Anyone who’s worked in an office has at one time gone on a great paper chase. Perhaps someone sorted a file incorrectly, or a mischievous cabinet sprite decided to play a trick on the office personnel and a much-needed document has gone missing. Of course, this document is necessary to continue on with the day’s work and business grinds to a standstill.

And so the hunt begins. Drawers are scoured once and twice. Then, a third time for good measure. Filing cabinets are emptied and turned over — perhaps it slipped underneath one of the steel behemoths. Eventually the hunt leads to a dead end of despair.

How can one piece of paper, carelessly misplaced or misfiled, halt the gears of even the most finely tuned commercial machine?

Numbers on the losses business experience because of lost documents are staggering:

• On average, it takes 18 minutes to search for a document.
• Every misfiled document is estimated to cost $125 in lost productivity.
• On average, professionals spend 50 percent of their time searching for information.
• Every lost document costs anywhere from $350 to $700.

In the past, all that a business could do was search high and low and cut their losses when a document had apparently ascended to the letter-sized heavens. Fortunately there are new solutions that may end the terrible hunt once and for all.

Revolutionized Filing

Electronic filing cabinets may be the silver bullet that business owners have been looking for to kill lost time and energy. According to Ben Russert, president of ProSource in Blue Ash, it is “the wave of the future in office communications and technology.”

Typically businesses file away important documents in physical filing cabinets. Over time, the files that a business accumulates take up more and more space and become more and more difficult to manage in an efficient manner. On average, businesses use an average of 15 percent of their space to house files. Eventually a business will reach a limit of what it can house under one roof and must either rid themselves of older documents or acquire more space to house their ever-increasing paper giant.

Where electronic filing cabinets come into play is in how and where your files are stored.

According to William Scott, president and CEO of Fortress Evolved Records Management in Springdale, we may never see the end of the paper beast, but there are now ways to tame it. Where companies like Fortress come in is changing the way that employees access vital information.

Instead of housing all of your files on your own site, Fortress will store them at their secure warehouse that is specifically designed to house up to 800,000 cubic feet of any and every document that is important to everyday operations at a company.

Great, you say, but how am I supposed to swiftly pull up the Peterson account if it’s housed halfway across the city?

This where the electronic filing cabinets earn their name.

Fortress digitally scans the documents you send to their warehouse and converts them into a digital image that can be seen from any PC.

“We can scan anything from a blueprint to an X-ray or even a business card and convert them into a digital image,” Scott says.

Dan Nihiser, business development manager at ComDoc Inc. in Sharonville, seconds this: “Great scanners or multifunctional devices, and state-of-the-art software for integrated document management can automatically process any type of document regardless of its source.”

Typically, images are converted into either Adobe System’s Portable Document File, also known as PDF, or Tagged Image File Format, commonly referred to as a TIFF. Fortress is capable of scanning and converting up to 15,000 images per hour, which are then accessible to clients through the company’s secure internet connection.

Once converted into an image, each document must be given a certain tag to ensure that the client is able to retrieve the data in a quick and easy fashion.

This can be done in one of two ways.

The first physically assigns certain subjects or dates to each of the files, along with a specific file number so that an employee can search chronologically, alphabetically or by an exact file number if it’s handy.

For example, if a physician is looking for a customer’s medical history, he can search for the patient’s name and see that there are two dates in February of 2008 on which files were created — one for a sprained ankle and the second for a follow-up appointment.

It’s like using any common search engine to bring up keywords relating to any particular client or account. No longer do you have to flip through cabinet after cabinet only to find that one or more of the documents has been misplaced.

The second of these tagging systems utilizes the advances in interactive PDF files, which enable clients to search for any one particular word that is present on a document. For this to be accomplished, clients create their files in this interactive PDF format, which can accommodate a broad array of document needs.

An example of this would be a doctor searching for information on a lifelong client with 40-plus years of medical history stored in the electronic filing cabinet. Instead of just searching by patient name and date of entry, the doctor could search for a specific keyword such as “Penicillin” to see if the patient had any history of allergic reaction to the antibiotic.

However, because of the sheer volume of data processed by companies like Fortress, it is not feasible or economical to scan each and every document that passes through its doors. Typically, 40 percent of what a company sends in is scanned for the electronic database because it regularly accessed. The remaining 60 percent is stored safely and securely in the warehouse until it is needed for retrieval, at which time it is scanned and sent via the internet to the client.

Businesses that switch to an off-site electronic filing cabinet can see advantages immediately because of saved time and reduced costs in space, hardware and infrastructure, Scott says. Nihiser adds that additional records management functions ensure that all access is secure, controlled and logged.

Fax to E-Mail

Another thorn that commonly finds its way into the side of the office employee is the unruly fax.

Often when multiple fax lines are present in a single office, faxes sometimes mysteriously get led astray by phantoms in the phone lines. As a result an employee can waste time searching each fax machine until they find which machine the fax was routed to.

If the fax doesn’t send properly, both sender and the hopeful receiver are left scratching their heads about why it didn’t send through. Only after multiple attempts does the fax finally come through — only to be once again thwarted by a cartridge devoid of precious toner.

Thanks to a sinfully easy solution, these problems will soon be a distant memory.

Several companies are offering service (for as little as $9.99 a month per employee) that provides each person with a telephone number that sends faxes directly his or her e-mail inbox.

Russert of ProSource recommends Captaris RightFax to her clients because of its ability to send and receive via certified or encrypted delivery, ensuring confidential faxes. RightFax fax software offers a reliable fax server and an electronic document delivery solution that safeguards information security and privacy.

Faxes through most software providers can be received in almost any image format, but much like electronic file cabinets, the preferred formats of choice are still PDF and TIFF.

The most obvious benefit is that there is no expensive hardware to maintain. Fax machines are a cornucopia of moving parts just waiting to self-destruct. However, the real enemy of the internal expense account is the endless buffet of toner cartridges on which the fax machine is never fully gorged.

In a world where the masses bemoan the inevitability of $4 a gallon for gasoline, the toner villain goes virtually unnoticed. One pound of the inky stuff, based off of the average price of toner cartridges, equals out to $2,700.

And then there is the obvious model of waste — the paper that is sacrificed as endless coversheets that futilely direct the faxes to their intended destination.

Another benefit of the fax to e-mail practice is that faxes meant to be confidential can truly remain confidential. Peace of mind is often priceless and that’s just what this service provides.

As with the electronic filing cabinets, business owners who choose to switch their faxes directly to e-mail can expect to see almost immediate savings because of the huge decrease in physical expenses.

Easier and Greener

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of all of this increased reliance on technology is that it actually helps the environment instead of hurting it. In the past it wasn’t uncommon for a business to produce upwards of a quarter of a million documents in any given year.

While he’s not certain that we’ll ever be completely paperless, William Scott is certain that his service is making a difference.

“By eliminating most of the paper from the filing we’re turning everything much, much greener,” Scott says.

The average tree contains approximately 80,000 sheets of paper locked within its bark. If each of Fortress’ 120-plus clients cut its paper output from 250,000 sheets down to 100,000 a year, Scott’s company alone would save 225 trees from the chainsaw.

Eventually it is hoped that paper use for document filing will get as close to zero as possible, and with the current advances in digital imaging, it isn’t completely irrational to think that one day paper may become purely ceremonial in nature.

Scott also points out that the elimination of paper document delivery (via car or truck) dramatically reduces the amount of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere.

“Typically we’re dealing with a business that has five deliveries a week back and forth,” Scott says. “That would be the equivalent of 5,000 pounds of carbon a year.”

In a final act of green, Fortress recycles all of the documents that are shredded at the request of the client.

“Those documents go on to become newspapers, boxes and napkins,” Scott explains.

And so, the cycle of pulp continues.
Say Goodbye to the Great Paper Chase

From filing to faxing, the problems of document management, storage and retrieval is now a web-based solution. by Corbin Cloward
“[Electronic filing cabinets are] the wave of the future in office communications and technology.”
— Ben Russert
President, ProSource

Every misfiled document is estimated to cost $125 in lost productivity.

“We can scan anything from a blueprint to an X-ray or even a business card and convert them into a digital image.”
— William Scott
President and CEO, Fortress Evolved Records Management

More Web-based Solutions

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)

VOIP was developed in order to provide access to voice communication in any place around the world. Benefits include: dramatic cost savings, real time easy conferencing, caller ID and contact lists. VOIP can also handle other types of media transmissions like images, video and text.

Corporate Wikis

Inspired by, corporate wikis are sites used for a wide range of activities such as tracking industry news, setting meeting agendas, posting corporate policies, or even creating strategy documents. There are several software packages like MediaWiki and TWiki that make it easy for employees to start one without even alerting the IT department. Despite the positives of keeping employees informed about products in various stages of development, there is the drawback that anyone’s work may be seen and tinkered with by others, just like Wikipedia itself.

virtual Servers

The days of buying and managing your own server are limited. Last year, Dell invested $1.4 billion on a company that does virtual servers. Storage traffic occurs over existing IP networks, which leads to lower costs, easier maintenance and simpler management. The ease of deployment is of particular interest to small and medium businesses.