Xerox buys ACS, tosses 'paperless office' vision

It's a pretty slow business week when Xerox's $6.4 billion proposed acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services dominates the news.

It's a pretty slow business week when Xerox's $6.4 billion proposed acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services dominates the news.

Xerox, after all, is the U.S. scion of printing and paper copiers. Affiliated Computer Services, or ACS, is an outsourcer that contracts with government entities, health-care companies and insurers on servicing their paper-based claims and billing processes.

Document management-not exactly iPhone-related angst, Twitter valuations or Larry Ellison diatribes.

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But the attention given to both Xerox and ACS and the size of the deal does make one think back to a business buzzword blast from the past: What ever happened to the paperless office, the idea first popularized by Businessweek in a 1975 article titled "The Office of the Future."

It's nearly 2010, and paper and documents and printers and copiers are everywhere. Look around at your office: Got Dead Trees? Sure do. Got High-Tech Four-Color Copiers? You bet.

We're nowhere closer to the paperless office than we are to peace in the Middle East. People may be adding taglines to e-mails saying "Please consider the environment before printing," but that's often as meaningless as "Best regards." A PC that's easily connected to a printer is like a kid in a candy store with his parents' credit card-Print...Print...Print. Yum!

The Xerox-ACS deal confirms that corporate documentation in the form of reams of paper is, unfortunately, here for the long haul. Xerox's main business is selling copiers and printers-which create an onslaught of more paper to manage, a cycle that feeds on itself. (A Businessweek.com article points out that of Xerox's $3.5 billion in annual services revenue, $3.2 billion came from maintaining and managing printers and other office machines.) ACS, despite some turbulent years in the recent past, has become a big player.

Business has, in fact, been pretty good for both companies-ACS in particular, especially as the U.S. federal government "starts spending billions of dollars to help health-care providers create electronic medical records systems," notes a CIO.com article.

The way things are going in today's world-more government regulations, more corporate document-handling practices-the need for tedious document management will certainly (and sadly) stretch into another millennium.

Surely, there have been advances in electronic documents and signatures and routing mechanisms. But that evidently hasn't been enough, when billions of dollars are being spent on a company whose business model is all about managing paper trails.

We're living in a computing era of unprecedented advances and steps forward, and yet today's enterprises and IT departments are saddled with the cumulative weight of tons of paper: One study a couple years ago found that each person in the United States consumed nearly 750 pounds of paper per year. IDC's 2009 Printer and MFP Forecasts research stated that the number of printed pages will total nearly 1.5 trillion this year.

So long paperless office. Happy Trails!

Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.

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Thomas Wailgum

CIO (US)
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