Shuffling documents costs Canada billions: report

A recent paper written by a professor at Queen’s University suggests that the inability to manage the amount of paper and electronic data that floods companies in Canada is costing organizations $50 billion annually in lost productivity.

Peter Richardson, author of the study, titled Copying with the Crisis in the Office: Canada’s $50 billion Challenge, and professor of strategic management at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., found that both public and private sector executives spend an average of 56 per cent of their time dealing with paper and electronic documents.

Amdong the study’s findings, taken from an executive MBA class that includes a variety of professionals, managerial and executive jobs in both the public and private sector at Queen’s: the percentage of total time spent receiving and reviewing documents was 63 per cent, and 37 per cent for generating documents.

Richardson said the key to overcoming the massive information that companies are hit with on a daily basis is to implement a document management software system.

“Document management could really be apart of the solution. Documents span the entire organization and go beyond IT. Documents are bigger than IT, and it’s because the business processes go right across the organization,” he said.

Initially, Richardson suspected that executives spent somewhere between 20 to 30 per cent of their time dealing with e-mail, voice mail or the paper trail of documents, but was taken aback by his findings.

He argues that despite the proliferation of documents, the ideology behind a document system remains a “black hole” for most organizations.

He justified his stance by recounting how he recently flew to Vancouver, where in a room of about 40 representatives from companies, only one had a position filled for a document officer or manager. And it is not only a private sector problem. He said that post-Sept. 11, The Department of Defence has been bombarded with a plethora of data that is increasingly becoming difficult to control.

Also, Richardson said the $50 billion was a conservative assessment, saying that the true losses in productivity among professional employees in Canada because of the inordinate time spend on documents is probably closer to $100 billion.

While the study was completed independently, Xerox Corp. executives contacted him because they were intrigued by the findings of the study, specifically around the benefits of implementing a document management system. Richardson said he was intrigued by the approach because it took a “metrics” approach in measuring the total cost of document management.

“What’s happening now is that we’re trying to bring this to the attention of people (document management). Peter Richardson actually challenged Xerox and said that (we) were doing what its customers were doing, staying in the easy to measure zone. If you’re only looking at the easy to manage costs, you’ll never really address the issue,” said Cameron Hyde, president of Xerox Canada in Toronto.

He estimated that the cost for a medium-sized company looking to implement a document management system is between $15,000 to $30,000 while a larger enterprise anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000. He estimated that knowledge is doubling approximately every 16 months, most of which can be attributed to the Internet.

Queen’s University can be reached at

Xerox Canada can be reached at