The paperless office is the classic example of something that hasn't yet occurred despite being just around the corner for decades. But by combining it with search capabilities, PaperlessUSA says it is making progress toward this ever-elusive goal.

"My focus was not on building a software application, but on giving users a path to find information to make the task easier and quicker, while creating a profitable business," says Paul Stansen, CEO of PaperlessUSA (PUSA). While an estimated 9 trillion pages a year are confined to computer screens, the number of printed pages stands at around 2.8 trillion worldwide -- and believe it or not, that number is growing. Behavioral research conducted for the printer manufacturer Xerox found that office workers discard 45% of everything they print on most days, a waste stream that is equal to more than a trillion pieces of paper every year. The most popular 'one-time use' examples are daily assignments, drafts and emails. Others include cover sheets, e-tickets for flights, and directions printed in lieu of maps.

The printing company estimates that 351 items contribute to an organization's total printing costs. Despite efforts to go paperless, the amount of information printed is doubling every 3.5 years. An average office generates two pounds of waste paper daily. And the average American corporation or government organization has roughly one output device (printer, copier, scanner, fax) for every 2.5 employees. Also, printers consume a lot of electrical power, including phantom power when devices are in standby mode. An organization that reduces two-thirds of its supply of output devices could use up to 50% less power.

In 1999, as a real-estate attorney in a paper-intensive profession, Stansen decided not to waste vast amounts of paper by printing out documents. Instead, he made a concerted effort to use less paper and minimize his interaction with printed documents. Not only that, Stansen wanted a software solution that would let him retrieve precise data instantly. He searched the commercial market but no solution he found was specific to his kind of work. What's more, the few solutions he did find were hard to adapt to his needs and were complex to manage. So Stansen decided to write the application himself.

"I did it myself. Computer people think like computer people. What I need is a system that is basically a useful application, whether working with an accountant, a CEO, a businessman, a CTO, a government agency or a law firm. The reality is the same: an organization is an organization," he asserts.

Without knowing anything about computer programming, Stansen just sat down at a PC and began designing his application. "I tried to keep it simple. It took me about three to five months because it is a combination of what you want and how to organize and put it in a user-friendly environment on the Internet," Stansen explains. Today, more than a decade later, he is still upgrading the platform, based mainly on the PDF document format.

PUSA implements proprietary methodologies to image and integrate client data in one browser format. Documents co-exist with photographs, video and audio files, so that users can source all relevant information quickly and easily.

More powerful use of digital data is enabled because his system can search images for target text-words and phrases. PUSA transforms scanned documents that can be searched without loss of original-quality visual integrity.

"We can maximize a reader's ability to find a needle in a haystack when faced with thousands of pages, or whenever specific information is needed quickly. Text can be highlighted, searched, even extracted from the image and pasted into preferred word-processing software for new uses. Imagine the power of searching multiple documents containing thousands of pages with the same search parameters; imagine, too, audible read-back functionality," Stantsen notes.

PUSA's customers can receive a DVD or can look for the information on the company's website. In addition, PUSA implements security measures to assure that readership and data use is controlled. PaperlessUSA can limit access to all Adobe PDF files by assigning passwords and restricting features such as printing and editing.

James Daloisio, an attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office (Major Fraud Division, Real Estate Fraud Section) said the search function has saved "untold hours of searching for a document with a particular name, address or phone number on it."

Southern California Edison, meanwhile, employs the program on Rule 20A construction bidding projects. Before PaperlessUSA, each project consisted of stacks and stacks of documents and photos that were reproduced up to twenty times through distribution to qualified subcontractor bidders.