University of Calgary CIO gets out of a paper jam

When you’re the CIO of an organization with an insatiable appetite for paper, it’s not surprising that you would take an abiding interest in document management.

That’s certainly the case with Harold Esche, CIO of the University of Calgary. For over three years now, he’s been involved in Project IMAGinE, an initiative to revamp nearly every device, system or process related to document creation, delivery, storage and sharing across the university.

The origins of the project go back to 2005. Esche had just been appointed the university’s first CIO when an institutional decision was made to do an assessment of print.

“We didn’t know quite what we were looking at,” he said, “but given that we weren’t doing anything in managing distributed print, we felt that there must be some kind of an opportunity here.”

The assessment showed that U of C was doing an efficient job of running its centralized print shop, but when it came to the distributed or fleet management side, the situation was more dire than anticipated. The university’s annual printing and related costs were in the neighbourhood of nine million dollars a year, and it was consuming about 72 million sheets of paper a year, equivalent to a stack 30,000 feet high.

“We buy paper that has a recycled content to it, but that’s still an astounding amount of paper,” said Esche. “We felt that there must be an opportunity here to lower our total spend on print and perhaps more importantly, to reduce our environmental footprint.”


The results of the assessment were a call to action, and a steering committee was formed to explore ways of reducing paper consumption and moving to a more electronically based means of dealing with information. The steering committee decided that a holistic approach would likely yield the best results. The university would go out into the marketplace with a fairly broadly stated vision that included central print, fleet management, and what the university called SIM, or Strategic Information Management.

“The words ‘document and records management’ have different meanings for different people,” explained Esche, “so we tried to come up with a term that said this is a new thing. It’s not about just doing what you did before in document and records management. This is about us managing it strategically.”

The university had no idea how the market would respond to its RFP. Vendors couldn’t carve off a piece of the solution; they had to look at the whole picture. In the end, the response was excellent, with eight vendors coming forward. After a lengthy evaluation process, U of C finally made its decision, inking a $40 million, seven-year deal with Xerox Canada.

“We wanted a solution that had a value proposition for each unit and each individual in charge of making the decision around the print,” said Esche. “We told the vendors that we wanted a partner, and that once we’d created the project with them, they would have to go out onto the campus and sell it. We’d help them make those connections and provide the right kind of solutions out to people, and we’d also have a checkpoint at every sale that will force us to do the right thing.”

One of the reasons Xerox was chosen was because of its willingness to work in this kind of close partnership with the university.


In the end, the project had four areas of focus. The first was called ‘Production’, which included the central print shop along with print management and creative services. The second was ‘Office’, or what some would call fleet management – the distributed copy, print and scanning, based on a move to multifunction devices. The third was SIM (Strategic Information Management), which included document and records management and associated process improvement. And the fourth was ‘Innovation’, which involved connecting the project to other aspects of the university, most notably into research endeavours.

In the early stages of the initiative, U of C focussed on moving from a centrally run print shop to one managed by the vendor. This needed to be done without the loss of customers.

“I was quite nervous about that, but it went amazingly smoothly. We did the transition basically overnight, about a month after we signed the contract,” said Esche. “I don’t think most of our customers noticed. In fact, in a lot of cases the people who the customers were talking to remained the same. They either moved over to become a Xerox employee or they continued to be employees of the university. We gave them that option.”

The central print shop does all the larger volume or more complex printing on campus, including such things as course notes, marketing brochures and exams for the entire university. If the central print shop can’t do the job, it offers a print management service that can. Customers bring in their job, describe it to the people in central print, and they then go out and get bids on it externally.

Early on in the project, a substantial amount of equipment was replaced in order to broaden the suite of services offered and drive down the cost per page. Another early objective was to provide additional services around the creative side. “We had people doing their own graphics out in different areas and we created somewhat of a new service to try to get more of that brought into a centrally coordinated area,” said Esche.


Another early area of focus involved pushing out multifunction devices across the campus. At the time, there weren’t many such devices. That made it fairly straightforward to go out and describe to people how a multifunction device would replace all the different things that they had sitting in their area. The benefits were easy to communicate: lower electricity cost, smaller physical footprint, and better quality service, along with moving from a capital purchase, which was historically how people got their equipment, to a per-page model. For those with old and inefficient equipment, it was an easy sell. But it wasn’t so easy when it came to those who had fairly new equipment, even if that equipment wasn’t multifunction.

“In these areas we ended up with a mix of new and older devices, with a plan on when we would retire those slightly older devices,” said Esche. “There were definitely areas where we had difficulty with that, where our opinion might differ from the person in the unit. For the most part, we figured out a way to resolve that, but in the end the decision was made within the unit. They had to decide how they wanted to spent their dollars and what kind of service levels they wanted.”

Difficulties also arose in the early going due to the fact that there wasn’t enough connection between what was being done on the project and central IT. It looked like a sudden influx of Xerox sales people on campus and there was some resistance to that.

“Six months into the first year we realised that we weren’t going to make our targets,” said Esche. “So we got together and said, how can we do this differently? And really, what was required was more engagement for the central IT people with the project. They needed to go out and co-market it, if you will, and describe how it fit into a larger initiative.”

Once this was done, things started getting back on track.

Esche cites this as an example of a healthy partnership. The situation could have resulted in a dispute over who was responsible for the failure to meet the targets, and what kind of penalties would be applied. Instead the two parties regrouped and figured out what needed to be done to resolve the problem. Once they’d gone through that process, they went back to the contract and rewrote some of the sections to reflect their new understanding of the realities of the situation. “That was a wonderful sign to me that Xerox was willing to be a partner,” said Esche, “because quite frankly, some of the rewrite wasn’t particularly beneficial to them; it was beneficial to the project being successful.”


By the time the second year of the project rolled around, central print was in good shape and it was just a question of continuing to manage it properly. And so the focus in year two became driving out larger volumes on the fleet management side.

“A lot of emphasis was put on doing the opportunity assessments and getting people out in the faculties and departments and making sure that we completed those sales,” said Esche. “We set fairly aggressive goals and managed to achieve them in the second year.”

Another objective was to achieve a lot more around strategic information management and in this area the project made a misstep, choosing to pursue a very large document management project. There were a lot of capital projects under way on campus at the time – primarily building construction – and the university didn’t have the mechanisms to efficiently manage all the paper generated by these projects. There were concerns that a lot of time was being spent trying to manage all the big piles of paper that were generated through the design and construction of these buildings.

Believing that there was a significant opportunity here, the Project IMAGinE team endeavoured to apply a document-management solution to the problem. As it turned out, however, the challenge was more difficult than anticipated – perhaps not technically, but certainly procedurally and organisationally.

“The capital projects were moving forward regardless – lots of paper was being generated and filed away – and here we were, saying that we wanted to do it electronically,” said Esche. “So now we had a whole process of conversion for all those documents, and at the same time we were trying to figure out the mechanism by which we would move to an electronic-based information management for capital projects.” The team got to the stage of a project charter and completed several of the background technology pieces but simply couldn’t pull the project together.

“I think that this is probably an issue for many document and records management projects. It all seems to line up and everybody seems keen, but you just can’t seem to drive to the solution,” said Esche. This led to the cancellation of the project, at which point the team stepped back and evaluated what had gone wrong. The conclusion was that the magnitude and complexity of the project was too great. The university didn’t have enough experience on how to do it.

The team learned a valuable lesson from this experience and switched its focus to smaller projects that it was confident it could handle (e.g., an invoice scanning solution).

On reflection, Esche said that there is an allure to trying to solve a big problem, but even though your vision may be big, the proper way to approach it is to take it in small incremental steps.


U of C is now into the third year of Project IMAGinE, and according to Esche both central print and distributed print are working quite well. Target volumes and SLAs are both being exceeded, and it is estimated that there has been about 75 percent penetration on the distributed print side, which is a significant achievement considering the autonomy of the decision-makers in a university environment. There are also some new projects in the area of Strategic Information Management, and at least a couple of those are expected to be delivered this year.

One of Esche’s objectives for 2009 is to provide more integration between the strategic information management piece and the ERP system so that all pieces of paper relating to university business transactions will be driven through the Documentum system tied to its ERP.

“In the next few years, the focus will be around strategic information management and trying to drive out the value from that while keeping our eye on what’s already working,” noted Esche. He said that he often has to remind people that it’s not about the new projects only; it’s also about making sure that the existing services provide a firm foundation to build on.

“Down the road I’m also hoping we’re able to put a lot more focus on the innovative side and start to bring new things into the project,” he said. “But first you need to build these layers up, and it just takes time.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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