It’s the year 1989, and Microsoft has just released Word for Windows at a price of $500 US dollars. Twenty years later, Microsoft Word remains dominant in the industry, as the most popular word processing application.  However, Word is still currently an offline tool. Two decades of development on Word have created a tool that still shares a lot with its predecessors. With the latest versions of Word, you can’t collaboratively edit documents with people in real-time, and you can’t access you documents from the web. Some of Microsoft’s biggest competitors, including Google, have addressed most of these concerns, introducing onlinedocument management process that are more suited for today’s constantly connected world. However, in this first part of a series of articles defining and exploring the “New Way to Work”, we will look at the current trends driving innovation in online document management software, and dream about what the future has in store for document management.

Present Day:

The demands from business leaders have already pushed document management online. Cheap cloud storage and inexpensive web applications have brought online document management process to the masses. Sophisticated enterprise level software packages also allow for advanced versioning control, security, and large scale data storage. Optical character recognition (OCR) is also playing a bigger and bigger role in document management, as more and more documents are being converted into digital formats. Legal documents, health records, and financial statements, are now being handled and transferred digitally. Innovations in eBooks and eBook readers are generating more demand for digital formats and digital publishing and distribution. However, we are still far from a paperless society.

The Future:

The future of document management process is most certainly paperless. It takes roughly 24 trees to make a ton of printing and writing paper. Only one pallet of paper weighs around a ton. We can only imagine how many trees are cut down each day to supply the world with the paper we currently use. Innovations in electronic document portability will be a major driver that replaces paper. One of the biggest reasons why businesses print documents is to either distribute or modify outside of the office. Paper is also still relatively cheap.

In the not too distant future, everyone will carry an extremely light-weight and cheap document reader that can not only sync and update with all of the documents you need, but also allow you to easily distribute your documents to your coworkers or customers. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on coupons and advertisements, that are printed and mailed to customers, business leaders of the future will tap into mobile ad networks that push relevant coupons to customers at the point of purchase. Book publishers of the future will no longer spend millions of dollars printing paper books. Instead, authors will self-publish direct to customers through digital publishing networks.

Businesses of the future will be more and more de-centralized, with employees scattered around the globe. Their global workforce will demand that all business documents are all online and utilize advanced real-time collaboration and version control.

Advances in online storage security and reliability will encourage people to store all of their documents online. All health records, bank statements, employee records, and legal documents will all be stored online, accessible only by you with your unique access key. Increased collaboration among the leading electronic document storage companies will create universal exchange protocols, making it easy and safe for people and businesses to access and move their documents.

Around the 2nd century CE, Chinese innovators were just starting to use paper to write and share their ideas. Then, in 1844 both Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty and German inventor F.G. Keller had invented the machine and process for pulping wood for the use in paper making, ending the nearly 2000-year use of pulped rags and start a new era for the production of newsprint and eventually all paper out of pulped wood. Entrepreneurs around the globe are no doubt already working on tools that will drive innovation in document management. Will these innovations spark the next major milestone in history, where paper is deemed obsolete? Only time will tell.


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