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Knowledge management: naturally green

"Going green" has become a topic of increased attention lately, but it’s nothing new to knowledge management. By its nature, knowledge management promotes efficiency and optimal use of resources, which often reduces the amount of energy required to achieve a given goal. What has changed is the heightened awareness of those benefits. That awareness is creating new interest in KM solutions that can improve business performance while reducing environmental effects. Knowledge management also plays a role in the software tools that help companies improve their energy management, embedding expertise in algorithms to optimize use of office equipment and energy in buildings.

Many knowledge management solutions, including records management (RM) and enterprise content management (ECM), reduce the use of paper. In addition, online collaboration and online meeting solutions can greatly cut down on the need for travel to meetings. Although reducing the carbon footprint of IT centers is also important, transportation accounts for 33 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. That contrasts to just 2 percent accounted for by information and communication technology, according to figures from Gartner, so savings in travel has a larger potential impact on the environment.

In the past, larger companies were well positioned to make use of knowledge management solutions that transformed paper-based information into digital information because they could justify and afford the investment. Now, the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market has more choices, with the lower entry costs for software as a service (SaaS) products, for example. In the last decade, digital storage of information has also become the norm, and SMBs are seeing it as the default option. Savings accrue both in paper and mailing costs, and in time.

DocuShare from Xerox is an ECM software product that is attractive to SMBs and larger companies alike because of its moderate cost and ease of use.

"DocuShare stores and categorizes electronic content into different collections, essentially replacing the paper-based file cabinet," says Melinda Stoker, director of marketing communications for the DocuShare division at Xerox. "It has robust functionality, ranks high in usability, scales well and enables organizations to automate business processes so paper is no longer required."

DocuShare makes information available via a secure Web-based interface so that users can access it no matter where they are. Savings from the conversion to electronic documents can be considerable, even for relatively small companies.

"We have one customer in the insurance services business that is saving $8,000 to $10,000 a month in paper and toner after switching to DocuShare," says Stoker, "and the company has about 50 employees." Service has also improved because customer claims can be accessed immediately.

Electronic invoices cut costs, not trees

Invoices are another document type that is continuing to undergo digital conversion. OB10 provides a service that processes invoices for large corporations such as Apple. "Processing paper is slow and expensive," says Peter Watson, senior VP of sales and marketing for OB10. "We can enroll suppliers and submit their invoices electronically to our customers."

Watson cites two reasons why companies may not be submitting invoices electronically directly to their customers. "In some cases, they simply have not been asked to," he explains, "so they continued with their legacy process. But more importantly, their system may not be compatible with that of their customer, so they continued to mail paper invoices."

OB10 can receive electronic invoices in any format and send them on in the format desired by the recipient. For any company that cannot produce an electronic invoice, OB10 will scan a paper invoice. In addition to expediting the invoicing process through that conversion, OB10 also validates the invoices to make sure they are complete; if they are not, they are sent back to the supplier.

A comparable service is available for accounts payable. "OB10 matches a purchase order against an invoice, which then goes directly into the ERP [enterprise resource planning] for payment," Watson says.

Using statistics from conservation experts, OB10 calculates that in 2007, its electronic invoicing system saved more than 1,000 trees. In addition, the impact of paper savings ripples through other elements, such as oil and gas for transportation, electricity, air pollutants and landfill space that were not factors. OB10 cites estimates that production of paper invoices uses enough electricity annually to power 20 million homes, and that they would take up as much space as 10 football fields stacked 100 feet deep. Not to mention the storage space before they get to the landfill.

For the record

Storage costs can accrue for both paper and electronic files, but effective RM helps reduce both. "The average electronic document data is stored 12 times," says Patrick Eitenbichler, director of product marketing for information management software and solutions at Hewlett-Packard (HP). "By the time you have a production copy, remote replication, snapshots, disk and tape-based backup, and other copies, storage can add up. Therefore it’s important to proactively manage and delete documents that are at the end of their life cycle."

HP purchased Tower Software, which developed the TRIM records management software product, to augment its e-discovery and compliance solutions. HP TRIM Software manages both paper and digital records. (It also includes document management, Web content management, document-centric collaboration and other components.)

"Documents in paper format can either be back-scanned or left as is, and only scanned if they are requested," Eitenbichler says, "an approach that can aid in the transition to digital without unnecessary processing. The retention schedule will be implemented regardless of the form in which the document exists at the time."

During the time that the document is retained, storage requirements can be reduced via deduplication by having only one physical copy of the production document, with pointers from virtual repositories.

Options for audits

Some companies may wonder how to get started in the process of greening their business. Numerous tools are available that provide audits with varying degrees of sophistication. Xerox has developed the Sustainability Calculator, an interactive tool that assesses the impact of a company’s existing office equipment on the environment.

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