Marathon County Is Going Paperless (But It’ll Be a While Before We Get There)

Written by Brad Karger

Marathon County government, like most of the rest of the world, is firmly in the electronic age. Even so, we could more fully utilize the technology that we have available to us. For example:

If I see one more person create a document electronically, print a hard copy, then scan the document and save it both electronically and in hard copy, I’ll…

Hmmm, wait a minute. I don’t want to give the false impression that I don’t do this on occasion, too.

So, let me say that again…

If I create one more document electronically, print a hard copy, then scan the document and save it both electronically and in hard copy (or if I see another county worker doing that), I think I’ll scream!


At one point, I dreamed of going entirely paperless with the county in one fell swoop. But then I realized that a planned reduction on the reliance of paper documents was a much more attainable goal. Thus, the goal I’ve established for the county is a 10% reduction in the number of print copies every year for 5 years.

This is not going to be easy. I’ve led these types of transitions before, so I know that a solid, well communicated change plan can help facilitate success. Therefore, let me share…

5 Compelling Reasons the County Needs to Reduce Its Reliance on Printed Documents



Electronic documents are instantly and simultaneously available to everyone who needs them. That means fewer handoffs, less time lost in transit, reduced waiting times, and less risk of loss or damage. Going electronic also offers the potential of re-thinking workflows to save even more time, and it improves teamwork because multiple people can work on documents at the same time.

Reason #2 — COST SAVINGS 

Studies have shown that the average office worker potentially generates up to 10,000 sheets of paper at an estimated cost of more than $500 per year. Multiply that by all the people who work in our county-run offices — and then add in the cost of printers, copiers, fax machines, and other devices (plus, all their accompanying toner cartridges!) that can be dramatically reduced. Then add on the cost of filing cabinets and people to maintain the files. Every 12 filing cabinets require 1 full-time employee to maintain them. Now consider that the information in those 12 cabinets can today be stored in a device that fits in the palm of your hand. That’s one (BIG!) reason that the return on investment (ROI) of reducing reliance on paper documents can usually be realized in months.


Employees in paper-intensive organizations, like local government, often spend a significant amount of time looking for documents, and studies have shown that 7% of documents are lost or misfiled. For illustration, compare the ease of a Google search to the chore of visiting a library and looking through their book or periodical collection to find information. That’s the difference electronic processing makes.

Reason #4 — SECURITY 

This might seem an odd benefit to mention, considering the frequency of recent cyberattacks, but electronic documents are more secure than printed ones. For one thing, digital records can be rendered unreadable through encryption. They can also be secured against printing, copying, and sharing. Access controls can specify viewing privileges to a fine level of granularity. Plus, audit trails reveal who accessed what documents and when.


The county is required to store many legal documents for 50 years. Paper files take up space, and we’ve been forced to give up office space to house file cabinets and boxes stuffed full of documents. Reducing our reliance on paper documents will greatly minimize their need for storage space, as a single hard drive, or the Cloud, can store millions of documents.

* * *

I expect plenty of “pushback” with regard to this initiative.

People generally don’t like change, and some have an attachment to paper documents and may not be up to speed with how the technology we already have in place can be used to meet their needs. Additionally, we may need to purchase some iPads so that employees can take their electronic documents with them to home visits or meetings.

But pushback isn’t bad…

Pushback is how we learn and forms the basis for how we improve our ideas. People who push back are not bad people or poor performers. We need them to make things work well. If everyone were an early embracer of new ideas, we would make too many mistakes and poor outcomes would result.

To achieve our goal, we need to listen carefully to people who express legitimate concerns. The county has a strong culture in place, and consistent with our core values, we need to:

  • Put forward our compelling reasons for change
  • Ask for input
  • Get people involved in building transition plans
  • Communicate frequently about the change
  • Be open to making adjustments along the way

I am confident that the goal is right.

The open question is not so much the “What?” but the “How”?

By this time next year, I’ll know a lot more about the benefits — and the barriers — to reducing the county’s reliance on printed documents by 50% in 5 years. I’ll make a note to let you know how we’re doing along the way.

Brad Karger - Marathon County AdministratorBrad Karger

Marathon County Administrator

In his Administrator role, Brad Karger leads an organization with 700+ employees and an annual budget of more than $165 million. Brad has been in leadership positions with Marathon County for the past 30 years. He is known statewide for generating innovative ideas and solutions to problems, openness and transparency, and a commitment to community service that extends well beyond the normal workday.  Email Brad Karger.

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Work files image by Zach K on VisualHunt | CC BY-NC

Colorful Files image by All Those Details on Visualhunt | CC BY-ND

Paper stack image by Myrfa on Pixabay  |  CC BY-CC0 1.0