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Office products update: Indiana vendors highlight the hottest technologies for the office.

High-tech computer networking, information storage and retrieval, faxing, copying, even computerized time keeping are changing the way businesses are doing business.

Take, for example, the new plain-paper laser facsimile machine. Seven years ago, businesses boasted of having a primitive $7,000 to $10,000 fax machine with simple transmitting and receiving capabilities. Today the machines are perceived as office necessities, and cost as little as $500. Amenities are the rage.

"The same thing is happening in the fax industry that happened in the late '70s to early '80s in the copier industry," says Matt Tucco, president of Advanced Copy Products in Muncie. "The technology is affordable for everyone. Now we want sophistication."

Internal memory for frequently faxed numbers, buffers to store incoming documents when a machine is out of paper, broadcast capability to fax to a predetermined list of locations, and confidential mailboxes where sensitive documents can be stored and printed only at the receiver's command are a few fax features. The machine can even be connected to a personal computer or terminal so that a document can be faxed directly to the receiver from the PC where it was created, with no initial printing.

In addition to its new features, the fax machine has seen considerable upgrades in its fundamental functions. The newest plain-paper facsimile machine is transmitting five times faster than before, cutting transmission time from an average of 11 seconds per page to 1.5 seconds. And the plain paper it uses, in place of thermal paper, is cheaper, gives better transmission clarity, has greater longevity and requires no additional copying. For the average user, the cost of faxing one piece of paper has decreased from between 6 and 9 cents to 3.5 cents.

"The greatest barrier confronting fax technology is facilities," says Leon Mordoh, vice president and part owner of HPS Office Systems in Indianapolis. "Facsimile transmission technology has superseded our ability to take advantage of the speed capability of these machines." The highest-quality fax machines use fiber-optic transmission lines, but many customers who purchase them find their clients do not have fiber-optic lines. So while the piece of equipment itself may have become affordable and cost-effective, the technology necessary to integrate it into a business scenario is not always readily available.

If you are in the market for purchasing a simple black-and-white copier, you will find the competition is tight. Don Carlile, director of marketing for Adams/Remco in South Bend, says, "The average copy-machine vendor is edging toward faster copies and finishing work, because that's the only place to really improve. We have copiers that can take computer forms, unfold them, make copies, fold them back up and staple them."

Carlile remarks that one of the greatest innovations in the copy industry right now is a new toner that's available in cans. Changing the toner no longer means you will be covered with black powder or liquid when you're finished. The toner comes in pressurized cans that disperse it as needed, eliminating the dripping of liquid toner and the floating of powdered toner. "It's now a white-glove operation," says Carlile.

In the advanced-copier industry, the trend seems to be toward bigger, better and brighter. The most advanced color copier/printer in the industry so far appears to be the Canon Bubble Jet, which can process full-color images up to 22 by 33 inches. It can also be attached to a computer for use in computer-aided design.

Marbaugh Engineering of Indianapolis dedicates this technology mostly to architectural designing, plotting and scanning blueprints. Joe Marbaugh believes reprographics will bring the day of the blueprint rapidly to a close. "By the year 2000 we will have only one-third the blueprints we see today. This technology will supplant the need for paper," he predicts.

Critch Greaves, of Fort Wayne-based Indiana Office Systems, disagrees that paper will become obsolete, though the PC-based optical-disc system he markets replaces much of paper's function as well.

An optical-disc system is a way to store and retrieve information more efficiently than the traditional filing system. Using digital images, an optical-disc system scans and stores information for filing, retrieving, faxing or printing and can receive and send images to other systems without using paper. Greaves says, however, "Paper will always be around, because customers and clients will continue to send correspondence on paper, even if it is faxed in. These technologies are only ways to better manage paper, not replace it."

Optical discs are incredibly cost- and space-efficient. Up to 50,000 documents can fit onto one 5-1/4-inch disc. The equivalent of several rooms of file cabinets can be stored on just a few optical discs. And the document only has to be filed once. "On top of that, you have a speedy retrieval system and the ability to fax information directly from the system," says Greaves. Other features include optical character recognition--so the machine can dump documents into the word processor for editing.

But what about those offices that truly need just a simple computer system, if such beasts even exist any longer? No one can survive without at least a PC-based computer network, according to Lynne Brown, principal of Indianapolis LAN Center. Brown claims that networking--local-area networking and wide-area networking--is the fastest-growing segment in the computer industry. She predicts that all computers eventually will be networked. "About 85 to 90 percent of all new products announced in the computer industry are network-related. There's no way around it," says Brown.

No office technology inventory would be complete without including telephone communication. Two technologies that often are confused, automated attendant and voice mail, are taking telephone communication systems by storm.

Automated attendant systems utilize a touch-tone telephone system to act as a receptionist for answering and directing calls. The newer systems are creating alternatives to the automated attendant, giving the caller a choice of using the system or getting a live human voice on the line. By giving individuals this choice, vendors feel that some people's frustration with talking to a machine can be eased.

Voice mail is simply an electronic mailbox hooked up to a specific telephone line. Callers can speak directly into the voice mailbox of the person they are trying to reach. Voice mail also is considered a bit more personal, since the mailbox instructions most often are recorded in the voice of the person being called.

The wonder of voice mail is that it can be accessed from anywhere in the world, if the proper security code is used. All that is required is a touch-tone telephone. "The world is going around via touch-tone," says Tim Potempa, district telecommunications manager for VanAusdall & Farrar Inc. in Indianapolis.

The other telephone-related technology that Potempa sees as growing is what he calls the "commercials-on-hold" market. Companies can program special messages, similar to advertisements, into their telephone systems, so that when a caller is put on hold he or she receives valuable information about the company.

With a view to the future, perhaps the most impressive communications technology is voice storage. This technology, recently implemented in the medical field but still in its formative stages for office use, recognizes human language and transcribes it into words that appear on a computer screen. The words then can be printed at the push of a button. Currently, the system is being used in hospital emergency rooms.

The greatest limit to this technology is expense. Initial installation is about $50,000. Another drawback is that vocabulary storage is limited. A different vocabulary file is necessary for each type of business using the system, meaning that further applications could be a long time in the making.

Automated time and attendance systems are another hot new office technology, completely revolutionizing the way employees' records are kept. No more punching the old time clock, reading time cards or "keying in" punch reports. And no more "payday panic," coming up short or long at the end of the week and having only hours to find and correct errors. The entire process, from punching the time clock to issuing the paychecks, now can be done electronically.

One automated system, the Kronos Timekeeper Central System, integrates into an existing computer system and utilizes a Polaroid photo identification badge and a time-and-attendance software package to total and interpret employee punch data. The software is able to consolidate the punch data into labor-hour information to generate reports automatically. With this system, a payroll officer can take punch reports daily and correct any mistakes immediately. These improved accounting procedures can cut costs.

An automated time and attendance system can be programmed to calculate regular time, overtime, sick time and holiday time. It also can provide summaries of hours, projected overtime, absences and budgets. In addition, the photo ID badge can be used for site access control, such as parking-garage entry.

"From an employee point of view, one of the nice features of the electronic system is that the employee's name, rather than an impersonal number, and working hours up-to-date are electronically displayed when the photo identification badge is used," says Ken Evens, president and owner of Evens Midwest in Indianapolis.

Advice to those shopping for office equipment and technology: Don't cut corners for immediate savings, but look instead to the future and investment needs. Thoroughly, check out your vendor, because service and repair will be vital in the future. And finally, when confronting a service need, beware of anyone who says, "No problem." The industry is too complex and is changing too rapidly.
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Author:Baughman, Nena
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:May 1, 1991
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