Magazine Article | March 1, 2003

Phase Out Your Paper Files

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Three months into rolling out a document management solution and nearline storage, Vermont Student Assistance Corp. reduced customer service response time from 10 days to 2.

Integrated Solutions, March 2003

Have you ever considered that doing things the way they've always been done may actually be detrimental to your company's bottom line? For instance, maybe for the past 30-plus years you've kept hard copies of customer correspondence or you've keyed in customer purchase orders or loan applications. You may have snickered when your competitors sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into their legacy systems to avoid the Y2K bug that never was. But, don't think you'll get the last laugh if your business practices revolve around creating and storing tons of paperwork. Find out how investing in a document management solution is a proven way to run your business smarter and service your customers better.

Weighed Down By Paper
Vermont Student Assistance Corp. (VSAC) (Winooski, VT) is a public nonprofit agency established as an instrumentality of the state of Vermont to help Vermonters plan and pay for college or other training after high school. The agency handles more than $300 million in investment plans, grants, scholarship programs, and loans each year. For the vast majority of its 38 years in business, VSAC has handled forms, applications, and correspondence the old-fashioned way - creating, copying, faxing/mailing, and storing it. While things were far from being considered out of control for the agency, its steady growth did present some challenges in maintaining customer service response times. "Formerly, when customers called us with questions related to recent correspondence they had sent us, we had to call the customers back," recalls Kathy Banks, director of loan origination and administrative services at VSAC. "The problem was that we needed to look in multiple locations for the referenced correspondence because work was divided amongst multiple customer service representatives [CSRs]."

When detailed research is required, CSRs access forms stored in a large file area that contains six Lektriever filing cabinets. Each Lektriever stands 10.5 feet tall by 10 feet long and has 18 shelves. Each Lektriever holds about 15,000 files that have been created and manually maintained - literally a ton of inefficiency.

Besides the inefficiency caused by the filing cabinets, there were other processes which impeded customer turnaround times. "Customer credit reports were stored in a bin," recalls Jim O'Neill, VSAC's supervisor of administrative services. "If a customer called to ask about his or her credit report, we would frequently have to call the customer back later because it took too long to locate the correct credit reports, because it could be on one of several representatives' desks." Not only did this make customers unhappy about having to wait, but it also took employees away from their core job duties such as answering correspondence, handling phone calls, and coordinating customer visits.

New Facility, Massive Filing Cabinets Not Compatible
In early 1999, after VSAC had outgrown its Winooski facility, it needed temporary quarters to accommodate some staff until a new building could be constructed. "We discovered that our Lektrievers were too tall for the standard building dimensions," says Banks. "Since we did not have the option of changing the building plans to support our filing system, we decided to expand our imaging services by converting existing files to images." So, VSAC looked into a pilot document scanning solution to change the way it had always done things. Besides saving a lot of money in building costs, the scanning solution would enable VSAC CSRs to share information without having to pull and send paper documents back and forth. The pilot proved imaging was a viable solution to several of VSAC's challenges, and managers were able to demonstrate that it was time to get serious about going to the next level - upgrading from monochrome low-end scanners to color production-level scanners, and implementing a document management solution.

Document Imaging And Nearline Storage Yield Paperless Solution
After consulting with associates from other financial agencies, Banks, O'Neill, and Frank McNamara, assistant director of information technology, purchased three Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY) Color Scanner 4500s and integrated them with Tower Technology's (Boston) IDM (Integrated Document Management) suite. The overall scanner implementation took only a few days, and, in the following weeks most of the bugs had been worked out of the integrated solution. "Because the Kodak scanners and the Tower software have some overlapping features such as color contrast settings, we had to determine which of the two we would use and which would be turned off or set to its default value," says Geoffrey Sammet, senior imaging specialist at VSAC. "After the settings were configured properly, the scanners and the software worked seamlessly."

With the new solution in place, VSAC can scan documents at a rate of 57 pages per minute (duplex). After documents are scanned and indexed, the document management solution routes some of the images through a workflow process, which is accessed by employees at VSAC's two locations. Additionally, the document management software is integrated with an HP 600 MX jukebox, which holds 64 magneto-optical disks. This non-rewritable medium was chosen primarily because it maintains the integrity of documents. It is also able to handle large volumes of data in a COLD (computer output to laser disk) storage environment. Presently, VSAC runs one of its high-volume documents on the COLD system, and it stores more than 1 million paper pages on a single 5.25-inch disk. To organizations familiar with storing millions of paper documents - that one disk replaces a lot of Lektrievers! Since VSAC's implementation happened fairly recently, it still has to convert thousands of customer files to images. "In the next year and a half we will convert more than 200,000 files from paper to images," says Banks. "Then, we won't need to store any customer paper documents in-house."

VSAC is also planning to extend its service options to the Web so customers can complete various applications online or download documents electronically. By reducing the amount of paperwork that is created, VSAC will more efficiently maintain its electronic work environment.

Banks is conservative when she says the savings of time and paper alone would have yielded a payback of less than five years. But, when one considers how much money VSAC will save by not having to build a new building with extra tall ceilings and reinforcements to hold its heavy Lektrievers, the payback is much shorter. All these savings were made possible because a few people decided to challenge the status quo.