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Cutting-edge offices: the latest trend in office equipment, design and furnishings.

The comic-strip character Dilbert may have a difficult time with his bosses and the nuances of cubicle culture, but the latest trends in office equipment, design and furnishings may improve his disposition.

Maria Slager, president and owner of Office Interiors Inc., with locations in Elkhart and South Bend, predicts that the cubicle culture may be on the way out. "Instead of individual cubicles, we're seeing more open areas where people can collaborate and join together in an intellectual effort," Slager says. "When you have a flattening of organizations, the need to create teaming environments becomes more important." However, she adds, employees "also need to have access to others."

Bob Koehne, senior vice president of sales for Business Furniture Corp. in Indianapolis, agrees that cubicles are changing to meet the needs of workplace communication.

"What we are seeing is that communication is becoming a big issue," Koehne says. "The aim is to lower the heights, lower those barriers so employees can have more access to each other."

Koehne also says that flexibility and mobility are key in today's office. "Your normal workstation has downsized but you can add a movable table to enlarge the area for special projects."

As part of the push for greater mobility, Haworth has a line of furniture called Crossings, which is integrated with panels. "This type of furniture allows you to make changes easily because it's mobile," says Slager. Space can be designated for quick meetings, with portable tables and walls on casters. "It's very flexible for time and space. You can open and shut an area."

Another office design advance is steel furniture, with curved work planes that make for a more friendly work environment. This type of furniture benefits a company with fluctuating numbers of permanent and temporary employees. "You can also attach storage and filing systems to the furniture," explains Slager.

And with the fluctuation of employees, doubling up on office furnishings is a given. For employees who will be sharing a chair, Brian McShane, president of McShane's Inc. in Munster and Valparaiso, recommends one with a hydraulic component "so you can adjust the height of the chair. Many chairs now offer multi-adjustments that cater to each person's comfort level. Chairs have really evolved over the last 10 years through studies of how people interact with a computer."

However, expect to pay up to $300 for a good padded chair, says McShane. "A lot of people try to skimp by only budgeting $100. But you should consider the long-term effects of sitting eight hours a day. It's not just a matter of price, but the comfort level, too."

Advances aren't limited to the office furnishings; office equipment is going through a rapid evolution as well. With technology advancing so rapidly, "you're starting to see more products and capability for less dollars," says Howard Bienstock, vice president and general manager of VanAusdall & Farrar Inc., an office-automation firm in Indianapolis.

"The entire business community is shifting from an analog system to a digital platform," he notes. Photocopiers are a prime example. Unlike analog, which "uses a lens-and-mirror technology," digital incorporates laser technology.

"The main trend that we're seeing from the manufacturers - Canon, Minolta, Xerox - is that the photocopier side is going digital," confirms McShane.

At a recent Canon expo, McShane noticed that the company's new slogan is "Image Anywhere." "Their concept, whether you're working at home or at the office, is being able to activate the office printer from a PC," he says.

"Basically, everything is going to be part of the network or hung onto the network," says Bienstock. Multifunctional copiers not only copy, but also print and fax from one's personal computer or network. Users can activate functions from a nearby desk or from another building or "even from another state, theoretically, if they are on a wide-area network." The print capability of these machines range from 10 pages to 180 pages a minute.

Bienstock estimates that 20 percent of the market upgrades yearly. Therefore, if a business hasn't rotated its office equipment within five years, it is likely to be behind the times. "We're finding that companies are very surprised by the advances, and perhaps even a little leery of some of the capabilities until they actually touch it and see how easy it is to use," he says.

Patrick Smith, president of Smith Office Plus, which is headquartered in Lafayette and has nine locations across north-central Indiana, offers only one digital photocopier at this time but expects to introduce another 13 in the next two years.

"It brings the whole system of printing documents and filing documents into one channel," explains Smith. "Customers, though, will need to buy software and adapters in order to connect this digital hardware to their laser printers, computers and fax machines."

Smith also is seeing an increase in color copying machines. "They're not only becoming more popular but more affordable," he says, noting a current price range of $20,000 to $35,000 versus a minimum price of $40,000 to $60,000 a few years ago. "They're still not to the point of being affordable for the mass market, but they have come down sufficiently in price to attract the top market."

In addition to lower-priced laser color systems (with the cost of the printed page also becoming less), digital cameras are becoming more popular. "The digital camera is a component of the copier," explains McShane. "You can take a digital picture which feeds into the computer. The image can then be manipulated and printed out. Resolutions keep getting better and better."

As for computing advances, Windows-based software programs should continue their dominance. "Obviously, Microsoft is a huge player in this field," says Mike Burnett, sales manager for BBM Office Products Inc. in Bloomington.

WinFrame is a networking system from Citrix that Burnett feels will gain acceptance. "Citrix has joined with Microsoft to market this program in the next release of Windows NT," he says. "This will centralize administration, security and maintenance of all networks. Windows NT needs to be installed for this product to run."

Currently available is the Enterprise edition of WinFrame, which retails for' $5,900 and supports up to 15 users. It can also be upgraded for additional users. "It's the hot networking environment," says Burnett. Moreover, "It's not dependent on the speed of the processor. You can run Windows programs over 286s, 386s and 486s, so you don't need to upgrade."

Internet capability is essential. "If you're in business today, you have to be on the Internet," stresses Burnett. The Internet, he says, is useful not only for marketing products and services, but also for research and e-mail communications. It takes at least an Intel 486 chip to run Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or the latest browser and e-mail software from Netscape. "The Internet is a resource hog, so you're going to need a fairly powerful computer. A Pentium chip or equivalent would be my suggestion," he says.

When considering a costly purchase or lease of any equipment, businesses "need to look at their present costs, including what they are spending on outsourcing," says Bienstock of VanAusdall & Farrar. Investing in new equipment may allow a company a competitive edge when making proposals for new business - for example, using a color presentation versus a black-and-white. "You have the ability to customize a very expensive presentation without incurring a lot of cost."

And, Bienstock says, it's wise to pick a reputable vendor that offers service. "You get what you pay for when you start looking at some of the vendors," relates Bienstock. For example, when buying computer equipment, he says, look for "a vendor with certified network engineers who can work on the Novell/Windows/Macintosh platforms, as well as having personnel on staff who can support the network. Otherwise, you're likely to have problems with anything that you buy."
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Author:Kronemyer, Bob
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1998
Previous Article:Across Indiana.
Next Article:Color czar? Indianapolis interior designer picks the colors you will see next year.

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