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Office products update.

In three words: Faster, better and cheaper

The business environment is ever changing. And part of that changing world is the variety of office products. New and improved products introduced and old ones improved have a few characteristics in common--they're faster, better and cheaper.

If visions of dropping a stack of transparencies in the board room scares you, try an LCD panel. "They're not brand new," says Jerry Jones, president of Cannon IV in Indianapolis. "But every year they get so much more sophisticated." About an inch thick, these gadgets work in conjunction with overhead projectors to create digitized displays, making those plastic sheets with pie charts obsolete. The advanced capabilities include hookups to computers and videocassette recorders. Newer models have improved color-projection capabilities. The typical price of $2,000 to $5,000 may seem high, but its potential as a marketing and presentation tool make it a good deal for a lot of people.

If information isn't presented face-to-face, it may be sent over a fax machine. "People no longer say, 'Do you have a fax'- -it's more, 'Can I have your fax number?'" says Patrick Smith, president of Smith Office Equipment in Lafayette. Although plain-paper fax machines have been around for a few years, they're becoming "feature rich," Smith says.

"They've taken some old features and expanded their capabilities," he adds. Some of these enhanced features include being able to fax directly from a computer terminal with the aid of a modem--thus saving the time of printing the document and then faxing it--as well as storing more commonly used phone numbers. Older models could only store about 20 to 30 numbers, whereas current plain-paper models can store up to 200 commonly used numbers.

Jim Leonard, president of South Bend's Business Communications Center, adds speed to the plain-paper fax machine's list of qualities. With "dual access" transmittal, documents can be sent and received simultaneously. The user no longer has to wait for an incoming document to finish before sending one.

Quick-scan features also decrease the time spent at the fax machine. This feature allows the fax machine to quickly scan the document and then transmit it, as opposed to scanning and sending at the same time. "By doing that," Leonard says, "it allows the user not to have to stand and wait. If we can reduce the time of that person at the fax, that's the increase in productivity." Also, he says, laser printers now can double as fax receivers if they're equipped with special modems and adapters. That can ease a fax bottleneck in offices that receive lots of faxes.

Plain-paper fax machines are falling in price, but they're still more expensive than thermal-paper units. Two years ago, Smith says, the price of a plain-paper fax was $3,000 to $5,000, minimum. Now, the price range is about $1,600 to $2,500 for a top-of-the-line model. Thermal fax machines run about $300.

"But," Smith says, "you can pretty much cost-justify the plain- paper fax in terms of operating costs." For a roll-fed machine, the cost of supplies rings up to 7 to 10 cents per copy. Add to that the cost of taking the received fax and making a permanent copy on the copy machine. The image on this paper doesn't last forever, and will fade with time. With plain-paper faxes, the cost is more like 2 1/2 to 4 cents per copy--and it's a permanent copy.

"Plus, the transmission speed is much faster," Smith says. A 10-page document on a roll-fed machine may take 3 to 4 minutes to transmit, versus 2 to 3 minutes on a plain-paper machine. This is due more to improved transmission technology than any inherent difference between plain-paper and thermal-paper machines. Manufacturers are devoting more of their resources to the plain-paper devices because they're seen as the way of the future.

Whatever the reason for their better speed, "time is money," says Matt Tucco of Advanced Copy Products in Muncie. "If you can send a message from New York to L.A. in 15 seconds versus 45 seconds, you're obviously saving man hours and telephone hours."

Computers are also getting faster and better. "Every day is a new adventure," says Keith Callahan of Graham MicroAge in Indianapolis. The brain of the computer has gone through a series of major changes. Last year, Callahan says, computers that had Intel 386 processors and could process 16 bits of information at a time were the norm. Now, model 486 processors with 32-bit capabilities are common. Later this year, the 586s will be out. Callahan likens the more-bits-of-information-at-a- time phenomenon to a bigger highway.

"The software manufacturers will take advantage of bigger highways and write more complicated programs to do more things and be faster," he says. Once again, with more speed comes greater productivity.

Callahan adds that Macintosh is now marketing its Centris line- -models 610 and 650. Depending on features, these new computers can retail from $1,859 to $2,959 for the 610 and from $2,699 to $4,379 for the 650. The Centris is affordable yet powerful, with a Motorola 68040 processor. This computer would be appropriate for business users and other professionals, performing well on demanding tasks such as spreadsheets, reports with many charts and graphics, and large databases.

The performance of the Centris 650 outdoes that of the 610 by more than 30 percent. It also has greater spreadsheet analysis, graphics-intensive publishing capabilities, and faster database retrieval.

Even though the paper chase has been supposedly decreasing for the past five to 10 years, it's still nice to have good-quality printouts. The big news in laser printers is the 600-dot-per- inch model. Hewlett-Packard began marketing its LaserJet 4 last fall. "The quality is so good that it's virtually camera- ready," says Jones of Cannon IV.

Callahan of Graham MicroAge in Indianapolis agrees. "The difference in printout quality is very noticeable. That's part of the better-cheaper-faster-more-wonderful nature of our industry."

For those companies doing quite a bit of desktop publishing, the price isn't bad either. Depending on the other features on a 600 dpi printer, the price can run from $2,000 to $3,000. "Now, you can put together an entire system for $6,000, and you have an incredibly sophisticated system," Jones says.

Today's office is increasingly mobile, says Stephen Leach of VanAusdall & Farrar in Indianapolis. Even the cellular phone, the rage of mobile business people, has undergone some improvements. "The hottest product is a hand-held cellular phone that converts into a 3-watt car kit," Leach says.

This type of phone combines the features of the earlier, permanently installed models with the convenience of the transportable phone that plugs into the cigarette lighter and has an antenna on the bag. The cradle that resides in the car powers the phone, can run a signal through an external antenna, and can charge up the handheld phone battery for portability.

"It's the best of both worlds," Leach says. It has one phone number, but can be carried anywhere and still has the quality of installed cellular phones.

Voice-activated dialing was introduced a few years ago, but is just starting to take off in sales, Leach says. Most often, the only time a driver's eyes are taken off the road when using a cellular phone is to dial a number. With this dialing system, the driver simply tells the visor microphone to dial a pre- programmed number, such as "home" or "work," and the system dials that number.

Cellular service can enhance other products as well. Cellular fax machines are an example. "We have a lot of real-estate agents who fax contracts from the field," Leach says. "And architects can have changes in blueprints faxed right to the job site." These fax machines have many of the same features as an office machine. Some companies also use cellular phones to back up their land lines or security systems.

Not only are office products and supplies getting better, many are getting greener--as in made-of-recycled-materials greener. Leonard of Business Communications Center says that the newer photocopier models are more environmentally friendly. Paper misfeeds used to occur more often with recycled paper because of the greater amount of paper dust on the paper, but newer machines work better with recycled paper.

Jim Butterfield of Smith & Butterfield in Evansville adds that better recycled paper has also contributed to the decrease in paper misfeeds. Paper made entirely of recycled materials is not yet good enough, but paper with 50 percent recycled content is improving in both quality and price.

Also, the photoconductors in copiers used to be coated with arsenic or selenium to transfer the image. Both selenium and arsenic were considered hazardous wastes, and the drums could not be disposed of with the rest of the office garbage. "It had to be shipped back to the manufacturer and be accounted for," Leonard says. With organic photoconductors, disposal is not a problem.

As far as recycled supplies goes, Butterfield admits that dealers face a Catch 22. Prices are higher for the 100 percent recycled products because the demand is quite low. However, the demand is low because the price is high. "Dealers cannot afford to increase inventory to offer some types of recycled product," Butterfield says.

"So what the manufacturers have tried to do is manufacture their products with some recycled materials and almost force the issue into the marketplace," Butterfield says. Mead is one such company that makes all of its products with some recycled materials, therefore keeping the price at a reasonable level.

Continental Office Furniture & Supply in Indianapolis has had a recycled-products catalog available for about a year. Though the variety of products is broad--including self-stick notes, calendars, scissors, storage boxes and folders--response has not been overwhelming.

"Some of this pricing has hampered day-to-day use," says Conrad Kuczynski of Continental. "But, there has been an upward trend. I haven't seen a total embracement of using recycled products, but I see people considering it."

Looking into the crystal ball of office-products-to-be, a few products stand out. A concept that is now beyond the talking stages and just short of the prototype and marketing stages is a product that combines a fax machine with a copier, printer and scanner.

"Multifunctional device is the buzzword in this industry," says Jon King, vice president of Indianapolis' CopyRite. Besides having just one piece of equipment instead of four, King adds gained efficiency and productivity to this product's list of potential qualities.

Just when you thought your desk telephone couldn't get any better, guess again. AT&T and other manufacturers are developing wireless telephone systems. Phone systems now have a control box installed in the office with wires running from it to the phones on various desks, Sally Maynard of AT&T says. With a wireless system, "you still have the box, you still have the phone. You just don't have the wire running in between," she says. One advantage of this system is that employees can be mobile within the office or the company. If an employee is moving to another building, he or she can take the phone along and not worry about rewiring.

Dennis Elder of United Telephone Co. adds other advantages to the list. Installation is much easier and cheaper, and workers will be less likely to miss an important call because they can take their phones with them. Also, they won't have to return as many calls, which means phone bills could go down, and customer service could improve as well.

Yes, office products change as quickly as the business world itself, and there are exciting advances on the horizon. However costly those products may be, consider them an investment in efficiency and productivity and the price tag may not look quite so bad.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:improvement in office products
Author:Gilbert, Jo
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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