The Paper Trail Isn’t Dead, Yet

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The demise of paper has been predicted for decades. Paper, however, is proving more durable, and important, than many imagined, particularly in the wake of history's largest corporate scandals. The 29 million short tons of printing and writing paper consumed in the U.S. during 2006, in fact, is the same amount consumed in 2000, the News Journal reports.


“In this day and age of disaster recovery, technology is still vital for archived data,” explains Robert Voelk, CEO of Omtool, a document solutions firm based in Andover, Mass. “But paper isn't going away, it's simply being managed more effectively. The ability to harness data in both the physical and electronic form, a mixed mode of sorts, will be vital as the office evolves.”

According to a recent survey by the Opinion Research Corporation, 65 percent of participants reported they could not envision an office or home without paper in five years and 60 percent indicated they would find it more stressful to read a 20-page document on a computer screen than in a hard (printed) copy.

Dr. Gilda Carle, psychotherapist, professor and author, is not surprised.

“People feel more secure when they are dealing with paper as opposed to electronic data. They can touch paper, feel it, and move it where they need it to be. That puts them in control of where there [sic] documents are at all times,” Carle said. “People also feel an attachment to paper because it's a tangible item that they can permanently save in their own private place. Sometimes there is peace of mind in being able to hand a colleague a document rather than worry about whether it will not be received because of spam filters or email delays. Technology is streamlining the way paper is being used, but we're a long way from eliminating it all together. Feeling the security of the tangible is one of our most primitive needs.”

Apparently one of the tangible things more than half of Americans don't need is an individual federal tax return. This year, 53.4 percent of American taxpayers filed electronic tax returns, compared to 3.7 percent in 1990. In addition, more than 12,500 of the largest corporate taxpayers filed their 2005 corporate tax returns electronically. Although large corporate taxpayers, having assets of $50 million or more and filing at least 250 returns, were required to e-file, most of the more than half a million corporate tax returns filed electronically, were filed voluntarily. The electronic filing requirements will be expanded to include tax year 2006 returns of corporations with assets of $10 million or more, that file 250 or more returns a year.

“More than 12,500 of the largest corporations have successfully made the transition from paper to electronic returns,” said Deborah Nolan, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large and Mid-Sized Business Division (LMSB), in a prepared statement regarding e-filing by corporations. “This is a significant milestone in the Service's modernization efforts that will pay dividends for years to come.”

Accounting firms, like Wausau, Wis.-based Wipfli, are following the lead of the IRS and gradually weaning themselves from reams of paper documents.

“We've become paperless on our audit and accounting side and also on our tax side,” Randy Mahoney, partner in charge of Wipfli's Fox Cities office, told the “And we're currently planning to have a firm-wide document management system. We're really trying to cut back on paper.”

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