efficiency.
Sync to IOS and thus the iPhone and the iPad is handled by what I referred to as the mid ground approach (WIFI) which we are moving beyond now. However, there is much software that uses this and DEVONthink to Go is one of them. The long term goal for DTTG is that it will likely be cloud enabled in the next major release of the product. You’ll find though that the WIFI sync DEVONthink Pro Office provides is very fast.
In a nutshell DEVONthink Pro Office meets all our requirements for software today that runs on the Mac and IOS and will easily provide the powerhouse capabilities needed to enable going paperless. One last thing needs to be pointed out and that is there are three products in the desktop lineup. You need the most advanced version for the paperless office and that’s DEVONthink Pro Office.
Learning More about DEVONthink Pro Office
After first going paperless you’ll want to learn more about DEVONthink Pro Office. I’ll discuss the broader aspects of its use in an article on Workflow. However, its best to stayed focused on what we’re trying to accomplish here rather than get overwhelmed. Once you have gone paperless you’ll want to know more about what you can do with DEVONthink and even in my Workflow article I won’t be talking so much about the buttons that you push to get it to do its thing but rather the solution it brings in a constructive workflow scenario.
To learn more about Paperless and DEVONthink I want to refer you to Joe Kisell’s work on both topics. He’s written a book on each and they’re must reads if you really want to take charge. The first book to read probably is Take Control of Your Paperless Office. However, if you get your paperless office going as fast as I think you will if you decide to follow this approach that I’m laying out to you then instead you might want to start with Joe’s book called Take Control of Getting Started with DEVONthink 2, Second Edition . Although there is plenty of documentation that comes with DEVONthink Pro Office and since its a mature product there’s lots of literature on this software. On the other hand the Take Control books not only shows you how to take advantage of the product but it outlines its structure and how to make good use of it.
Finally, if you want a visual tutorial on DEVONthink Pro Office there are plenty of videos on Youtube and Vimeo however, I like ScreenCastsOnline in depth tutorials. These tutorials are usually done by Don McAllister but the links I’ll provide he had Todd Olthoff Special Guest Screen Caster come in who did the tutorials. See both DEVONthink Pro Office – Part 1 and DEVONthink Pro Office – Part 2 for detailed tutorials on how to use DEVONthink Pro Office. I would really encourage you not to venture there until you have your paperless office going first.
So Let’s Start
So we have our paper that we want to digitize. We have our Mac and we have our ix500 configured and connected to our Mac and ready to go. This is very straightforward so have no angst.
You’ve also got your DEVONthink Pro Office software installed and configured (during installation just install all the optional add-ons as you’ll use them all at some point). Now instead of dealing with your paper the old fashioned way you‘re going to deal with it in a new way. You’re going to scan it into your information or knowledgemanagement system. You can deal with what has to be done on the paper first before you scan it in or after the fact. This is really up to you. However, once scanned into the system its now time to trash the paper that’s been scanned also. So, you will trash that which you have no use for and see no need to scan into your system and you will trash all that you scanned into your system.
The Global Inbox
In DEVONthink Pro Office there is what is referred to as a global inbox and an inbox for each database you have. For our purposes, we are only going to use one database. This one also has an inbox specifically for it. When scanning the paper into DEVONthink Pro Office and naming each set of PDF documents they all will end up in your global inbox. After scanning everything into your global inbox you can deal with them now or later. I would deal with them now and all that’s involved here is dragging and dropping all the records scanned into your global inbox to your local database. They’ll automatically end up in the local databases inbox.
Again, now you can deal with the local inbox now or later. Process the inbox though at least once a day. The idea is to clear the inbox daily and file your scanned documents into what DEVONthink calls groups or I call folders. In DEVONthink you can have a sophisticated hierarchy of folders which is one of the things so nice about this system. If you have the time go ahead and process your inbox. Should you not have the time now, process it at some point during the day. Processing is simply putting our captured information into folders and tagging them for future reference should one desire to or not.
That’s it. You’re done. You’ve bought your ix500, your DEVONthink Pro Office software then installed and configured both ready to scan all that paper into your new document management/information management/knowlege management system. You’ve captured the paper and sorted it for scanning as single documents or groups of documents that make up pages in the file that’s output in PDF format. Paper captured, it then gets scanned into DEVONthink Pro Office as fast as you can manage to do it. You’ll be keeping up with your system if you’ve well managed the paper and the way it gets scanned into the system.
Finally, in the system and off your desk you now have one task left and that’s to process the documents. File them away preferrably when you’ve got the time but do clear out your inbox daily. As a start though, only create the folders and nested folders you need. My suggestion would be to apply tags to your documents for easier searching of these documents.
I want to point out one very nice feature of DEVONthink Pro Office that will really help you with that inbasket. DEVONthink Pro Office has an AI engine that gets more effective over time and learns how you file stuff. Eventually, you can leave it to the AI engine to file your documents based on where other documents of a similar nature are filed. The other very nice thing about DEVONthink Pro Office is that it uses this AI engine to help you find something in all those scanned documents plus other electronic documents that start to pour into the system as you get to know its capabilities. Finding something in DEVONthink is not difficult. Some things take time to figure out how to do but your paperless office isn’t one of them.
A Pat On the Back
Having accomplished all of this and gotten on the road to a cleaner and more organized work environment its time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. You’ll definitely appreciate having your documents stored in DEVONthink. A cleaner workspace and knowing your documents are all stored together in a centralized database that makes retrieval far simpler than the old folder based system should be cause for both celebration and relaxation. No longer will you have to worry about finding x, y or z. Provided they’re in your system they’re findable absolutely. Plus, they’re now portable. Keep them on your iPad and your iPhone and those documents that were never with you when you left the house will always be with you now. To go paperless is a very rewarding experience especially when it isn’t that difficult at all. Relax now in the fact that not only will you be able to easily find your documents you’ll be able to take them with you wherever you go. Now that’s efficiency at its best.