Tuesday, October 26, 2004

File under eCabinet

System helps streamline small offices

By Annie-Laurie Blair
Enquirer contributor

Paul Kraft Paul Kraft, shop supervisor at Modern Office Methods in Blue Ash, installs a copier recently. The family-owned office equipment supplier has leased or sold the paperless eCabinet system to about 30 clients.
(Meggan Booker photo)

ECabinet is an electronic file cabinet technology. It interfaces with copiers and fax machines made by Ricoh, Lanier, Minolta and similar brands.

How it works: ECabinet's optical character recognition features automatically scan hard copies (such as an invoice or X-ray), e-mails, faxes and downloaded material (like court documents) and allows users to add notes or keywords. Then eCabinet files and indexes the document.

Retrieval: Is as easy as one word because eCabinet provides full content searches. Retrieved documents can be printed, e-mailed, faxed or viewed on a PC.

Accessibility: Via office PC, home PC or Web browser.

Users: Dozens of people can share the database, simultaneously viewing files.

Scope: Each eCabinet indexes about 50 million document pages - the equivalent of 4,000 four-drawer file cabinets. It can file and index up to 8,000 faxed pages daily.

Source: Ricoh Silicon Valley

For small businesses, it might seem easier to hang onto that steel filing cabinet full of manila folders than to figure out how to create a paperless office.

But Mike Higgins, CEO of National Child Support in Blue Ash, was determined. He wanted to put the 100 or so documents that make up each case file for his private business - tracking down and extracting money from deadbeat parents - into a database accessible to all his caseworkers.

Multipage court orders, county and federal case files, affidavits and detailed family histories all needed to go into a computer instead of hogging space and employee copying time in his office.

"Every day, it seemed like we were sending e-mails around the office: 'Does anyone have this file?' " Higgins recalled.

That's when he discovered Modern Office Methods, a family-owned office equipment supplier in Blue Ash and learned about eCabinet.

ECabinet is a device that automatically captures, files and retrieves all electronic and paper business documents created in, or flowing through, a small- to medium-sized office. Photocopies, faxes, Web pages, e-mails - eCabinet scans them all, indexes them, then lets users retrieve the files with simple word searches.

The Ricoh Silicon Valley product is one of a genre of paperless office systems that have been developed over the past five years for small- and medium-sized office user groups.

Ricoh, Microsoft, Canon and Oracle all have a piece of this software storage market, which had $1.85 billion in total revenue in the third quarter of 2004, according to information technology (IT) market research and consulting firm IDC.

The file search-and-retrieval software market grew 13.6 percent worldwide in 2003, IDC reported.

For small businesses, sorting through these technologies can be mind-boggling. Most paperless office systems involve myriad choices in hardware, software and storage platforms, not to mention training.

That's where eCabinet is different.

"ECabinet kind of wraps it all in one box," said Doug Henschen, editor of Transform Magazine, which tracks IT business content and management strategies.

"It's a unique product," combining hardware, software and Web interaction, Henschen said, "and a leading example of document systems management."

ECabinet weighs just 25 pounds and is not much larger than an office telephone. The base price is $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the size needed.

MOM wins trust

What gives eCabinet an advantage in the competitive paperless office industry is that it interacts with all office equipment - copiers, fax machines, scanners and even shredders - in the large Ricoh brand family, as well as with many other brands. Ricoh is among the top three copier manufacturers.

Still, office technology is no better than the outside service or IT support needed to run it.

And that's what really sold Higgins and about 30 other clients who have leased or bought eCabinets from Modern Office Methods, best known by its acronym, MOM.

MOM, the lone installer and servicer of eCabinet in Greater Cincinnati, "had won our trust" after years of using their Ricoh high-speed copiers and scanners, said James Buck, treasurer and business manager of Southern State Community College.

The college has four campuses in the southwestern Ohio counties of Brown, Clinton, Fayette and Highland.

Other client testimonials include Ohio State University, Airborne Express and Cincinnati law firm Frost, Brown & Todd LLP.

Easy sell

MOM is the largest dealer of Lanier office equipment in the United States and also sells, leases and services Riso, Konica, Minolta and Ricoh products. The 47-year-old company has 180 employees, satellite offices in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, and annual revenue of $30 million.

MOM sees eCabinet-type systems as the future of its industry and an integral product to offer its 14,000 clients, said Stephen M. Bandy, MOM senior vice president.

"We try to look at the whole cycle of a document," Bandy said. "While document printing in general continues to increase, (paperless systems) are a natural progression in document management."

It's easy to sell clients on a system that has streamlined your own office, Bandy added.

At Southern State, documents that flow into eCabinet include vouchers, purchase orders, check registers, W2s and employee contracts. Business office employees across the four campuses can access all paperwork now - instead of walking to separate storage buildings or driving to another campus.

"We run a very thin staff," Buck said. "(ECabinet) has made all of us more efficient. ... And we have no issue with storage now."

E-mail workingjournalist@fuse.net

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