Enterprise Office Automation

For many, the network ends just as workers are taking that last crucial step - faxing documents such as contracts, invoices and purchase orders. Jerry Hodgen explores how to bridge that gap for improved efficiency and cost savings without sacrificing security.

A couple of months ago, I took my monthly sabbatical to one of our branch offices to see how the world outside of HQ gets by. As usual, my objective was to make life easier for those folks that deliver the services that bring in revenue. More often than not, IT departments spend an inordinate amount of time developing and maintaining business and office automation systems for the bean counters at Corporate and give little thought to the associates who deliver services to the paying customer.

The Challenge

It didn’t take me long to see there was indeed a need at our branch offices. At the particular office I visited, in addition to the obligatory PC on each desktop, I discovered an ink jet printer as well as a sprinkling of flatbed scanners.

Further scrutiny revealed a lonely copy machine in one corner of the room. A very busy fax machine occupied the other corner with sales associate frantically feeding documents into it. I performed a quick mental calculation of the investment in hardware, software, and consumables required to feed these devices and it was obvious to me that there had to be a better way.

I visited with the branch manager who was glad to bend my ear about how he had “digitized” the office, desktop by desktop, over a period of couple years… so much for IT coming to his aid!! Further conversation revealed that the customer this office primary served required the bill of lading documentation to be transmitted to the receiving office as soon as the product had been shipped, hence hours spent in front of a fax machine by associates, not to mention the toll charges being racked up on a daily basis.

Multi-Function Copy Machine

My team had just completed a project to implement multi-function Copy machines at strategic locations through out the corporate campus. There are a number of vendors who provide this type of copy machine; in my case I used Xerox. These machines were not only copiers, they were also configured as network printers and scanners, eliminating the need for the plethora of desk jet printers and flat bed scanners that were starting to sprout on the desktops. This was actually quite simple to implement, because all my team had to do was to provide a 100mb Ethernet port for the copier and a server for the copy machines to deposit scanned documents for the end user to retrieve.

This was a perfect opportunity for a multi-function copier machine similar to what I had just finished deploying at Corporate. However, when my engineers advised my that I was either going to have to relax my ban on servers outside the corporate data center or permit ISS, local admin rights, and static IP addresses for the branch office desktops I begin to have second thoughts.

We had come along way in maintaining desktop standards by restricting admin rights to desktop and network engineers and I absolutely did not want to change course for a multi-function copy machine deployment. Likewise, I didn’t want to install servers at branch offices either. Nonetheless, it seemed the only way to duplicate this scan-to-desktop functionality at the branch office, short of installing a server, would be to configure up to five PCs with static IP addresses and enable ISS and local Admin rights on these PCs.

Absolutely not! I said we couldn’t jeopardize the integrity of our desktops and network by throwing our security standards out the window. To do so would open us up to issues created by users installing their own software, or worse, inadvertently setting up their ISS features to broadcast to and paralyze the network. There had to be a better way.

The Fix

Well back to the drawing board and more dialogue with the branch personnel. The office manager advised me that the majority of the time; there was no need to scan a document to the desktop. Specifically, that their requirements were to transmit documents to their customers and not necessarily store the documents on their desktops.

Based on this revelation, we decided to configure the copier machines for scan-to-e-mail versus scan-to-desktop. Now the sales associates could simply key in the customers e-mail address and the copier machine would scan and transmit the document to an e-mail address via our SMTP gateway back at corporate. This eliminated the need for special software, configurations, and admin rights on the local PC. I was skeptical at first because I was concerned about the bandwidth between the branch office and Corporate where the outbound SMTP server resides; however, extensive testing proved me wrong, as the actual bandwidth utilization was relatively low.

The end result is I am now deploying multi-function copiers with network printing, scan to e-mail, and fax capability at my branch offices. The scan-to-e-mail feature is saving me big bucks on my telephone bills because we are now using e-mail to deliver documents that were previously faxed. Not to mention that resources that were tied up sending faxes is now serving the customer.

The moral of this story is to remember the branch offices when you deploy something at Corporate. More likely than not, there is a need for a similar solution at these branch offices. Sure, as in this situation I had to tailor it to maintain security standards, but it was both a good fit and a process improvement for the branch office associates.

This article was first published on EnterpriseITPlanet.com.






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