For quite a few years some people have been making announces of the "paperless era", with its more visible form of the "paperless office", as something no one should be indifferent.
However, and opposed to the surge of an immense number of machines allegedly suitable for this purpose, people have not been throwing away paper as it could be expected.
The reasons can be found in probably more than one source, but among the most important ones are certainly the lack of confidence of people in technology and the absence of tradition in co-operative work methods. But do we really want to get rid of paper, and perhaps more important, can we afford it?
The answer is not straightforward, but we may state that in terms of society we need a "less paper" era if we can not have a "paper less" one, if not by other reasons, at least for ecological reasons. In terms of organisations it is "cost" the more considered word, but this has not lead to improvement in diminishing the amount of paper produced. The keywords may be "the business processes", and this can be a turning point in the way paper documents, and specially corporate documents, are handled.
Recent developments in information technology brought more user friendliness to information systems, together with more reliable and less expensive hardware. Also, information systems have evolved from "islands of software" to more collaborative systems that may be shared among people over a network, preserving their specific needs, but achieving better corporate performance and preparation to organisational change.
With the present paper we have tried to clarify some concepts, highlight some problems and trends, as well as presenting the steps of a methodology, on a new approach to how to handle paper documents in the organisation. The focus, in some of the examples, is made to the particular case of the oil and gas industry.
The concept of an Electronic Document Management System, in a wide definition, is a system composed of an integrated set of software programs and hardware products arranged in such a way that the storage, indexing, retrieval, circulation and safe back-up of records matches a certain organisation, achieved through defined procedures. These procedures state in what way a Document is classified, by whom, when and in what circumstances it becomes unuseful, so that the whole system can work in harmony. Such a system normally, but not always, uses imaging in order to convert paper or paper-like documents into electronic format.
This definition helps to distinguish two other major important concepts : a Document Management System, and a Document Imaging System.
In fact these two concepts are related to the first one, in the sense that a Document Management System typically combines a hierarchical organisation of codes to classify documents, in their turn to be stored on folders, and normally has procedures ruling the whole filing system. This organisation may or may not be supported by electronic devices and respective formats. Moreover it may have electronic formats and paper formats combined in a fashion that allows any company to have a common classification of documents, regardless of the media in which they are stored, but provided computer software is in control of the overall system.
The concept of a Document Imaging System is a less broader one, in the sense that it only relies on paper Documents converted to images through special devices called "scanners". It is possible to have such a system without any special previous organisation effort, which may be a good solution for small and well delimited departments.
This concept can also mislead to the idea of the Imaging System as the nucleus of the all automation process, which in the limit could be confused with photocopiers, micrographic systems or photo, imaging devices employing photographic technologies for reference purposes.