My Paperless Office, 2012

Remember tech month back in 2011?  That was when I took on the challenge of posting about some of your everyday tech challenges, and started using the NeatDesk scanner.

With my NeatDesk, I scan cards, make needed notes, correct any info not scanned properly, keep the image in the pc database, and then sync with outlook and then my iPad so I always have all of my contacts.  I also sync with ACT so I can queue clients and vendors into different schedules and follow up actions.

The NeatDesk scans receipts for export to accounting programs and scans other docs to PDFs for storage.  I’m looking forward to scanning magazine pages for design ideas, industry articles, and maybe even recipes.

My Progress on the Paperless Office

So how much have I gone paperless with?  From left to right in the photo above:

1.  The box of cards has been completely scanned, but I’m still keeping the paper for now.

2. The stack of receipts was scanned, but I haven’t done anything else with them just yet.

3.  The stack of bank deposits in the middle?  I chucked those.  I mean shredded.  You know.

4. The stack of design ideas is still on my desk.

5.  The NAPONEWS issues were recycled.  Really.  I didn’t have time to do more than brief through them when they were published years ago.  I do not have the time to rip them apart and scan them today!

6.  And that little mystery stack next to my phone?  Most of that has been eliminated by turning them into to-dos on my Evernote to do list.  But we’ll see if I ever completely get rid of it.  I know you are smiling about that, but it’s the truth.  😉

My Review of the Neat Scanner

Neat started publicizing an update to their software, which is an integrated part of their scanner, late last year.  I was able to download the version 5 update and am THRILLED with it.  After the software upgrade, we saw about a 600% increase in scanning productivity.  Almost all of my business cards are now entered, which was my original goal for this whole project.  I’ve been able to get the Neat database to sync with Outlook 2010 and feed through to ACT.  This is all important for my business, and makes and future trade shows, conferences, and seminars where I am picking up business cards so much more fruitful.

I’ve been involved in “cloud” computing for decades, first at my former employer, then as a professional organizer constantly answering the question, “When can I take my home/office paperless?”   The hype was always bigger than the capabilities.  Up until this year, I considered all but a few clients who were trying to go paperless just plain reckless.  The input was clunky, the OCR was awful, and backup solutions were usually completely absent.

Neat is starting to solve the first problem, and input is no longer clunky.

The OCR improvement that I saw with the last release is remarkable.  Is it still not perfect, especially when there are tricky fonts and logos involved, but it was really much improved.

Backup, Backup, Backup the Paperless Office

The one piece that is still feeling like the Wild West to me is the backup solution.  Yes, backup is a HUGE part of the paperless office. In fact, just this week there was a discussion amongst professional organizers nationwide about how a cloud backup solution can go wrong.  Many small business and home office users are not technology experts, and I know that not enough of them have a solid backup and recovery solution in place.  I would love for Neat to buy or partner with a backup company to make the backend of home computing a non-issue for clients who really want to rely on a scanning solution. I simply don’t believe that our home PC systems are sturdy enough to hold all of our data.  In fact, I experienced a catastrophic failure three years ago, and a huge risk point just this last year when I upgraded my system.

It’s not a matter of if, but when your computer will crash.  So I recommend on site AND offline backups for homeowners, and off-site, monitored backups for business owners.

There is a lot of chatter about the latest tech, like smartphone apps to snap business card pictures and Evernote’s awesome OCR and storage capabilities.  The smart phone apps let you take pictures of cards and try to do the same thing, but this is pretty sophisticated stuff, and I have a hard time believing the apps are as accurate or robust. I did have a chance to try the CardMunch app this week with a client, and it worked well for light duty (one card at a time) scanning from a smart phone.  Pitted against these free products, it’s tough to justify the price tag for Neat for the casual user.  But for a home office and a home based business user, I believe that the support and commitment to upgrades at Neat justify the cost.  I would love to see Neat address their solution compared to the free apps, and I would LOVE to see tighter integration with Evernote.

Neat Scanner Competition

Neat’s strong competitor is the Fujitsu Scansnap.  Both manufacturers have Mac options.  I don’t own this product, but can report that many of my professional organizer peers have had positive reviews, and especially love the tight integration with Evernote.

This is the first time ever I now feel confident enough about the tools, because they’ve improved that much, to recommend a small business really moving toward paperless records.  Converting to a paperless office is neither painless nor automagic, but it is an improvement over paper piles.

Other cloud applications to watch or use if you are moving to a paperless life:

Google contacts

Google docs

Apple cloud

Is Neat Worth the Real Estate?

I’m right in the middle of an office redesign- for myself this time!  I had to decide whether I was going to give the Neat Desk scanner precious real estate on my desk top.  You’ll see it for yourself in an upcoming post, but I did decide that the Neat Desk gets to stay on my desk, just within arm’s reach.  I’m starting to be very fond of this little gadget.  I may not be paperless, but I’m getting to less paper, for sure.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. moneyhatesme

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve wondered about the quality of those scanners.

    1. HeartWork Organizing

      Yes, that’s the big question. Business cards with flowing or artsy font or crazy watermarks don’t read well at all, so they require quite a bit of editing. Still, the information gets saved in the database just like it would if you entered it by hand into an excel spreadsheet, and you also have a saved image of the card right along side of it. Receipts have the same challenge, as the data doesn’t always read into Neat the way you want it to. But I’m encouraged to see how much better it is getting with each version.

  2. Dejan Antic

    Awesome post Darla.

    Google Docs are a must for a paperless office imo … makes my life so much easier.

    You can back-up your files by using Dropbox. Just move the necessary files into the Dropbox folder and you can access your documents from anywhere. No need to worry if your computer will crash or anything.

    1. HeartWork Organizing

      Thanks for reading. GoogleDocs are valuable, but I hesitate giving absolutely ALL my info to Google. Still, I need to learn to use them more like you have.

      A note on Dropbox, it is an awesome tool to access documents away from home, but not a satisfactory backup tool. The best backup tools will automatically download your data. Anything that requires you to remember to backup is doomed to failure. Also, as a free service, just remember, you get what you pay for with apps. They could be bought or go under at any time. I still recommend a combination of external drives with automation and online backup services.

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