Langford digital document workflow saves office space

The City of Langford in British Columbia was fast running out of physical storage space for paper files so it introduced a digital workflow to better handle the influx of documents, like development and building permit applications, from the expanding city.

But before starting this transition in 2003, the City had a very manual and paper-based approach that, according to Mike Palmer, the City of Langford IT manager, “used to be walk to file room and retrieve a paper file and take it back to your desk.”

Scanning all incoming documents resolved the physical space issue but using network scanners to do the job was proving too much a burden on the devices, recalls Palmer.

“Because we were growing so quickly as a city, we had so much paper coming in and that was overwhelming our input capabilities,” he said.

Coincidentally, some copier leases were approaching time for renewal and some printers needed replacing. “We had a whole bunch of things coming that really forced me to step back and take a look at the whole picture,” said Palmer.

A scrutiny of that bigger picture led to the decision to replace the montage of single function devices like printers, copiers, scanners and faxes with multifunctional machines, said Palmer.

The situation at the City of Langford is a common scenario across many organizations where they had “a printer next to a copier next to a fax machine,” said Jean-Paul Desmarais, senior marketing manager for business printing with Hewlett-Packard Canada Co..

Actually, in the past several years, there has been an awareness among IT managers of the availability of multifunction machines, said Desmarais. But printing is often something that gets overlooked because it’s not a part of the IT budget that garners much attention, he said.

“It’s not a sexy issue like server virtualization or a high visibility area like security that keeps people up late at night,” said Desmarais.

IT managers often just trust that their printers work and don’t necessarily look to optimize what the equipment can do, said Desmarais. In fact, the average industry spend on printing and print-related processes like document handling, storage and processing is six per cent of the income, he said.

“That’s a huge piece of the total cost of running an organization,” said Desmarais.

Over the course of several months, the City of Langford retired its single function devices and replaced them with multifunction machines from Mississauga, Ont.-based Hewlett Packard Co. “We took four different devices and merged them into one,” said Palmer.

The City saved 1,500 square feet of office space, which at a rate of $250 dollars per square foot, the hard dollar savings total $375,000, said Palmer.

The City staff, currently numbering 70 having grown from 40 in 2003, now uses multifunction machines accessible in each department.

But the initiative wasn’t just about scanning and storing paper documents. The goal was to ensure City employees could easily and quickly retrieve the files. Instead of using a third party file storage vendor, the City used Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server and workflow engine AutoStore, developed by HP partner Rockville, MD.-based Notable Solutions Inc., so that all scanned content could be indexed.

The workflow engine “basically let us put a menu structure on all our multifunction printers and centrally manage it,” said Palmer.

And, from an IT perspective, the workflow can be centrally managed, he added.

Taking the route the City did had much to do with the fact that HP employed open standards allowing third-party developers to build add-on systems, said Palmer.

The document management workflow at the City of Langford is scalable such that the new version of the software, to which the City plans to upgrade, will support new PDF standards. And, new devices can be easily added to the network, said Palmer.


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