These Aren't The Receipts You're Looking For

Star Wars Episode: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, and the Trade Federation has blockaded Neboo in response to the ongoing trade dispute. Negotiations are fraught, the stakes are high, and what with Senator Palpatine's nefarious ways a constant and lurking threat, it's an interplanetary tax law crisis - yet not a single receipt or spreadsheet is waved or crumpled.

Star Trek and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, and this time we chart the rise and fall and rise again of that cocky, charismatic leader of men, James Tiberius Kirk. As a minor in charge of a vehicle he is chased and stopped by traffic police. Later, as a Starfleet Academy cadet, he passes the Kobayashi Maru examination with a perfect score - before being outed as a cheat by the enigmatic examiner, Commander Spock. A year into Kirk's captaincy of the USS Enterprise and he is demoted having contravened the Prime Directive, the stipulated article of one of Star Fleet's most valued guiding principles. Yet, throughout all these administrative scrapes, not once do we see so much as a paperclip.

It would seem that our collective futures (OK, the Naboo incident may have occurred a long, long time ago, but the featured civilisations are more advanced than our own, Ewoks and Wookies notwithstanding) are envisaged in worlds that have long since forgotten any former need for paper or paper-related articles. There are no Post-it notes in Flash Gordon, no photocopiers in Forbidden Planet; even the hairy, cantankerous protagonists of Planet of the Apes seem to have found a way to get along just fine without any visits to the stationary cupboard.

But paperless existences are not the preserve of science fiction films and novels; we too have the opportunity to live paper-free. Smart apps and web-based software for business expenses management entirely negate the need for spreadsheets, while receipts are stored in the cloud (nothing to do with Lando Calrissian).

Elsewhere, cloud-based software for project management and collaboration not only improves internal communications and file sharing, but allows for the smooth integration of remote teams and tools for project auditing. No need for all that durable paper-churning equipment; no need for all those stationary supplies and storage.

The future, it appears, is out there - with plenty of science, perhaps, but not so much of the fiction. With the requisite technology available and accessible, the opportunity to go paperless is both highly real and highly beneficial. But the uptake is not as fast as it might be - while CEOs and finance directors debate the value of the moderate investment required to turn away from manual, paper methods, companies continue to spend on office space that could otherwise be utilised, machinery that would otherwise be obsolete, supplies that would otherwise be redundant.

Time, then, for enterprises to explore strange new possibilities, to seek out new ways of attaining high levels of efficiency and cost-effectiveness, to boldly go where no manual method has gone before.

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