Features: April 29th, 2003

Best Value Pays Dividends in South Hampshire

By Steve Pearce

When Fareham Borough Council performed a Best Value Audit for its document workflow and production processes, the resulting strategy not only brought about a wide range of improvements and efficiencies, but also helped the Council take a lead in the move towards the E-government initiative.

The Borough of Fareham has a population of some 104,000 inhabitants and covers almost 30 square miles of southern Hampshire roughly midway between Portsmouth and Southampton. In common with all Councils, Fareham has an ongoing strategy to work towards the government’s ‘Best Value’ and e-government initiatives, and as part of that work sought to evaluate and improve its production and use of office documents, beginning with a Best Value Audit.

Tracking document production and movement

This work sought to define how documents were produced within Council offices, what the overall workflow process were and how documents were transported both within Council offices and between them. This included the main Fareham Council offices and a number of satellite premises in the local area such as the leisure centre, events hall and Council depot.

The Audit provided an overall view showing that the Council, like many organisations both public and private, had developed print and copy facilities over a fairly considerable period of time, and the processes for using the equipment had evolved accordingly. It was also clear that there was very realistic scope for developments across the board, and enabled the Council to set out their strategy for improvement and innovation.

Central to this strategy was the need to streamline the overall document production process to make cost savings while at the same time bringing improved technology to the fingertips of Council staff. Existing print and copy systems were organised across a number of distinct business areas, with copying facilities based on increasingly out-dated analogue technology, and print facilities provided via a selection of workgroup laser printers. In addition, the main Council office had the challenge of trying to make the best use of their print room, while keeping overall network traffic under control. It was also proving difficult to keep an ongoing account of printing, with different budgets required for different business areas.

Developing a document strategy

The subsequent tender process included a number of leading industry players including Canon, OcĂ©, Xerox, HP, Kyocera and Ricoh. The outcome of the tenders was the selection of print solutions provider, Ricoh UK, as partner for the Council for the implementation of a new solution. Ricoh’s selection was based around not only the provision of proven and appropriate technology, but also the technical support and backup demonstrated during the tender process.

The Council and Ricoh then worked towards developing a detailed strategy and an overall Project Management Team to work towards a solution to re-address document creation and transfer, reduce the amount of documents produced overall and make better use of the Council’s print room. This was to involve replacing the workgroup machines with a smaller group of multifunctional Ricoh Aficio 1035 copier-printers, running at 35 pages per minute. These were organised into what became termed ‘Corporate Document Stations’ based across the relevant Council premises, and provided printing, copying and scanning facilities. The high volume analogue print room machines were replaced by Ricoh’s Aficio 1105 digital copier-printers, operating at 105 pages per minute.

But the solution went much further than just providing the major document production functions – it also incorporated Ricoh’s own software tools to enhance the way in which the hardware was used. This included ScanRouter Professional, a utility which allows hard copy to be changed into digital format so that users can easily scan documents through the network. This offers significant potential savings on the amount of paper used, and also makes the handling of documents far more efficient by routing them electronically over a network to more than one user, helping to instigate an improved document workflow.

In addition, Ricoh’s Print Accounting Software (PAS) was implemented, allowing the Council to get a full overview of their printing activity, with accurate and exact figures. Using this data, the overall document production strategy could be monitored and adjusted according to departments and their requirements.

This enhanced functionality also enabled the Council to provide staff with a ‘follow-me printing’ facility which utilised a swipe card and PIN number system to allow documents to be sent to print in one location and produced at another – ideal for the Council buildings based across Fareham. It also allowed print jobs to be stored and run in groups for enhanced efficiency, therefore promoting document printing as opposed to the traditional page printing culture.

Getting efficiency and cost benefits

The benefits of this process have been felt in both efficiency improvements and cost savings, with more streamlined document production, such as the creation of Council Tax bills, and reduced manual effort. Costs can also be defined on a print per page basis, and the Council can also make greater use of in-house colour and has even been able to bring the production of items such as business cards in-house for greater versatility and value.

But the move towards a more unified strategy has also helped Fareham to make a significant step towards meeting its e-Government commitment. This states that by 2005, one hundred per cent of dealings with the government should be available electronically. The ability of the Council to quickly and effectively produce and disseminate documents of all kinds across the entire organisation has helped the South Hampshire Council set a benchmark for others to follow.

About Ricoh UK

Ricoh’s business is developing office automation solutions, which enable individuals and organisations to improve the quality and productivity of office communications. As the 8th largest IT company in the world Ricoh’s reputation as the total printing solutions provider is becoming well established. The company is one of the world’s leading innovators of office equipment technology with a research and development programme that brought us the first digital copier and a complete range of original engines. Its product range now spans scanners, colour and black & white laser printers, digital connectable colour and black & white copiers, multifunctional devices, network utility software, document management software, facsimile machines, digital stencil duplicators and office consumables.

Ricoh UK Ltd is based at Ricoh House, 1 Plane Tree Crescent, Feltham, Middlesex. TW13 7HG. Tel: 0208 261 4000. Fax: 0208 261 4004.