My father owns a small business (www.peelinc.com) that publishes newsletters for Austin and Houston subdivisions which are funded by selling advertising to local businesses.
From 1991 to 2004 their advertising contract system was almost entirely paper-based which is interesting because they were doing all of the set up digitally using Adobe Pagemaker. Their ad reps in Houston would fill out a paper contract, fax it up to the central office to run the credit card, and then Fedex all the contracts up to the central office once a week with any checks they had collected.
In October 2004 I designed an entirely web-based tracking system (a classic LAMP setup for the computer geeks out there) that allows advertising reps to input contracts without any paper shuffling except for the random check. Everyone loves the ability to see live reports of different slices of the data at the click of a mouse from anywhere in the world. The system has grown to support not only contracts, but also quotes, the ads themselves, and advertising leads.
In October 2004 they were doing 12 newsletters in Houston — a number that hadn’t changed much since 1995. A little over a year later they are now publishing 35 newsletters in Houston and Austin and have opened up a sales office in Pflugerville, TX in addition to the existing corporate office in Littlefield, TX (up in the panhandle near Lubbock).
All that to highlight how moving a system from a paper to digital (in this case a web-based) system can significantly increase the usefulness of the data that is otherwise inaccessible. Moving to a digital system has the added benefit of decreasing the dependence upon a physical location which can allow business to expand their operations to other sites.
Of course – my Dad lucked out that he has a computer-geek son who can do the Bit Dance for him (maybe it’s just payback for the college education). As has been pointed out in previous comments, creating the digital infrastructure to support the transition away from paper is not a simple task for your average business owner.
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