Imaging Frees Floor Space
Even if fast retrieval isn't the issue, trillions of documents still sprawl over millions of square feet of real estate. Find out how VAR MicroMedia uses imaging to help its clients save space, time, and money by not filing anymore.
Is the traditional file cabinet going the way of the buggy whip? Will the imaging industry hit paper file drawers like the automobile industry ran over horse drawn carriages? Well, according to MSNBC, "Despite the rise of electronic documents, file cabinets remain a fixture in most offices." Tom Zeliff, VP of sales for MicroMedia Document
Management Services & Systems (Norwood, MA) agrees. "There's an inherent disposition in people not to want to give up their files. Giving up their files is hard. And considering the cost of scanning, not every document in an organization is a good candidate for it. Documents that don't have to be retrieved very often and need to be kept a long time may not need to be scanned."
Paper Documents Take Up Space
Paper documents take up a lot of space and are vulnerable to physical perils like fire and flood. Are filing cabinet manufacturers worried? Not especially. If documents are quiet and not causing a problem and no one needs to get to them, why bother them? There are plenty of other concerns for companies these days, even though we're over Y2K. Even if there is a mass exodus of documents from their dark, dusty homes, it probably won't result in the downfall of office furniture manufacturers. Most are diversified enough in other types of office equipment and furniture.
"We don't sell technology," said Sandy McGinnes, president of MicroMedia. "We help companies solve paper problems." The company began in 1978 as a traditional microfilm service bureau. Five years ago, it started moving some of its clients into scanning services. Since then, it has evolved into installing in-house imaging systems for customers and even setting up jukeboxes and software for document storage. McGinnes continually updates the services his company provides, from microfilm, to imaging, to storage. "It's uncanny how many of our customers have the same types of problems," he explained. "They're running out of space. Off-site storage costs money."
Corporate Peer Pressure For Fast Information Retrieval
Running along with the need for space is the need for fast retrieval of information. This is a case where peer pressure makes a big difference. The ability to provide quick turnaround of information is essential because more and more companies are doing it well. Digitizing documents makes retrieval possible in seconds rather than minutes or hours. The software doesn't misfile the information or let it pile up on the floor somewhere before putting it back. "Our customers also want many people within their organizations to be able to retrieve information from off-site locations," said McGinnes.
MicroMedia demonstrated the ability to help a business save space and speed retrieval at its recent Ames Department Store installation. The cost of off-site paper storage was eliminated, and clerical expenses were reduced for the Rocky Hill, CT company.
"We scanned all of Ames' previous year's accounts payable records," explained Zeliff. "We scanned 2 million images in 12 weeks. This saved the company a couple of thousand square feet of prime office area that it was using just to store paper. Ames used to keep two year's worth of documents on the floor. We're also scanning the current year's documents on a weekly basis. Now there's no need to file the current work, either."
MicroMedia implemented Digitech's (Lincoln, NE) Papervision.net on the day of the installation. "Thousands of Ames associates were able to put their fingers on any one of millions of pieces of paper in less than 10 seconds using their browser and Papervision.net," said Zeliff. "The accounts payable department uses it the most, but now any one of the store managers can look up invoices. Accounts payable personnel no longer spend most of their time answering inquiries."
Another benefit to digitizing documents is that audits go more smoothly now. Auditors can avoid requesting large volumes of invoices from a year or two back. Employees in the accounts payable department had to drop what they were doing and get documents for the auditors. Audits can take much less time now and be more effective.
Although MicroMedia installs document imaging and storage systems for some customers, a large part of its business involves providing document scanning services. "We'll pick up and deliver documents," said McGinnes. "Our services include document preparation like pulling staples and putting bar codes on documents. We provide OCR (optical character recognition) and bar code reading, manual data entry, CD burning, and in-house scanning."
The services MicroMedia provides can be an alternative to workflow solutions for companies hesitant or unable to handle the cost for such a system. "We can provide a company with a document retrieval solution for 1/10 the cost of a typical workflow system," said Zeliff. "Some of our customers, like Polaroid, CVS, and Ames, looked at workflow. The pricing is scary. They wonder what it will take to reorganize and reload. Some customers, like CVS, enter accounts payable into their system for payment and then send those documents to us for imaging and indexing. We handle them while they are still ‘live.' With our overnight turnaround, the customer can work with the electronic document before it cuts a check. Our imaging service is almost like workflow, without the high cost. It requires minimal support and IT services."
So, are we headed for a paperless society? Experts predicted it 20 years ago, but we're obviously not there yet. With OCR, ICR, IMR, OMR, and new mass storage technologies like SAN, will the paperless society finally emerge?
Is The Paperless Office A Myth?
What do the filing cabinet experts say? Herman Miller, Inc. (Zeeland, MI) designs, manufactures, and sells office systems. According to Mark Schurman, director of corporate communications for the $936.9 million company, "To date, the ‘paperless office' has proven a myth in our industry. Our filing and storage category has enjoyed steady, above industry average growth for many years. As for the future, it's possible there will be a time when people's comfort with electronic storage might begin to impact traditional storage volumes, but we don't see it on the horizon yet." One of MicroMedia's newest clients is Herman Miller's largest reseller, Creative Office Pavilion. "We're scanning all of its customer orders," said Zeliff.
BIFMA International, a business and institutional furniture manufacturer's association, keeps track of such statistics. Its statistical overview, dated 12/16/99, diagrams the annual shipments by product category. The percentage of file cabinets in relation to other types of office furniture, like seating, desks, and tables, has steadily decreased from 16% in 1988 to 12.9% in 1998. So, where Herman Miller, Inc. may not have experienced a decrease in file cabinet sales, the majority of the industry has.
Many VARs have not given up on the possibility of a paperless society yet. Certainly any move toward making digital storage easier, cheaper, and faster for end users will make imaging and storage the right place to be for systems integrators.
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at AnnD@corrypub.com.