At the State House in Annapolis, Md., governor’s staff meetings look a lot different than they used to. Instead of referring to stacks of paper and multiple binders, staff members use Apple iPads to retrieve relevant documents and take notes.

What started as a one-man pilot last November with the governor’s chief of staff has grown to include roughly 30 people within Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office who have exchanged their printers for iPads — and that’s just the beginning. The governor’s office plans a second and third phase to spread the idea.

The prognosis so far? Anyone can swap out paper and pens in favor of a tablet and stylus if they really want to.

Paperless Reality

After testing the iPad for about a month, the chief of staff’s office reduced its paper use by 90 to 95 percent, which got staffers thinking that the concept could likely work for everyone else.

But not everyone was sure they wanted to commit to it. “Conceptually I thought going paperless was a great idea,” said John Ratliff, director of policy for O’Malley. “But my hesitations really had to do with the practicality of how it would work out day-to-day.”

Before making the switch, Ratliff said he thought there were many things he and others on the governor’s staff might need to print. “But in practice, I’ve found that I don’t miss those paper copies at all. I didn’t need those paper copies, haven’t needed to use paper copies of anything.”

Ratliff still handwrites notes, he just does so using the Notability app and a stylus on his iPad — and now the notes are available whenever and wherever he wants in a very small piece of technology. “I’ve found that the stylus has become a much more important tool for me than the pen.”

Is It Safe?

The governor’s office has few security concerns related to the iPad pilot — largely due to the fact that users are primarily dealing with nonsensitive documents and emails. In addition, the devices are password protected, and the office is seeking to use a mobile device management technology to enable remote data wipes on lost or stolen devices. Participating staff members have been cautioned that there are potential issues, and they are urged to be extremely careful even after additional security measures are implemented in the future.

Note-taking also is essential for Chief Speechwriter Steve Rabin, who’s been using his iPad for about eight months. Previously, the speechwriting team would go through reams of paper while preparing O’Malley’s speeches — printing a draft, marking it up by hand, making edits to it, and they’d do that as many as 20 times. “Now I use the stylus and do everything electronically,” Rabin said. “This becomes not only a dollar saver, but I’d like to think it’s a resource saver.”

Like Ratliff, Rabin said he was skeptical about giving up paper cold turkey — but he did it. “When something has been a habit for your entire professional life and academic life, and you break it within five months, I would say that’s a pretty big surprise.”

Making the Switch

The plan was spearheaded by Maryland Chief Innovation Officer Bryan Sivak, who left the state in June to become CTO of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For phase one, Sivak and Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff Shaina Hernandez identified staff members who typically would print, and then determined the specifications for the devices they’d need.

“For example, the governor’s new media and communications director, she’s always on the go, filming things, editing video,” Sivak said, “so she needed a device with lots of memory, faster processor, 4G. But for the most part, everybody else could get away with a lower cost and lower memory, no 4G.”

After acquiring the devices, a brief training program was designed and the iPads were distributed to everyone in exchange for their printers, copiers or fax machines — or in some cases, all of them.

At that point, analog documents were converted to digital format to allow for 24/7 access on the iPad, mostly via DropBox, a cloud storage solution that can be used on the Web. Documents are put in the chief of staff’s DropBox folder for sharing across the organization rather than being emailed. Changes, annotations or new documents automatically are distributed to everyone else’s devices.

So far, the governor’s office has spent about $17,000 for the first phase, which includes the equipment and data plans, Sivak said. Once copier leases, paper, toner and other supplies are eliminated, the governor’s office anticipates saving about $50,000 over a three-year period.

The program required no additional funding, since the governor’s office is using budget money earmarked for paper and printing supplies to buy the new equipment.

Making a Business Case

One requirement for the iPad conversion, Hernandez said, is that it had to pencil out economically. “I was tasked with finding out if it made sense and how, and that was the birth of the business case.”

An inventory and cost analysis were done of all things in the office that use paper — fax machines, printers, copiers. As that process continued, Hernandez said, other potential savings presented themselves. “A lot of people who were on the go had air cards, which we were paying for monthly,” she said. “We figured if we were going to give them iPads, then they didn’t need their air cards, so that was something we could build into the business case.”

Because the office rents its copiers, it was spending money for the monthly charge as well as overage charges. “We realized that was a savings above what we were paying every month for the copiers themselves,” Hernandez said, adding that for the printers, the cost benefit was toner and maintenance since the office owns those machines. “We put it all together and calculated how much we were spending, and then put it up against the iPads and the data plans, and who would get what,” she said, “and there was a cost benefit.”

iPad Expansion?

When phase two of the project will begin is unknown — it’s predicated on when the contracts for the rented copiers expire and removal of the remaining copying, printing and faxing devices can be scheduled. Since these items are literally being removed from people’s offices in exchange for the tablets, this is the incentive that’s causing the program to work.

And the concept is moving beyond the governor’s office. During a recent meeting, members of the state Department of Business and Economic Development sat behind stacks of paper while the governor’s staff used iPads. “They said, ‘Hey, we can do that too,’ and asked how we were doing it,” Sivak said. “Many of the folks in that agency already had devices, whether they were personal devices or provided by the agency, so it was a really small step for them to actually move from carting around truckloads of paper to shifting everything to a digital lifestyle, if you will.”

Though going 100 percent paperless isn’t yet feasible — because some things, like the Maryland Legislature’s procedures and proceedings, are required by law to be physically printed — the idea is to expand tablet usage as much as possible. The hope is that the more success the governor’s office can show with the initiative, the faster and more widespread it’ll go.

Implementing such a program is easier than one might think, Sivak said. “There are some cultural reservations that need to be overcome, but they’re relatively easily overcome,” he said. “And I think that the technical side is relatively straightforward as long as there’s a sense of personal responsibility, and you offer some specific instructions to employees as to the best practices and the ways of doing things. I think it’s entirely possible.”

Jessica Mulholland, Web Editor Jessica Mulholland  |  Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland has been a writer and editor for more than 10 years. She was previously the editor of Emergency Management magazine, and she loves that she can incorporate her love of photography into her work as a part of the Government Technology editorial team. Jessica can be reached at jmulholland@govtech.com and @jbronwen on Twitter.