Paper Or Digital Forms? Having It Both Ways
September 8, 2014 Dan Burger
Finding the cost savings in digital document management is one of the easiest search and replace substitutions an organization can undertake. It begins with the people costs associated with handling paper records and includes the reduction–but not the elimination–of printing, mailing, and storage of business-related information. The experience of one industrial supply company provides a good example of the reality of this cost saving project.
Midway Industrial Supply is an equipment and parts distribution company with thousands of customers and a sales staff that services those customers. The business runs on an IBM IT infrastructure that began with the System/32 and progressed to the AS/400 and IBM System i.
Its goal is to help companies reduce operating costs and improve production processes and it applies those objectives to its own business as well.
Former owner and CEO Gregg Lien, who remains involved with strategic planning, explained that MIS began experimenting with digital forms that replaced printed forms about 10 years ago. The process began with designing and implementing internal reports and progressed to offering billing forms to customers. Lien estimates 45 percent of MIS customers now prefer digital forms.
“We started by looking at the cost of mailing one invoice to a customer and compared that to emailing that invoice and then we looked at customers that were receiving multiple invoices,” Lien said during a phone call with IT Jungle last week. “We had people taking a lot of time stuffing envelopes. And we looked at the postage that was necessary for mailing invoices and factored in the savings by using email. We also noticed the invoice-processing time was reduced dramatically. There is enormous savings in people time and in paper and postage. And then there is the factor of speed–putting the invoice in the customers’ hands in seconds.
“There are big savings that more than pay for the annual software updates. You start adding up thousands of invoices in a month and then you add in other documents like emailing our sales people daily records of their customers’ orders and daily invoices that are billed and the savings build.”
Lien says the automated daily emailing of current information to the sales force is an advantage for the MIS salespeople because they are more in tune with their customers’ order status. There’s a psychological effect that benefits the sales team’s confidence in helping customers, he says. There are also monthly reports, commission reports, and sales analysis reports, that are emailed to the sales staff, with no paper or postage costs involved. Sales people keep their encrypted files on their own PCs and laptops.
Before transitioning to digital forms, MIS took the step from buying preprinted forms to designing and printing its forms in-house. This was when Lien was introduced to ArtForm400 software by his IT business partner Mike Blackburn and his company MiNet. The software, which is designed and developed by the Danish company InterForm, provides drag and drop forms design of documents–such as invoices, delivery notes, pick lists, and labels–without RPG programming. The company claims thousands of software licenses have been sold internationally.
ArtForm400 runs on the modern IBM i platform, with a forms design tool running on Windows. MiNet and others distribute ArtForm400 in the North American market. In all other markets, the product uses the InterForm400 name. Trademark restrictions prevent InterForm400 from being used in North America.
“When ArtForm came along and was available as a trial offer, we found it much easier to work with than the forms software we had been using, which required changing RPG specs to make changes in the form,” Lien says. “ArtForm has an extremely good menu system and excellent documentation. We put print jobs into spool files and ArtForm opens the spool files to a Windows GUI interface and populates the fields. It allows us to easily change the positions on the form where information is displayed and places fields where we want them without getting our programmers involved to any major degree, plus we can add controls to use email for distribution.”
Delaying the move from pre-printed paper forms to either in-house printed forms or electronic forms because of the programmer time involved is a misconception that can be overcome after gaining familiarity with the software and an examination of the costs related to inefficient work-flow processes, according to MiNet’s Blackburn. “Gregg (Lien) has figured it out,” he says. “He’s found the savings possible for his company using email with attachments.”
On the supplier side, MIS is converting paper-based documents to electronic documents for in-house workflow efficiencies in instances where suppliers do not provide digital documents. MIS uses scanning software from RJS Software to handle that workload.