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2/8/2008
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Biltmore Hotels Save Paper, Printing Costs Through Digitized Docs

The chain's CIO gives employees the option of working with a digital document to reduce the number of printers and expensive ink cartridge replacements.

Marc Stidham, CIO of Biltmore Hotels, isn't one of those people who believe the paperless office will never arrive. On the other hand, his best efforts to cut consumption have not yielded results as big as he had hoped.

Nevertheless, he's mounted a direct attack on paper costs. "Our print page numbers went down, but I can't get rid of all the people who still like to print their documents. If I could get rid of those people, the numbers would come down significantly," he said in an interview.

His point was made in jest. It wasn't that the hotel chain needed to fire the paper users among its 500 white-collar employees at Coral Gables, Fla., headquarters. The point is that it's difficult to reduce paper and ink consumption when the effort flies in the face of people's office habits.

Still, the Biltmore experience illustrates what is possible. Instead of constantly escalating printer numbers, Stidham has consolidated office operations around fewer printers, supplementing them with the addition of high-end copiers. Instead of supporting 41 printers, he now has nine; the number of copiers went from 11 to 14.

The copiers save printer use because they can both scan both sides of a document as well as copy them, giving employees the option of working with a digital document in Adobe's standard PDF format.

Furthermore, the copiers are programmable. They are models from Sharp that can be interfaced to other office systems using a Web services toolkit geared to connect a copier's features to other software. It's called the Open Systems Architecture toolkit, and Stidham hires a contractor to do the programming, he said.

If a user decides to distribute a document electronically, he can use a panel at the copier to obtain a view of his Microsoft Exchange address book, select a group of users to whom the document should be sent, and initiate the distribution.

In addition, users need to swipe their Biltmore identification badges in the badge reader on the copier. Only certain employees are authorized to do color printing, and each user's ID is verified by Microsoft Active Directory after the badge swipe. That way, Stidham can bill departments for the amount of printing they are consuming, if it passes certain limits. He can also identify the individual who printed 1,000 four-color handbills with the picture of his missing cat, he said, partly in jest.

"We used to have various color printers all over" and go through color printing cartridges like water, with no accounting for their use, he said.

The ability to move digital documents around, combined with the new copier controls, has cut what used to be a $3,400 budget for paper and ink cartridges by 75%, he said. Part of the savings is offset by an increase in monthly copier maintenance fees, which total $1,500 a month, although only a fraction of that total is because of the three-unit increase in the number of copiers. The added copiers are high-end Sharp MX-3501N and MX-4501N models that Biltmore leases annually.

Getting to the paperless office is possible, he added. "Our human resources department is paperless," Stidham points out. It takes job applications online and captures them as digital documents, storing them in an archive. If the prospect becomes an employee, the employee's name becomes the heading under which all kinds of documents get filed, making it easier to find information related to a given employee.

"They've eliminated paper file cabinets completely in HR. All their documents go into PaperMaster," a PDF-based document management system, Stidham noted, happy with the realized savings and looking for more ways to reduce paper consumption at company headquarters.

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