Techniques: Microcases


Problem: Rapid communication of document changes
Solution: A product that turns a copier into a networked scanner
Payoff: Paperless document distribution

When Craig Erdmier and Robert Stroup, co-owners of $50-million Cord Construction Co., in Rockford, Ill., plunked down about $12,000 on a state-of-the-art digital Canon copier a year ago, they envisioned the machine as a panacea for Cord's document difficulties. The problems were standard for the construction industry, where job specifications can change from moment to moment. Contractors must be ready not only to make eleventh-hour changes to blueprints but also to (quickly) apprise a bevy of involved parties -- vendors and subcontractors, architects and superintendents, office personnel and field personnel -- of the alterations. "We sometimes have as many as 30 jobs at a time," says Stroup, the company president. "You could clear a forest with the paper we used around here."

The cutting-edge copier did make a big difference. Because it doubled as a network printer, Cord's 25 office employees could produce collated and double-sided documents from their desktops, which freed them from having to toil away in the company's print room. The copier also had scan capabilities, so employees could scan a document without making a trip from the copier to a separate machine. But the efficiency gains were offset by what Mark Jones, Cord's head of information technology, calls "a sharing problem": to send a fax, employees still had to stand at a fax machine rather than sit at their PCs. The Canon's scanning features were limited as well: scanned documents could be copied but could not be routed to individual desktops for easy editing.

Wanting to get the most out of his bosses' equipment investment, Jones contacted his Canon salesman and asked how he could fully tap the machine's networking properties. The salesman recommended the software ShareScan, from a Canon partner called Simplify Development Corp., in Nashua, N.H. (603-881-4450;; $1,375 for five users). ShareScan converts digital copiers into devices that enable users to share documents electronically over a company's local area network. It was just what Jones needed, because it allowed any paper document scanned on the copier to be forwarded to employee desktops equipped with the software.

Now, using a ShareScan application called MailRoom, an employee at Cord can call up and electronically annotate a scanned document using margin notes, approval stamps, and whiteout, and then pass the edited version along to a colleague for further comments. Once all the project changes have been made, the document can be E-mailed as an attachment to anyone outside the office. "If we need to notify several vendors about a paragraph in the spec, we can scan that section and get it out instantaneously with an E-mail," says Jones. "In the old days we'd have to make a copy and fax it."

The new technology has also assisted Cord in design planning. It's customary, says Stroup, for the company to ask customers to find photos of building designs they like and dislike; Cord then uses the photos to guide its aesthetic suggestions. "It might be, say, the gargoyles on a cornice on the outside of a building," explains Stroup. "Before, we'd go to the cornice manufacturers, and we'd verbally describe the photos. Now we can scan and attach them."

If ShareScan sounds as if it's just what your company needs, be forewarned: though compatible with Canon and Ricoh machines, as well as other devices that support ISIS (image and scanner interface specification) standards, Simplify's suite doesn't support Xerox products. "Xerox offers its own proprietary solution," says Noel Coletti, Simplify's vice-president of sales and marketing. And as happy as Jones was with ShareScan, he soon realized that the oldest of copying problems has no antidote. "Spreading a big book apart and getting it on the machine to scan it can still be a problem," he says.