Visitors to the headquarters of franchisee businesses Green Acres and Hire-a-Hubby may think they have instead walked into the office of a technology startup.There is a living wall right behind the reception area, and colourful chairs and desks dot the open plan office. Staff can be seen working at a PC of their choice, or use their iPad. There are no printers or scanners in site.Today, all transactions with the businesses are digital, and CEO, Logan Sears, believes the group has achieved a \u201cpaperless environment\u201d.Green Acres provides house and commercial cleaning and gardening services, while Hire-a-Hubby provides household maintenance and handyman tasks.\u201cWe want to be portable and current, so we developed software for our franchising system platform with the tablet and personal computer,\u201d he says on the business driver for the move to become a digital company.A question kept popping on his mind: \u201cWhy are we having this paper? If the answer is 'I don\u2019t know', or we did not need it, we started discarding it.\u201cIf we are going to be an organisation that talks about using smart software, and being portable and current, it is a little bit of a contradiction to have an office that is clogged with paper.\u201dSo the group embarked on an 18-month program to \u201cwean themselves off paper\u201d.\u201cWhen we moved to this building that was the catalyst to make the final leap to being paperless,\u201d he explains.\u2018Redesign your business on a blank sheet of paper\u2019: Pointers from GartnerMaking the leapToday, the entire business platform from the initial conversation to purchase through to training and the ongoing communications are all through the franchise businesses' digital platform called Engage, which was developed by Sandfield Information Systems.Basically, it's a process where the customer comes through the website where he\/she is allocated to the franchisee, and can communicate verbally or electronically, through a portal that also sits on Engage.A customer can receive a quote electronically, and once that is accepted, that is also converted electronically into an invoice. The customer can then pay that electronically by credit card or direct banking."We have a customer survey platform, and after a job is completed they immediately survey the customer to make sure the standards of service are where they need to be," Sears says.He says franchise contracts are all signed electronically. \u201cIt just eliminated every roadblock, legally they are binding.\u201dThe guarantee document is the only one the franchisees have to print off, sign and upload to the Engage site.\u201cThe whole transaction from beginning to end is, hopefully, seamless,\u201d he smiles.He says there are some original customers who would prefer paper transactions.\u201cWe still service them the way they want to be serviced,\u201d he says. "But at that ground level, the franchises look after them.\u201dWhen Sears started the shift to the paperless environment, he tried to find local models but found none. When it comes to a hot desk environment, he checked out Vodafone and ASB. These two companies have implemented activity based working, where staff do not have a permanent desk but choose their work area depending on the project they are working on. He says doing this allowed them to see the pros and cons of this office layout."We changed our seating environment to hot desk," says Sears, who himself does not have a fixed workstation.\u201cEverywhere you go there are PCs,\u201d he says. \u201cThere is the ability to sit and work in a comfortable environment.\u201dSears also shifted the phone systems to a complete operating platform that is digital and cloud based.He says the only phone lines at the office are at the reception. \u201cThey are not exactly landlines, they are web-based,\u201d he explains.The frontline staff can answer the phone, while walking around with their iPads, which allow them access to the system as well.\u201cWe have no scanner or printer, so literally there is no ability to have paper,\u201d he says.\u201cWe practice what we preach, and it also gave us an opportunity to talk to our suppliers as well because a lot of the paper is actually generated by other people.\u201cI asked myself, why should I let other companies influence our thinking?\u201d\u201cWe found everyone has made an effort to change their way, it was their choice.\u201dHe says his businesses have a dozen key suppliers, most of them big organisations.\u201cThey have to make some sort of shift to do business with us as well.\u201cCome on board if you want to stay working in our environment,\u201d he says, of the message he relayed to the suppliers.He says he also spoke to the suppliers in a positive manner about the change.\u201cRather than say, 'If you send your paperwork, we cannot work with you', you say: 'As a company this is where we want to go, we would really like it if you will come with us on the journey'.One supplier was not convinced. When Sears informed this supplier that he is discontinuing the contract for the printers, he was told, \u201cPeople tell us that all the time and they always end up using more paper. Good luck with that.\u201d One of the beauties of being in an online environment is the results are instant, you can make sound decisions really quickly. Logan Sears, Green Acres and Hire-a-Hubby\u201cWe find ourselves moving our suppliers, dragging them along with us,\u201d he says.\u201cWe have to find a way to do this because I am not prepared to have other people\u2019s business policies dictate how we run our company," he says.Some of the suppliers are now talking to him on how they can achieve the same transformation. One of their suppliers invited him to talk to its sustainability team about what he is doing.\u201cThe secret is providing the platform that allows them to easily communicate with us, whether it is a customer, a franchisee or a supplier."The Engage platform is designed to have these conversations, he says.\u201cThe end customers are the end driver of this whole process,\u201d he states. \u201cWe look not only at today\u2019s customers but the future.\u201cThe future customers are lot younger than we are, and they are educated in a paperless environment."\u201cSo if we try to look in the future, we see an environment where people want to have a business they can access very easily and very fast.\u201dHe says the mobile and wireless environment also freed up a lot of franchise support people to go out and talk to their franchisees.\u201cWe are in the business of supporting the franchisee and somewhere along the line we can lose our way hiding behind email,\u201d he states.At the same time, having the data from his businesses' digital transactions allows them to improve their services."We explained to our franchisees what we tried to achieve and why.\u201cWe tried to make it exciting,\u201d he says, when talking to the staff and franchisees of the move to paperless and digital systems.\u201cThat changed people\u2019s thinking.\u201dStaff and franchisees knew change was coming and generally embraced it, he states.\u201cWhen you are going paperless, you have to provide the tools to be able to do the job well. Otherwise if you cut something away and not have anything to replace it with, that would be a problem.\u201dCost savings from the move to paperless are estimated to reach $25,000 a year, he states.Sears says they used to spend $12,000 a year just on paper, with the rest spent on photocopier rental and costs.\u201cBut it is far broader than that in terms of the whole group,\u201d he says. \u201cWe have 600 franchisees, as they move gently across, embracing the system completely, then that is quite significant." My day to day job as CEO is managing the people. But really, my job is to look into the future.Each time he is handed a paper docket at the supermarket he just imagines a forest diminishing.\u201cIf you ask yourself why every time you hold a piece of paper you will be amazed at how many times you come to the conclusion there is actually no good reason for it.\u201dThe shift to digital has also impacted the way Sears promotes the businesses. He has shrunk their print advertising costs, and moved these online.\u201cWe do almost no hard collateral anymore,\u201d he says, referring to print brochures. \u201cThat is way more cost effective for the business and more efficient.\u201dThe seven rules for digital business and digital transformation: Ray Wang of Constellation ResearchAnalyse thisAnalytics play a big role in a lot in business decisions, says Sears.\u201cWe don\u2019t make any decisions without measuring,\u201d he says. \u201cOne of the beauties of being in an online environment is the results are instant, you can make sound decisions really quickly.\u201dWhereas with an 0-800 number or print advertisement, it takes at least a month or a year to make a sound decision, he says.\u201cWe can make a decision by the hour on Google App Performance,\u201d he states. \u201cWe basically run those reports live.\u201d\u201cBy shifting all of our brochures from paper to virtual, it has allowed us to communicate with them easier for longer,\u201d he says to both their franchisees and target franchisees.He cites the case of a new franchisee who nearly brought a franchise a year ago but stuck with his job."The only reason he re-engaged with us was because he was on our e-platform. He gets our newsletters, so he watches it with interest," Sears says."A year later, he decides running a franchise was what he wanted to do.\u201cHe never would have done that in the old paper environment, it was impossible.\u201dFrom a recruitment point of view, Sears has learned from the analytics that people actually want their own space to make up their mind.\u201cSo we have taken all our clothes off in terms of information on our website,\u201d he states.He says in the past he and most of his competitors lived on a \u2018you have to tell me that before I can give you that\u2019 approach to would be franchisees.\u201cWe have opened the kimono and if you look [at our website], all our information is public. And it has made a huge difference because people in their own space and in their own time can now make a judgement.\u201dHe says one of the things he learned about trading online was 80 per cent of the decision has been made before the customer contacts the supplier.\u201cThe information to help them make their decision is there,\u201d he states.\u201cWe are very much naked online, and that is working well for us.\u201dHe says a survey reveals there was a perception that they must be taking a margin on the equipment packs the franchisees have to buy as the information about these packs were not there.\u201cIn 25 years of our business, we have not taken a margin on our equipment packs.\u201dBut that was the perception because the whole list of equipment was not online. He says people now can view the whole list of equipment in each pack the franchisees have to buy.Sears says they also also built an \u2018online calculator\u2019 so would be franchisees can \u201cdesign their own businesses\u201d.People interested in becoming a franchisee can put their expectations of their earnings based on how many hours they want to work, and how much it will cost them.\u201cInstead of trying to force people into a business model which says you have to work 40 hours a week, we are stating, \u2018You tell us what you want'.\u201cMy day to day job as CEO is managing the people. But really, my job is to look into the future and that is what we are trying to do," he explains.\u201cIt puts us on the map, this is where we want to be, and we want to be seen as a leader, as representing excellence in business. This gives us an opportunity to do that."Starting a traditionSears says the group had to face the reality of the practice of sending Christmas cards to customers.So at a recent meeting with the Hire-a-Hubby franchisees, he showed the first Christmas card video that will be sent to customers.\u201cThat is our Christmas card,\u201d he announced.\u201cSee,\u201d says Sears, smiling, \u201cthere is a solution even for the smallest piece of paper.\u201dSend news tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinapFollow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nzSign up for CIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.Join us on Facebook.