If you’re not quite sure what the terms “FollowMe printing” or “Unified Communications” mean, and if you don’t have a clue how much a new color copier costs, or what cybercriminals are up to these days, it may be time to have a chat with the local experts who spend their days making offices safer and more efficient.
Maybe you’re a business owner who’s been too busy with day-to-day concerns to look up from your desk and take stock of your office environment. You wonder: Does it really make sense to keep sending those color jobs out to a printer? Why is the staff printing so much information anyway, in this digital age? Is there a better way to track both the hard copies and digital data they’re producing? And can that data be communicated to clients faster, through mobile platforms? Come to think of it, the whole IT system could stand a good check-up. For that matter, when was the last time company passwords were changed? Virus protection upgraded?
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Northwest Quarterly checked in with some office technology experts to see what innovations they’re most excited about in this fast-changing realm.
Efficient communication of all kinds is a big part of staying competitive. Entré Computer Solutions President Mike Broski remembers the days when salesmen dropped their quotes in the mail and followed up with customers by phone a few days later.
Today, both large and small companies have resources that allow them to conduct live meetings with co-workers, vendors and prospects around the world, from the comfort of their own offices, or even the golf course.
“Unified communications” refers to the combination of real-time communication, such as instant messaging, video conferencing and speech recognition, with non-real-time communication like integrated voicemail, e-mail and fax.
“The speed of doing business today is so much different than when I started,” says Broski. “If you have potential buyers looking for products and you can’t respond quickly and efficiently, you can say goodbye to those opportunities. They’ll find someone who can.”
Entré, 8900 N. Second St., Machesney Park, Ill., founded in 1984, is a network integration company that works with organizations looking to connect employees to applications, Internet, and other resources, in order to become more productive and cost-effective. Entré has cabling, hardware repair, training and programming divisions with offices in the Rockford and Bloomington, Ill., regions.
“What makes us different or unique is that we’re able to bring projects to fruition quicker than an IT staff, because, in many cases, we are the IT staff,” says Broski. “We can take best practices we’ve learned with one organization and apply them to other organizations.”
Unified communications allow an individual to receive a message on one medium and access the same communication on another medium. For example, you can receive a voicemail message and access it through e-mail or a cell phone. If the sender is online and accepts calls, the response can be sent immediately, through text chat or video call, eliminating rounds of e-mails and phone calls.
“Organizations and people can do much more with their cell phones than ever,” says Broski. “Compared to the original IBM PC that I sold in 1985, today’s cell phones are 100 times more powerful. Running applications on your cell is not only possible, it’s happening.”
Unified communications has become an integral part of Entré’s business, in an ever-changing corporate climate. Broski says more than 70 percent of his new business is a direct result of clients looking for a better communication solution. “We’re providing quicker responses to clients who have to provide quicker responses to their clients,” he says. “Nowadays, it’s easy to reach employees anywhere, thanks to e-mailing and texting. No longer can someone leave the office and not have access to their voicemail, because it transfers to their cell phone. Technology is constantly evolving. In fact, it won’t be too long before you’ll be able to see what’s happening on your shop floor from the golf course.”
It’s a double-edged sword, Broski warns. “The increase in access allows individuals to become more productive. But if you don’t watch it, you become accessible 24/7. Is that good or bad? I don’t know.”
When new technologies work well, they’re priceless. But that’s not always the case. Every day, Bob Bisconti sees customers who are stressed out about their computer problems.
“We have to do preventative maintenance with computers, like the way we treat our cars,” says the owner of Bisconti Computers, 6465 E. Riverside Blvd., Rockford. “Some of us only repair our cars when they break. We do that with computers, too. But it only takes one time for your computer to break before you to say, ‘I’m not going to let that happen again.’”
One cause for concern is cybercrime. In his 17 years in business, Bisconti has seen businesses of all sizes suffer critical losses from sloppy network security systems. To make matters worse, hackers are becoming more sophisticated.
“Many businesses lack the resources and expertise needed to address the problem,” Bisconti says. “In a small office, security may be handled by an office administrator who knows just enough to handle simple IT tasks. That’s a big problem, in my opinion, because 90 percent of all businesses will suffer a computer attack at some point.”
Bisconti offers several suggestions for small-business owners to better secure their network systems. First, make sure you know your employees. Do background checks to ensure that you’re hiring good people. Divide responsibilities among employees, limiting the possibility that one employee could commit fraud without the help of other people within the company.
Next, implement strict password and authentication policies. Change passwords every three months, and delete an employee’s account or change passwords after he or she leaves your company.
“Security needs to be put in levels or layers,” says Bisconti. “A breach in security begins with an individual who gives out information he or she wasn’t supposed to give out. First you have to correct the hardware problem, before you deal with the software, which is another layer.”
When setting up a wireless network, make sure the default password is changed. This makes it harder for attackers to take control of the device. Employees should never respond to spam or pop-up messages claiming to be from a business or organization that you might deal with, such as a bank or government agency.
In addition, if employees receive e-mails that look like they’re from another employee, which ask for a password or any type of account information, they shouldn’t respond to them, or provide any important information by e-mail.
Finally, install and use anti-virus programs, anti-spyware programs and firewalls on all computers in your business. Firewalls can be separate appliances or built into wireless systems.
Regardless of your security plan, Bisconti emphasizes one additional step: “You need to test all these things,” he says. “Have someone try to hack into your system and see if you can do a recovery. Without the test, you’ve only half-verified that you’re getting the job done.”
Protecting Precious Data
Cybercrimes aren’t the only cause of data loss. Tim Ancona has seen the devastating ways that data loss impacts companies. “Two out of five companies that lose data go out of business in five years,” says the president of Ticomix, 5642 N. Second St., Loves Park. “Data loss is huge, and the cost of getting data back is also big.”
According to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, 93 percent of companies that lost their data centers for 10 days or more, due to disasters, filed for bankruptcy within one year of those disasters. And 50 percent of businesses that found themselves without data management for the same time period filed for bankruptcy immediately.
The figures are even more staggering when one considers that data loss is preventable. Whether the cause is hardware failure, natural disaster or property damage, data loss can be dealt with before it gets out of control.
Ticomix, which opened in 2000, provides technology solutions to small- and mid-sized enterprises around the nation, in the areas of networking, data backup/recovery, customer relationship management, service desk management and other customized software and hardware solutions.
The company’s latest solution is called BulletProof Data Program, which handles both on- and off-site data backup. BulletProof offers companies minimum downtime, fast recovery for files and e-mail, built-in archiving and 24/7 support.
“I’ve been in technology for 20 years, and Bulletproof is the best thing I’ve seen since Windows 95,” says Ancona. “Windows 95 was a game changer. Over the past three years, the new game changer has been Bulletproof. Quite simply, it’s the best offering in the industry today to get small businesses backup and disaster recovery services.”
BulletProof has a virtualization feature that converts a server’s backup images to a virtual machine that runs on the BulletProof server. “The system can literally act as your server, so you can continue operations as though nothing happened, while repairs are made to your actual server, or replacement equipment is shipped, configured and installed,” Ancona says.
Over the years, Ticomix has had several clients who’ve experienced server failure, including a trucking company that used a traditional backup system. Problems occurred after staff members occasionally forgot to change out the backup tapes or forgot to take one off-site. The backup skipped files if someone left his computer on and logged into his software. When the server eventually failed, BulletProof was put in place, and the main network was restored. “In the past, something like that might have forced them out of business,” Ancona says. “This has saved businesses thousands of dollars because they’re able to keep running while their problems are being addressed.”
An updated version has just been released, called BulletProof 2.0, which can handle one to 30 servers at one time. “This fundamentally changes the way people manage servers, manage backup and pay for it,” says Ancona.
Shawn Barker, network account manager for Ticomix, adds that many businesses need to be educated about the importance of addressing data recovery before it becomes a major problem. “They need to understand how lack of productivity affects their businesses and the bottom line,” he says. “This is especially true in cases where the office manager spends half of her time dealing with PC problems.”
Managing All Those Documents
The volume of printing in corporate America is declining. Sometimes, it makes more sense for employees to scan and e-mail information, rather than print it. Social media has entered the picture, too, changing the way we communicate with one another.
As a result, manufacturers like Ricoh are changing the way they interact with customers. Ricoh has launched a new program called Managed Document Services (MDS), a holistic and efficient management of printing and imaging services and devices such as printers, fax machines, copiers and multifunction devices.
“It’s the hottest thing out there,” says Bill Rockwood, president of Nexus Office Systems Inc., a Ricoh dealer with offices at 898 Featherstone Road in Rockford and 2250 Point Blvd. in Elgin. “The biggest challenge, in two or three years, is going to be managing the amount of data being created on networks. No one is deleting anything. It’s off the charts. I think this is going to help.”
MDS addresses fundamental functions relating to document management systems of input, throughput and output. Customers benefit by decreasing document-related expenses; reducing the number of help-desk calls; improving the overall process; increasing productivity; and reducing waste.
“They’re giving us the tools to monitor and measure what each customer is doing, and procedures to streamline the customer’s printing approach,” says Rockwood. “For most companies, printing is the most unregulated expense. The first thing companies need to identify is how much printing costs them.”
The MDS model is the biggest shift in philosophy that Rockwood has seen in his 40-year career. It started with the move from analog – the original process for creating a photocopy by using a lens, located beneath plated glass, to take a picture of the document – to digital copying, which uses a digital scanner to capture the image and replicate it.
In the late 1990s, scanning became popular. Rockwood says manufacturers spent 10 years playing catch-up to meet customer demand. These days, it’s “FollowMe printing,” a concept in document output management in which a user sends a job to a chosen printer, then walks to the device to pull the job from the central software by entering a pin number, user name, swipe card or thumbprint.
“On a nationwide basis, 18 percent of all jobs sent to the printer are never used,” Rockwood says. “By the time you get to the printer, it’s already taken care of, or someone comes through and puts your copies somewhere else. With FollowMe printing, I can run off to a meeting and access it from anywhere on the network, regardless of where I am.”
Rockwood says that MDS could be the magic bullet the business technology industry has been looking for. “You’re going to see complete management of the customer’s entire document life cycle,” he says. “We’re going to manage more than the output [printing] side of it. We’re going to manage the input, the scanning and data storage. It’s what we need to do to be more effective and efficient in order to stay competitive.”
Viewing the World in Color
While much of today’s data never needs to be printed out in hard copy, much of it still does. And the bar is higher than ever. During presentations, for example, professionals expect to be met with high-quality, full-color print pieces. It’s hard to believe now, but Tom Grimes didn’t sell any color copiers when he started working in the office product business more than 30 years ago.
“The first color copier we took on was a liquid machine,” Grimes says. “It actually pumped liquid from the bottom of the machine. There were 45 modifications to that machine when it first came out. The technology wasn’t there. The technology is much more mature now.”
Grimes is president of Advanced Business Machines (ABM), 5344 11th St., Rockford, an independent office imaging solution provider that sells and leases a full line of copiers, including full color and digital copiers, fax machines and laser printers. ABM offers new and reconditioned equipment from manufactures such as Panasonic, Brother and Konica Minolta.
The copier has come a long way since Xerox introduced the first fully-automated plain-paper photocopier, in 1959. Today’s models are more like computers, capable of copying, laser printing, faxing, and scanning into one networked machine. It’s big business, too. More than 1.5 million new copiers are sold each year, generating $24 billion in sales.
In the copier realm, the importance of color is one of the most important recent trends. When you have to make a good impression with your business documents, nothing is more effective than adding color. “In the early days, the only people who had color were marketing agencies and real estate agents. They needed color to make their presentation material really stand out.”
Today, businesses purchase color copiers because they’re cost-effective. “They’re more affordable and certainly more reliable than they used to be,” he says. “Companies are deciding it’s too expensive to send things out every month for color. They need to do it in-house.”
Prices for color copiers have come down dramatically. Digital color copiers for businesses start around $1,500, for a machine capable of 25 pages per minute and a total monthly volume of around 10,000 copies. Faster models, that handle larger monthly volume, run from $3,000 to $10,000, and very high-end copiers can cost as much as $40,000.
“Today, we can sell an entry-level network black-and-white copier for $895 that copies, prints, scans and faxes up to 20,000 copies a month,” he says. “Five years ago, a machine like that cost $5,000.”
A company that owns a high-tech color copier can make a print for 8 to 15 cents per piece. Out-of-house likely starts at 39 cents, depending on the quantity. Grimes says customers should take those numbers into consideration.
There are major differences among manufacturers. “It can swing from 3 to 4 cents per copy up to 20 cents per copy, depending on the manufacturer. You multiply that by thousands of copies per month, and you have a significant cost difference.”
If you wish your office environment provided better capability, chances are good that someone has already come up with a solution to the problems you experience. Today’s office environment is evolving every day, offering endless opportunities for greater efficiency, productivity, security and communication. ❚