Edmonton Public Schools automates fax ordering system

The way the Edmonton Public Schools was handling its purchasing and other financial affairs wasn’t earning a passing grade. With most of its documents sent and received by stand-alone fax machines, the department was wasting a lot of paper and a lot of time.

Sultan Ibrahim, manager of financial operations and technology for the school system’s finance department, estimates his department was sending and receiving some 75,000 faxes a year. In the purchasing area, every buyer was spending about an hour a day handling faxes. Employees had to get up from their desks and walk to fax machines to send or pick up their faxes. When they were busy, they didn’t pick up their faxes promptly, so there were delays in responding.

There had to be a better way. So the department decided to look into automated fax distribution systems. The goal, Ibrahim says, was to rely less on paper records and let employees do as much as possible without leaving their desks.

The system Edmonton Public Schools chose, RightFax from Captaris Inc., in Bellevue, Wash., uses a fax server that distributes received faxes over the local-area network and allows employees to send faxes from their PCs.

It is also integrated with Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange and Outlook, so that incoming faxes show up in Outlook mailboxes, and with Oracle Corp.’s database software, allowing employees to generate documents such as purchase orders directly from Oracle and fax them from their PCs.

RightFax has optical character recognition capabilities that aid in routing faxes and extracting data, but what employees at Edmonton Public Schools receive in their mailboxes are simply images of the incoming pages.

Ibrahim says the new system saves buyers five to 10 minutes on every document. With purchasing handling about 15,000 faxes a year, that’s a substantial savings. It hasn’t led to staff cuts, he says – instead, it means buyers can spend more time comparison shopping to get the best deals, and do a better job of getting supplies on time, avoiding emergency ordering that used to increase costs.

Though RightFax saves the school system lots of time, Ibrahim says his department justified the purchase strictly on the hard cost savings. Those savings include getting rid of three fax lines – not needing fax machines spread throughout the department makes it possible to operate with fewer lines – plus paper, supplies and maintenance costs for stand-alone fax machines.

That’s typical, according to Eric Bean, senior director of product management at Captaris. “Most of our customers who actually go through that analysis find those reductions so compelling that they don’t even have to go into the soft costs like time savings.”

Yet Bean claims most customers actually save more on employee time in the long run than on the hard costs.

Frustration levels are lower too, Ibrahim says. “With conventional faxing you encounter quite a few problems as far as equipment is concerned.”

Teaching employees to use the new system was simple, adds Les Neatby, programmer/analyst at Edmonton Public Schools. “From an end-user perspective, there really wasn’t a lot of training that was really required.”

E-mail is taking over some tasks from fax at the school district, Ibrahim says – copies of purchase orders can sometimes be e-mailed rather than faxed now – but the impact on fax traffic has been only marginal so far, largely because fax can transmit original signatures, which are required for many documents.

Bean says fax traffic is still increasing despite the popularity of e-mail, because of the legal importance of signatures and the fact that many companies’ systems are still built around paper documents.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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