Paperless trail

Features - Cover Story

Eliminating paper files might scare some, but the switch kept one landscaper in business.

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July 27, 2011
Brian Horn

From the sounds of it, going paperless was a good move for John Newlin and his company, Quality Sprinkling Systems Services. In fact, that’s probably an understatement.

“I’m probably not too far off by saying that’s the reason we’re still in business,” Newlin says.
It’s a bold statement, but with paper work not being turned in on time, and parts not being charged out, going paperless made the company more efficient.

The biggest challenge was convincing himself, the boss, that it was the right thing to do. He finally committed after having to read one too many reports where the handwriting was illegible. Newlin says one of his workers took notes on cardboard. Even though they were detailed, good luck deciphering that back at the office.

“The nature of the beast is, the fellas are hands-on people,” Newlin says. “They don’t like to write.”
Now, everyone has a laptop. The office manager schedules all the work on her computer and everybody synchs daily with her computer and uploads the current jobs. Completed jobs are also downloaded with the parts they’ve used and any other pertinent information, such as assessments that were done on site.

“What this program did was took it to the next level for us as far as being able to capture our production, being able to capture the parts being charged. That was huge,” says Newlin, who uses the software, HindSite.
Jim True, VP of business development for Cabinet NG, a document management software company, says if you are thinking about going paperless, find your pain point and start with that.

Every business has an area where they are dealing with paper that becomes problematic like managing contracts with outside vendors or keeping track of accounts payable and receivable activities.

“Pick the area that’s generating the most heartburn for you because that is going to produce the most benefit immediately for you,” he says.

 True says to then implement it in incremental steps, instead of trying to do it all at once.

“The people we see that are most successful tackle the big problem first ...  and they learn a little bit more about the software and as they implement it in other areas it’s probably a little more streamlined and quicker for them,” he says.

Newlin says one of the most important steps he took was showing employees he believed in making the switch.
“Employees will see it’s a half-hearted effort and they’ll half-heartedly go about it,” Newlin says. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to jump in on it with both feet.”

Newlin says to go completely paperless, you’ll spend about $350 each on the laptops, and the software he uses is $100 a month for two licenses, so if you had six employees, you’d need three licenses. He spends about $50 every two years to have his information backed-up.

Newlin says that the licenses can be cancelled in the off-season.

After making the switch six years ago, he went from having two and a half people doing office work, to only one in the office.

And, while some business owners need an actual paper trail to feel comfortable doing business, Newlin says that isn’t the case with him.  

“When we had the paperwork, we couldn’t find it,” Newlin says. “So, it’s so much more efficient. I can find files.”
True says that going paperless actually is more secure than using paper.

“With a paperless system you’re able to keep track of all of your documents, you’re able to control who has access to them, you’re able to track what users have done with it,” he says.  

True says if you don’t want to delete a specific document, you can buy a retention policy, which makes the document permanent.

And as far as the time it will take to scan your old documents into the computer system, Newlin says it was a gradual process. He held on to most documents for about five years, and anything that wasn’t scanned was later shredded.  

While going paperless can help with efficiencies, True says you can also use it as marketing tool for a landscaping company.

“It’s always a good message when you can make the claim that not only is our landscaping earth-friendly, our entire business is run with the environment in mind,” he says.  

The author is an associate editor with Lawn & Landscape. He can be reached at bhorn@gie.net