A Paradigm Shift, The Paperless Office
Martin L. Turnbull
The big question is what is a paradigm shift?
Webster defines paradigm as an example or pattern and the systematic inflection of a verb or noun showing a complete conjugation or declension. The word to conjugate means to pair, couple, to unite chemically so that the original compound is easily broken down into its original components. The word declension from the Latin means to turn aside, to fall away. The word shift means to remove, to exchange the place or position. Now with these definitions out of the way we are ready to examine the expression a paradigm shift as it relates to printing which is a form of communications.
A paradigm shift is the opening of a door which when opened can never be closed. Once this door is opened man, by his very nature, will develop the opportunity in order to survive. The first communications shift began with runners carrying the message, followed by drums, signal mirrors, flags and the Pony Express. The next communications shift began with the telegraph followed by the telephone. Then came motion pictures, television and big computers which eventually began to drive the telegraph, telephone systems and now motion picture production. Next came a new generation of mid sized computers for businesses followed by smaller personal computers for practically everyone. For about twenty years a few companies, government contractors, universities and individuals had been communicating by computer via modem over teleophone land lines. All this communications computing power needed to be connected in some fashion. What system of communications reaches every home, city, state, covers our whole nation and most of the world? The answer is the telephone.
The Internet is part of our telephone system and was developed to create a communications system that could survive a nuclear attack. It was used for years by colleges on the government dole to conduct research for government projects and for government installations to communicate with each other. Now obsolete by new weapons, Ultra Low Frequency broadcast equipment and satellite communications this elaborate and very expensive taxpayer paid for telephone system had to be put to other use. The public was to be allowed access to the Internet. With a new door opened to the public another paradigm shift in communications has begun as whole cultures integrate the Internet into their business and social structures.
What does this mean to the commercial printer? As seen in the definitions of the first paragraph we are seeing the entire spectrum of personal and business communications being broken down and reassembled. Obsolete technology is being exchanged for more cost effective methods of production. Here in Colorado a supply firm in a volatile market opted to publish their parts catalog via the Internet. A savings to them of $12,000 per month. A loss to a printer of $12,000 per month.
Does it spell the beginning of the end of our industry as we know it? Yes, it does. A paradigm change unites chemically so that the original compound is easily broken down into its original components. Once you break a process down and identify the original components, you can reorganize the process and make a new compound. That is what is happening to the printing industry as laser and digital color printers for the office become more cost effective. Take a look at this article published about Sandia National Labs, STEPS TOWARDS THE PAPERLESS OFFICE.
At Sandia Labs, the organization's information backbone has been built on paper. Huge numbers of manuals and publications and updates to those documents were constantly being distributed throughout the organization. One of the reasons we built an internal web is we have so many manuals and newsletters being mailed throughout the company. Our goal is to ultimately stop publishing on paper. By making electronic documents available, our printing and distribution costs will go down significantly. This is not the only thing happening at Sandia because of their internal web which is connected to the Internet. The web has allowed Sandia to accomplish more with fewer employees. So when you put the process back together, it may be good for the bottom line, but many people loose because of the paradigm.
Perhaps this is just an isolated incident? I think not. AT&T published 5000 technical papers a year, every year, now all on line. Much of their in house printing equipment in Denver sits idle. I know about the idle equipment because of my relationship with a firm who offered consulting services to AT&T.
Then there is McDonnell Douglas Streamlining Document Distribution with Netscape bragging how they have reduced their printing requirements by four million pages a year, a small forest of trees. Now the company is evaluating whether to put maintenance manuals on the web. A set of manuals runs 45,000-50,000 pages. Most airlines still use magnetic tape or paper.
LYCROS, one of the Internet's great search engines, tells an exciting yet chilling story about the number of documents being published on the Internet called a document describing the Lycos Web Index. As of 11/30/95 the LYCOS index has catalogued 10,750,000 pages on the web and is growing at 300,000 pages per week. Considering the private Internets of McDonnell Douglas, Sandia Labs, AT&T and others this is just the tip of the Iceberg. My friends, these are not printed documents, they are electronic documents. In many cases these documents represent a reduced production run. AND as the amount of electronic publishing increases, the amount of printed copy will inevitably decrease.
For the modern printer all is not lost. Be sure to read my coming articles A Look At The Future, Surviving The Change of the printing industry as we continue the paradigm communications shift.
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Wednesday, December 06, 1995