A Nation Obsessed With Paper

On a recent visit to Colombo I travelled by public bus and paid the conductor for my ticket but did not get one. I was thinking about the great public transport scam that I was now a party to before I realised that no paper tickets were being issued. The transport corporation had done away with the little stubby tickets and rely on the conductor to control ticketless travel.

As a result Colombo bus stops are not littered with discarded ticket stubs. The conductor’s passenger processing time has become shorter and the number of tasks he needs to do has reduced. Clearly efficiency and cleanliness have been the winners.A mere 60 minute flight away in Bangalore, the Indian obsession with paper tells a different story. I returned to find snail mail from my bank – a two page covering letter on separate sheets of paper asking for a Know Your Customer (KYC) update accompanied by the KYC form stuffed in an envelope. Today I’ll have to manually fill the form, stick photographs, xerox my passport (front and back) and attach it to the form, then trudge to the bank, wait in a queue, submit it and possibly get a paper receipt as confirmation.India has an obsession with paper. Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the qualitative difference in reading a bound book than one on my Kindle. But if I need a recipe in the kitchen I’ll just watch a YouTube video on how to cook the dish on my smartphone or even read the recipe off the screen. My grouse is against the humungous amount of time wasted in moving paper to move information, in the time spent searching for documents, the difficulty of deciphering handwritten comments on paper, the challenge of lost documents …. I could go on. Paper was a breakthrough from the engraved stone tablet but information technology and automation are to paper what paper was to stone tablets.

Our firm develops software that uses information technology to automate and streamline many basic business management processes such as expense management, travel planning and execution, and procurement. Expense management is a perfect example of a business process that takes up time and causes tempers to rise mainly because of the role of paper in the old system of expense management.

Look at a typical expense management event. Kavita, a sales manager at a midsized company has a lunch meeting with a client. She takes a taxi from office to the restaurant and back, picks up the restaurant tab, and pays a tip to the waiter. She has to collect the restaurant receipt, make a mental or physical note of the taxi fare paid and keep the supporting in a safe place so that she can sit down end of week and do her vouchers for the week. Yes, Kavita is a busy manager and this paperwork is a chore. The voucher submission is another form that she has to fill up, often multiple forms so that costs can be booked to specific clients or account heads. And after she submits her vouchers, they are checked for arithmetic accuracy, then an office boy takes the file to the approver who is also a road warrior and likely to be OOO. The saga goes on and on.

Now take a look at the paper-light or streamlined way of travel expense management.


The ease of data capture, speed at which information moves from one node to the next, ability to collate and batch process, and ease of approving, accounting, and reimbursing are a delight to all parties along the expense management chain. They are all happier because they spend less time doing what is currently seen as painful tasks and the company benefits from the time saved in everyone’s workday.

The value of the delight from this enhanced experience is as much emotional as it is rational. It reminds me of the wow I experienced at an Apple store in the Seattle. A store assistant helped me with my queries at the rack with Apple TVs. I said okay I think I’ll buy one and then magic happened. The assistant pulled out a hand held device swiped my credit card which was recognised from an earlier purchase made in India so my billing address and details were already captured with no requirement for data entry. I walked out of the store within seconds with my product in hand and heard a ping as my Blackberry got an email with the invoice as a pdf.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+

About Ila Imani, CEO @Expenzing

Ila has over 25 years of experience in the industry, working in the field of business process and automation enhancement. Prior to founding Nexstep Infotech, she has worked with 3 organizations in the area of system analysis and design. She overlooks the product direction at Expenzing and takes a keen interest in changing technology trends and business requirements of clients. Ila is an IIM-C alumni with a specialization in Systems. She is deeply involved in several social causes, loves to travel and read.