Says John Kenerson of ClientLogic, which provides paperless warehouse and fulfillment services, "I don't want to go back to the old days at all. We used to be able to pick 50 units an hour. Now, we can pick 250, and we can do it with more accuracy."

That's more or less the same approach that has paid off for Daydots, a $23 million company that provides food-safety products. The company has made real progress in eliminating paper not just in the warehouse, but throughout the operation. In the call center, where orders are phoned in, there are no paper catalogs to riffle through. They're all online. The only filing cabinet in president and founder Mike Milliorn's office holds brochures from suppliers.

"We've always been early adopters of technology," says Milliorn. "It's one of the biggest reasons for our growth. When we started the business, PCs were just becoming affordable. If we still had to write orders down on three-part carbonless forms, we wouldn't be as successful as we are."

In the old days, a warehouse was a mass of paper. When a package arrived at receiving, a foreman not only signed a receipt and kept a copy, but continued the paper trail by ticking the package off against an invoice (with copies routed to the requisite departments, such as accounts payable, which would then generate their own paper). The package then moved into the warehouse, where someone noted its location on another piece of paper, with copies again routed throughout the business.

When it came time to ship an order, paper pick tickets and customer order forms instructed an employee how many of each item to collect and where those items were stored in the warehouse. Once the items were gathered, the order would be assembled - by matching the various pick tickets to the customer order form - and then sent to the loading dock, where more paper, including a receipt, would be needed to send it on its way.