Many - perhaps a majority - of warehouse, distribution, and fulfillment operations are now mostly paperless. Daydots' process is far from the most sophisticated; Office Depot can track deliveries from manufacturer to customer, and the only paper is the cardboard carton in the back of the delivery truck. Meanwhile, a growing number of government agencies are moving toward paperless offices to cut costs and increase privacy protection.

As is usually the case, the reality of the paperless business is somewhere between the lavish expectations of the past and the sometimes bitter reactions to those failed expectations.

"It's very obvious that it's more efficient to handle information electronically versus on paper, but that doesn't mean everyone can do or wants to do it," says Adam J. Fein, PhD, president of Pembroke Consulting, and the author of Facing the Forces of Change: Future Scenarios for Wholesale Distribution. "The difference is that it's easier to get rid of paper in simple, repeatable processes, like in a warehouse, than in an office. There, the work is usually unstructured and more creative. But where there is routine, like in finance, companies have been able to get rid of some of the paper."

In the mid-1990s, shortly after the first surge of interest in the Internet and e-mail, the next logical step seemed to be what the pundits called the paperless office. No more standing over a copy machine. No more manila, interdepartmental mail envelopes. No more sorting purchase orders into color-coded piles. These advances in technology would make paper superfluous, allowing everyone in an office to communicate with one another electronically, saving time and money and making the business world infinitely more efficient.