Magazine Article | March 17, 2009

Build An MFP-Based Imaging Solution

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

This home builder saved thousands in labor costs by leveraging existing MFPs (multifunction peripherals) for its distributed scanning needs.

Integrated Solutions, January/February 2009

(L to R) John Malcolm, IT programmer/analyst; Ramsey Akruk, IT project manager; and Nancy Myers, VP of application development for Toll Brothers

If you've ever been involved in the purchase of a home, you understand the mountain of paperwork involved. What you may not understand, however, is the impact just one lost or misplaced document can have on the process. One missing sheet of paper can delay the home-buying process for several days. Eliminating these delays and enhancing the customer experience were the primary reasons why Toll Brothers, a luxury home builder, recently adopted a document imaging solution.

How Much Are Lost Documents Costing You?
Toll Brothers specializes not only in building luxury homes, but in building entire communities full of those homes. Headquartered in Horsham, PA, Toll Brothers has more than 275 locations across 21 states. In addition to its core building and construction business, Toll Brothers supports numerous internal business units, such as land acquisition and development, architecture and design, mortgage, insurance, and even landscape.
Each of Toll Brothers' business units relies heavily on paper documentation, but Conveyancing is the department most crucial to the buying and settlement process. "Our Conveyancing Division is the central coordination point between the various moving parts that occur among title, mortgage, and all the other areas that a home buyer will go through when buying and building a home," says Ramsey Akruk, IT project manager at Toll Brothers.

The employees who work in Conveyancing (conveyancers) are responsible for the creation and maintenance of the permanent lot file. As the name implies, each lot file corresponds to a specific building lot and buyer. When complete, each file will include all documents pertaining to the actual construction (surveys, permits, and design specs) and purchase (Agreement of Sale, HUD statements, titles and deeds, insurance) of a home. Part of the conveyancer's job is to be sure each required document is present, complete, and correct in the lot file.

Maintaining a complete and up-to-date lot file required conveyancers to fax or mail paperwork between parties (buyers, mortgagers, design centers, project managers, etc.) in order to keep all parties up to date. "Our conveyancers always had huge piles of paperwork on their desks," says Nancy Myers, VP of application development at Toll Brothers. "When you have 300 to 400 pieces of paper in a lot file, it is very easy to have one get misplaced."

Toll Brothers estimates its conveyancers spent 5 to 10 hours per week just looking for the documents and/or files that are required to perform their jobs. Using conservative time figures, if each Toll Brothers' conveyancer, spent just one hour each day searching for and retrieving documents and/or files, it would equate to thousands of dollars a year in labor costs. That's an overwhelming amount of unproductive time and labor, without even taking into consideration the costs involved with making additional copies of documents or off-site storage and retrieval costs.

Distributed Scanning Made Easy
To combat the negative effects of shuffling paper back and forth, Toll Brothers went looking for a suitable document imaging solution. The company had been leveraging scanning technology for invoice processing within its accounting department since 2000, so the concept of document management wasn't at all foreign. However, expanding the scanning solution from the accounts payable department over to Conveyancing presented some distinct challenges.

Topping the list of requirements was the need to find a scanning solution that would work in Toll Brothers' extremely distributed environment. Using dedicated scan stations, like those used in accounts payable, would be impractical because many of the company's locations were operating in divisional office locations. It also would be cost prohibitive. The purchase of a dedicated scanner and software licensing would have come with a price tag of roughly $10,000 to $25,000 for each location. In addition, the distributed scanning solution had to be capable of integration with Toll Brothers' Feith repository. "We wanted a solution that would allow us to scan directly into our document repository," says John Malcolm, IT programmer/analyst at Toll Brothers. "Feith isn't a well-known repository like Documentum, and not many hardware providers support direct integration."

Once these requirements were outlined, the IT team was surprised to find the hardware to support a distributed scanning solution right under their noses in the form of Ricoh MFPs. Each Toll Brothers location already had these devices, and each came equipped with document scanners. However, the scanning capabilities of the MFPs were limited, and the company invested in AutoStore software from Notable Solutions, Inc. (NSi) to enhance the scanning functionality of the MFPs.

"AutoStore allows us to leverage many capture points, whether it be a Ricoh MFP, fax machine, or even an email file server, to get documents into our central repository," says Akruk. "This gives us extreme flexibility in terms of capture." And although AutoStore didn't have direct integration with the Feith repository, NSi was able to create — and successfully test — that integration in less than one month's time.

Cost also played a major factor in the decision to select AutoStore. "Opting for AutoStore enabled us to make use of equipment we already had in place," says Akruk. "We had some machine upgrades and new leases to take care of, but that was preferable to purchasing new equipment outright." AutoStore also offered the option of an enterprise license, rather than restrictive and costly per-user licensing. "Turning on AutoStore at every location equated to a cost of about $1,000 per machine," says Akruk. "It saved us a hundreds of thousands of dollars over pursuing a dedicated hardware and software licensing model for the Conveyancing project. Plus, our employees were already familiar with how to operate the MFPs, which shortened the learning curve."

Simplify Document Indexing With Dynamic Menus
The main goal of Toll Brothers' document imaging initiative was to store lot file documents into the company's existing electronic repository so they could be located quickly. To ensure fast document retrieval, it was imperative that each document was indexed correctly. This crucial step in the imaging process was one that Toll Brothers didn't want to leave in the hands of the individual users.

Toll Brothers worked with NSi to create a dynamic menu on the Ricoh touch screen interface to simplify that indexing process. The menu enables a conveyancer to simply select the button on the screen labeled 'Conveyancing lot file.' The action opens a screen of drop down boxes corresponding to the indexing information required by the repository, including conveyancer's name, community, lot number, buyer's last name, and finally document type.

The menu is driven by a back end database that tracks each of Toll Brothers' communities, the lot numbers in each community, and which specific convenyancer is assigned to each lot. "The dynamic menu was very crucial because our communities are always changing," says Akruk. "This week a community could be open, active, and selling. Next week it could be sold out and closed." Without a central database linked to the Ricoh MFPs, Toll Brothers' IT staff would have been required to manually update each device directly. The widely distributed environment would have made this an impossible task.

Once the menu was developed, the document imaging solution was implemented incrementally in each of the company's Conveyancing departments over a period of eight months. To support the initiative, a user's manual was developed and maintained by the Conveyancing project coordinator. "The fact that we had a project coordinator who actually works in Conveyancing create the manual was critical," says Akruk. "Instead of being written at a technical level, it is written from the perspective of a conveyancer, making it easier for clerical users to refer to in a time of need."

Once the new imaging solution was live, Toll Brothers noticed a measurable difference in efficiency almost immediately. "We've reduced the average five hours that each conveyancer spent searching for files every week down to only 10 minutes," says Myers. With multiple conveyancers working at Toll Brothers, that's a dramatic time savings. Dramatic enough that Toll Brothers quickly realized a full ROI on the project, but not dramatic enough to prevent the company from continuing to look for further simplification and improvement. Toll Brothers is currently testing SmartTickets, an enhancement to AutoStore that enables users to generate bar code sheets that help streamline the indexing process.

The success Toll Brothers has had with AutoStore couldn't have come at a better time. The building industry has been essentially upended in the recent economic turmoil, and the efficiencies and cost savings are certainly helping the luxury home builder weather this storm. The company is saving thousands of dollars per year in labor costs within its Conveyancing Department alone. The solution in place at Toll Brothers also reminds us of an important lesson. An imaging project doesn't have to be complicated to be successful. Sometimes, just having an easily retrievable image of a document is all you need, and Toll Brothers is proof that basic document imaging can still have a very dramatic impact on a company's bottom line.