Why so much paper?

I recently helped my wife (Gloria, a.k.a., “Dr. G”) set up her new mental skills and sports psychology coaching business, Life With No Limits. If you have not yet checked it out I highly recommend it (you can find it on FB here and on WordPress here). I recommend her mental skill and sports psychology coaching even more.

Setting up the business was a simple affair of filling out the correct forms and filing them with the city and county. I printed the forms, filled them out, and took them to the county administrative building and City Hall, waited in line, and paid by check. When I filed my documents with the City I waited for the clerk to enter everything into their system, by hand, because they do not have a scanner. Then she entered the information incorrectly. Why didn’t she print it and ask me to check it?

My first thought was that California does not prioritize creating a business friendly environment and therefore does not make the process of setting up a business simple and convenient. This is, after all, 2012. There is absolutely no reason for this with today’s technology. I can pay my taxes online and buy a car on e-Bay. There is no reason why I should not be able to apply for a fictitious business name, business license, and other items online and pay by credit card, all from my home or office, without the wasted time or inconvenience of going downtown, parking, waiting in line, etc. If nothing else, for the $300 it cost for a business license, I would think they could afford a cheap scanner from Best Buy, but, even then, I find it hard to believe that the City lacks a printer/copier that is also capable of scanning, given that pretty much every commercial printer/copier these days also scanning and networking capability. Granted these were documents filed with the County and City of Sacramento, but I dealt with the same inconveniences with the Secretary of State when I set up the Chico Tri Club. Much like the City and County, I had to print and fill out the documents, mail them, with a check, to the Secretary of State, and then wait for a response by mail. Again, there is no reason this could not have been done online. Paper is annoying. It piles up, it’s wasteful, it cannot be searched with a database, its contents often must be re-typed or re-scanned, and many spreadsheets and tables, critical for presenting, organizing, and analyzing technical information for regulatory agencies, is not formatted for paper. The Anadromous Fishery Restoration Program Grandtab data, which is a compilation of Central Valley salmon escapement, is just one such example. Others, such as the temperature data Fish & Game used to develop its recommendations for temperature for the east side San Joaquin River tributaries run into the hundreds of pages. Nonetheless, if an agency wants paper then it has to be paper.

After thinking about some other agencies and processes, however,  realized that it has less to do with California being anti-business and than with simply being behind the technology curve. A lot of agencies still operate by mail and paper. This may not be a big deal, except when you have 10 days to respond to something that spends 3 or 4 days in the mail, which can happen when something gets mailed on the Friday preceding a 3- day weekend and it does not arrive until Tuesday. In litigation it can also make the logistics of serving multiple parties far more time consuming and complicated. Even fairly simple correspondence filed with public agencies becomes a far bigger production when you have to file a dozen copies and each copy includes 25 or 50 pages of attachments and references. Federal courts, with electronic filing, have made filing and service easy, fast and convenient. Plus, when something is filed or issued from the court you get it right away. No Fed Ex, no couriers, no need for your secretary to drive a giant box to the courthouse, and no waiting for mail. The State Water Board now accepts electronic correspondence and filings and it to has made doing business much easier.

Why are they stuck on paper?  A lot of them just have yet to get are to changing. A lot of agencies and organization are also still supervised by people who have yet to catch up to the technology age. The senior partner at my firm still hand-wrote his memos and letters, which out secretary then typed. The rest of us just typed our drafts. Some people like having something they can hold in their hand, but these days you can get that with an IPad and Google docs. Other agencies just don’t want to pay for photocopies. Unfortunately, it makes for a lot of wasted time, money, and effort for the rest of us… and probably them to.

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