Self Control

Self Control

By Stuart Finlayson

The availability of low-cost enterprise-class multi function devices (MFDs) with the capability of digitising paper records and other documents is resulting in organisations across Australia take charge of their own document management needs on an unprecedented scale. Stuart Finlayson highlights a few examples of organisations that have seized the opportunity to digitise their information, saving time, resources and dollars into the bargain.

An ancient mystic once said "The intelligent want self-control; children want candy." Now while that wise sage may have been referring to self-control of a personal nature, rather than in the business sense, to imagine for a moment that the mystic was referring to the business world, IT managers in Australia must be a pretty intelligent lot at present, with barely a sweet tooth among them, as those same decision makers are capitalising on the great advances in-and tumbling prices of-digital enterprise document processing technology to take control of their document processing needs.

Another enlightened individual in the more recent past once pointed out that "It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilised."

Worrying was a form of expression with which Dawne Clark, business services manager at Rockdale City Council, was only too familiar with until recently.

Situated 12km from Sydney's CBD, Rockdale Council provides works and services to the area's 93,000 residents, who live on the shores of historic Botany Bay.

Rockdale Council also cares for the area's civic records, a large stockpile of documents dating back to the early 19th century. This was causing a real headache for Clark, who could see the task of handling so much paper was interfering with the council's ability to carry out day-to-day operations.

"We'd reached the stage where we had more than 40,000 paper-based files spread across five different sites around Sydney," recalls Clark. "We needed to reduce our storage bill, which we estimated would continue to grow at the rate of $10,000 annually."

Using an outdated legacy system to locate files stored offsite was also affecting productivity, leading to end-user frustration and staff maintaining stand-alone systems. "Finding a better storage solution was just one of our concerns with so many of our hard-to-access records also being our working documents. Lost, incomplete or incorrectly filed documents made life even harder. Accessing the right paperwork from storage could take hours or days, and documents often came back to us damaged." A less than ideal scenario, remembers Clark.

The council also needed to store and manage documents more efficiently to comply with the State Records and Freedom of Information acts. With the support and encouragement of general manager Chris Watson, who was keen to access information vital to running his organisation quickly, Clark began searching for an IT provider with the skills to bring the council's document management practices into the digital age.

"A small vendor introduced us to the idea of customising access to online information in a way that reflects an organisation's thinking. While we loved this concept, we also wanted our project to be managed by an established provider with a proven methodology for delivering secure, flexible systems," reasons Clark, which is where Fuji Xerox came into play.

Working closely with council staff, Fuji Xerox Global Services drew up an action plan that would see the council's collection of more than 1.5 million paper-based records converted into electronic files within two years.

"Fuji Xerox has developed a robust imaging solution specific to our administration needs that allows us to create a digital archive for integration with the Lotus Notes application we're building," says Clark.

To manage document conversion at council headquarters, Fuji Xerox installed sophisticated imaging software and hardware capable of high-volume workloads. Most of the council's archives are being processed at a Fuji Xerox imaging centre, with the electronic files brought back to council headquarters on a portable digital hard-drive.

"Since the project began in December 2003, we've met our target of converting 1000 files a month," beams Clark.

Before processing begins, council staff prepare each file by culling superfluous information and tagging it with a barcode for identification. Documents are scanned in colour using zone-based optical character recognition (OCR) technology and then automatically indexed and categorised in one of seven sub-directories, consisting of plans, certificates, application forms, general correspondence, development determination, and notification and assessment documents. To optimise access to information, the council plans to link all of the indexed images to metadata files for storage within their Lotus notes database and longer term within the Electronic Data Management System.

To give staff full-time access to working documents, a closed loop control system was also introduced into the workflow, allowing users to check on the project's status or view critical documents during the conversion process.

"Initially we allocated a terabyte of storage space for the project, but estimate we'll only need 80 gigabytes after files are optimised using the JPEG 2000 compression format. Although our electronic files have low resolution for easy handling, the image quality we're getting more than suits our requirements. Often, the digital document is easier to read than the original it was generated from, as is the case with carbon copy receipts," reveals Clark.

To streamline information searches, Fuji Xerox evaluated how staff worked to develop a search criteria specific to their needs. "Biting the bullet and becoming a knowledge organisation has revolutionised the way we operate, providing us with real-time access to documents and increasing productivity. For example, retrieving a building application has become so much easier. I just type in the address and hit enter, which brings up the target information instantly as a PDF. Now we're able to standardise all our documents under a single format, including microfiche transparencies and double-sided engineering drawings," says Clark.

Clark adds that the changes have also had a positive knock-on effect in terms of the way council staff approach their work. "Deploying an electronic system has given many of our workers an opportunity to acquire new skills and a better understanding of their role in document management. Overall, the council runs more like a business and we can respond faster to resident inquiries. As an investment, the project should pay for itself within five years thanks to reductions in storage costs. That doesn't even take into account labour and productivity costs, especially for tasks such as filing and information searching."

In addition to the improved access to information, the deployment has better equipped the council to cope with future regulatory compliance issues. The space saved from the removal of hard copy files has also enabled the council to create a new staff lunch area, so council workers can now stretch their legs as they enjoy their sandwiches!

"Although Rockdale is the first council to consider imaging most of its older records to be used within an electronic document management system, everything's come together like a dream. Our clerical staff are working smarter and we now have a big picture view of council operations. Importantly, we've plugged a big hole in our disaster recovery plan and it's a relief to know our files will be backed up electronically, protecting them from fire or theft," concludes Clark.

Thinking inside the Box

Box Hill Senior Secondary College is located in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Around 650 students attend the school. In 2003, the College enrolled 350 new students after receiving over 700 inquiries.

As an educational facility that prides itself on being technologically advanced, Box Hill has been using a variety of tools, including a campus-wide Intranet, to assist students, teachers and parents to stay up to date with the latest news and information relating to the school.

After working with its Intranet technology for a number of years, Box Hill's principal, Wayne Craig, decided that the school needed a way to scan material into a digital format -including forms-that could then be used in a timely manner by Intranet-connected staff and students alike.

"We enrol 350 pupils every year and there's three months work for someone just to input the five or six pages of enrolment information each enrolment generates," said Craig. "It's just not practical to stick a computer in front of most parents and tell them to enter the data electronically, which is why the process has remained paper based, despite the data entry headache it causes."

Craig could see that using a software solution to extract data of this nature-in addition to the other Intranet activities it could enhance-was desirable technology for the school to acquire. In practice, the new system processes all 350 enrolments in just over an hour, compared to the three months it was taking previously.

Box Hill plumped for a solution from Canon which comprised the imageRUNNER iR5000i multifunction device and TELEform Elite software. TELEform collects information from existing forms and features high-speed verification of data. It is a powerful forms processing package ideal for departmental form processing applications-not dissimilar to one of the key roles proposed within Box Hill.The imageRUNNER iR5000i functions as the central communications hub for managing, printing, scanning and sharing information in a networked environment. It prints, copies, scans and performs a multitude of electronic document send functions.

The software has also been used for a variety of other roles, as Craig explains."We like to survey our student's opinions of their teachers a couple of times a year for progress reports. We can now scan these forms using the Canon solution, which generates results that automatically go to the student's file and are copied to me as well."The advantage of this process is that when the school conducts student reviews, these opinions can be used as part of their personal review program.

"We're also asking students to tell us how well they expect to go in each subject, how much homework they expect to do, how they rate themselves on motivation and commitment," says Craig. "Using the Canon solution, we can now collate this information easily, rather than waiting for computers to be free, or employing people to conduct data entry."

If news of students rating their teachers and their own academic performance comes as a surprise, Craig explains that the process is happening to some extent in schools today, and it will become more common in the years ahead.

"It's really about developing a culture of performance in schools. It also broadens how teachers can evaluate their own performance. Research from the UK reveals that a significant driver of educational success is a measure of the amount of responsibility given to students, and this is a key element of that."

The Victorian Department of Education also recently employed The Boston Consulting Group to evaluate this kind of student opinion/self-assessment enabled by the Canon solution, which returned the result that it was 'world class.'

"Staff can certainly see the advantages," adds Craig. "Most are just intrigued that someone can fill out a form, place it into what they perceive to be 'just a photocopier' and minutes later it's in their file on the Intranet."

While the college has use the technology in a variety of ways, Craig doesn't believe that Box Hill has scratched the surface of finding uses for its Canon solution yet, commenting that at least once a week, someone will realise a new use for the software and hardware."It's only limited by our imagination. The Intranet is in place and doing what we want it to do... now the future is up to us."

Data problems more than skin deep

Combined Pathology is a Sydney-based privately owned laboratory which specialises in histology which, for those not well versed in medical terminology, is the study of tissue (the human rather than the Kleenex variety). Essentially, the good people of Combined Pathology spend their time examining human tissue samples from around the country, identifying lesions, melanoma and various other nasty imperfections.

"The lab faced many issues around its document processing and management, primarily the loss of office space due to filing; inability to share hard copy document-ation; excessive paperwork and filing; potential misplace-ment of records and the time taken to retrieve them from boxes," recalls Lynn Townsend, office manager at Combined Pathology.

The lab turned to Ricoh to help it resolve these various issues. Ricoh provided a combination of its Aficio 1022 multifunction device, LaserFiche document archiving system and Scanrouter V2 document management software. The LaserFiche package provided included LaserFiche Team Server, Client Access Modes, and LaserFiche Import Agent Utility.

"The system has been extremely effective in overcoming all issues listed above," says Shane Reid, account manager at Ricoh. "Combined Pathology is very happy with the results. It is now able to take documents such as patients' pathology reports and directly import and fully classify them simply by entering the date into templates. What would have been a one hour task to find a document now only takes seconds."

The Import agent utility allows the user to walk up to the Ricoh multifunction device and send their hard copy documents (A5 sized pathology reports) directly to the appropriate folders in the LaserFiche database, without any user intervention in between.

Ricoh's ScanRouter V2 Software allows an organisation to have up to 200 live mailboxes or destinations in which hard copy documents can be transformed into industry standards such as PDF, TIFF & JPEG in seconds at the push of a button.

Combined Pathology is also currently scanning in a backlog of over 250,000 documents into the LaserFiche database. Lynne Townsend of Combined Pathology comments, "The time and frustration that will be saved from this solution has more than paid for the installation."

Reid adds: "With multifunction technology, users can now scan directly to any number of destinations, including discrete folders, email or fax. The user simply selects the destination at the control panel of the MFD. With features such as LDAP, users can access existing address books and any revisions made in the existing address book are then automatically reflected on the device. If email file size is an issue, or you don't want extra software on your network, users can also send the file straight to a users PC via the LAN/WAN. Files as large as 2GB are not a problem. This gives users more control, reduces the number of manual steps and improves efficiency in the office."

Essentially, digital imaging has transformed internal processes within organisations. By utilising digital imaging systems, documents can be carefully categorised and filed, making organisation logical and simple.

Some of the benefits of digital archiving include:

• Digitising preserves for long-term access.
• Portable volumes accommodate retention schedules and disaster recovery needs.
• Electronic document support lets you archive files in their native format.
• Version control lets you import updated copies of archived electronic documents.
• Comprehensive security controls access to folders and documents as well as access to features and functions.

Digital imaging saves time retrieving information. This is an important factor considering the floods of information today's organisation's produce, finding documents can be extremely time consuming. Digital imaging lets users find files in seconds directly from the PC, instead of making constant trips to the filing room or someone else's desk.

It also saves office space-with paper documents stored as digital images, users are no longer dependent on hard copies. Expendable documents can be destroyed, while others can be stored off-site.

"Digital imaging also preserves documents," adds Reid. "This gives organisations access to the original document, which cannot be altered or damaged by manual handling.

"Lastly, digital imaging improves the routing and workflow of documents - files can be copied or moved to the folder of the next person who needs to see them. Some digital imaging systems also allow you to easily distribute thousands of pages on searchable CDs or on the web via a web link."

Related Article:

Aussie vendor Redmap-ping out Stateside success

Business Solution: