The much-vaunted paper-free office never materialized-the average U.S. cubicle dweller still prints dozens of pages every day. But look outside the office, and you'll find a world where paperless technology has caught up to its promises.
It is 10:30 on a weekday morning at The Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco's Union Square. Mike Yien, who oversees ordering and receiving for the restaurant, sits at his computer and orders 50 boxes of portion bags and day labels from Daydots, a distributor and manufacturer of food-safety supplies.

Yien finds the items he needs, clicks his mouse and the order moves from Daydots' Web site to its computer network in Fort Worth. The network routes it to the factory software, which schedules the labels to be printed later that day. It also sends the order to Daydots' warehouse, where another piece of software makes sure the portion bags are in stock. It notifies an employee where to find the bags in the warehouse and when to get them. Finally, it sends the order to the accounting department, where another piece of software creates an invoice.

In all of this, not one piece of paper was created. No order forms, purchase orders, or job tickets. No one wandering around a warehouse ticking off lists on a clipboard. The factory employee will get the label request off a PC screen at his station, and will scan the bar-coded order into the computer when it's done. The warehouse employee will assemble Yien's order from information on another PC screen. Says Yien, "This is just so much less confusing than filling out a lot of paperwork. It's peace of mind."

Which is Daydots' goal - along with cutting costs, increasing efficiency and productivity, and speeding growth. The paperless business, once the Holy Grail of consultants, analysts, and other assorted prognosticators, may not be just around the corner, and the printer may still be as much a part of the office routine as too-long meetings and coffee pots left on overnight. But real strides in becoming paperless have been made, especially in the less obvious and less glamorous parts of the business world.