Distributor Tosses Paper for Digital

By Ira Apfel  |  Posted 2006-03-13

Distributor Tosses Paper for Digital

When the time came for California Distribution to upgrade its copiers, David Friday wanted more than just photocopying capability. His company based its performance and reputation on accurate record keeping, but it was getting buried under a mountain of paperwork.

If a customer had a question about an old order, it could take an hour or more to locate the correct bill. At other times, paperwork could be lost in transit between headquarters and the warehouses. For California Distribution, the old, paper-based way was obsolete.

Friday, network administrator at California Distribution, won approval from his supervisors to purchase multifunctional machines and software that could scan and digitize his companys paperwork. He said he looked at every brand on the market before choosing Ricoh.

To make the new machines even more functional, Friday said, he found a software provider, eCopy, that could e-mail and electronically transfer digital scans to a shared network server so that every employee could instantly receive a copy of a customer order.

Then, he wrote customized guides for every employee so each one could use the new system. The switch from a paper-based approach to an electronic system saves co-workers, executives and clients hours—sometimes days—in processing information.

eCopy boosts support for peripherals. Click here to read more.

"Their system of moving information around was based on paper information like manual bills and faxes, and they had several locations as well," said Vickie Malis, vice president of marketing for eCopy, a software solutions provider based in Nashua, N.H. "The old, paper-based method was expensive and inefficient, and there were many potential points where information could be lost."

Based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., California Distribution provides customized logistics solutions for clients—ranging from coordinating shipments of raw materials and components to overseeing the shipment of finished products between manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and clients.

The company employs approximately 80 full-time workers and 60 temporary warehouse employees, and its annual revenue is $8 million. Clients include Oneida and Travel Pro Luggage.

Friday was brought in a little over five years ago to computerize California Distributions office. When the company decided to upgrade its old copying machines early last year, Friday took the initiative to see if California Distributions new copiers could not only make copies but also offer fax and scan capabilities to boot.

Friday said he started by testing every multifunctional copier brand on the market—Konica, Minolta, Canon, Sharp and others. He decided to go with Ricoh based on its price and functionality.

"They tested our solution and were very pleased with its ease of usage," said Gloria Farrell, manager of technology alliances for Ricoh, based in West Caldwell, N.J. "The ease of use was obvious because of the large screen with large buttons on our machines. Its like a Microsoft Windows environment, so people feel comfortable with it right away."

While testing copiers, Friday came across software that could scan automatically from a copier to a companys network server. eCopy made the software, but, at the time, it had an exclusive deal with Canon. Toward the end of his negotiations with Ricoh, Friday had a stroke of good fortune—eCopy switched to an open platform, which meant Ricoh could offer the software.

Still, Friday said that convincing his superiors was tricky. The cost of seven Ricoh digital copiers and eCopy ShareScan OP document scanning and distribution software would be greater than a traditional copying machine—an additional $300 a month, said Friday. But he broke down the savings in productivity and satisfied his bosses that it was a smart purchase in the long run.

Creating a new workflow to replace the old paper trail was also difficult. Friday had to visit every employee at California Distribution and observe how each person—from a warehouse worker to the president—received, sent and filed paperwork. Then, he had to write a customized procedure that each person could follow. It took Friday two months to complete the interview and procedure writing process.

Next Page: Dramatic improvements.

Dramatic Improvements

Once Friday trained each employee on the new process, the results were dramatic.

Previously, customer orders were picked up by couriers at one of California Distributions three distribution centers and faxed to the client.

With three distribution centers and a main office, California Distribution needed a courier traveling three times a day to and from the centers just to keep up with the paperwork.

With the electronic linking of three distribution centers, client services and headquarters, California Distribution employees now can instantly distribute scanned documents throughout the organization, speeding up the process from a day to seconds.

Bills are immediately e-mailed to clients, who receive faster service and superior document quality compared with faxes.

"The solution allows you, for example, to scan six pages and reorient a bad page or insert a missing page," Farrell said. In addition, all scanned documents are archived at a central network so nothing is lost.

Another major problem that the new Ricoh/eCopy system solved was answering customer questions about old orders.

"We can provide better service to our customers because everyone, including our service representatives, is working from the same scanned shipment documents," said Lori Wheeler, vice president at California Distribution.

There have not been any glitches with the new system, Friday said. His advice to companies that are contemplating the switch from paper to digital: Go for it.

"Its a lot of work to write the new procedures, and thats the key," Friday said. "But, in the end, its all worth it. Were much more efficient than we were a year ago."

Ira Apfel is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Md. Contact him at iapfel@yahoo.com.

Case file

  • Customer California Distribution
  • Location Santa Fe Springs, Calif.
  • Organizational snapshot California Distribution has established itself as a premier West Coast-based provider of customized logistics solutions for more than 25 years
  • Business need California Distribution needed to improve the accuracy of its internal and external communications; its goal was to move away from traditional paper bills, faxes and orders and embrace scanned, digital copies that everyone could access
  • Technology partners Ricoh and eCopy
  • Recommended solution California Distribution selected Ricoh digital copiers and eCopy ShareScan OP document scanning and distribution software to create a paperless office and boost efficiency
  • Lesson learned Going paperless pays off in improved efficiency—as long as you train everyone at your company on the new system

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