No longer is having a fax machine or color copier a sign of a high-tech office. In some cases, your grandmother has a fax machine that's nicer than the one you use for your business.
If you're not sure whether it's time to re-evaluate your office equipment, here's a hint: When employees would rather print things at home because the printers that came with their home PCs are faster and have better resolution than the one at the office, it's time to start looking.
"The business environment has changed," says Sunny Kumar of Northcoast Business Systems Inc. "We have gone from analog to digital to system integration in a very short time. These machines are not just copiers, not just fax machines, not just printers. They are multifunctional devices."
Today it's all about multiuse machines, speed, color and networking.
"Gone are the days when we just sold office equipment. Now we are providing total business solutions," Kumar says. "We look at the total network environment. How does the paper flow in the departments, and what is the business's total (equipment) cost?"
The idea is to save time and paper and increase efficiency. The machines Northcoast sells are connected to the network so faxes can be sent, copies collated and documents printed without the user leaving his or her desk.
There should be a law
How many times have you put the letterhead, envelope or labels face down in the paper tray, only to have the printing come up on the wrong side? How many times have you faxed a blank sheet to someone?
One of the biggest advantages of a multifunctional machine is that you and your staff only have to know how to run one machine, and you no longer need an engineering degree to understand how to make a double-sided copy.
Kumar boasts that anyone who knows Windows can feel comfortable with the new breed of office machines.
"If you have basic computer knowledge, you can run these machines. If you have any questions, there is a help function to walk you through it," she says.
But don't think these new machines are simple. On one of the devices Kumar sells, there are 330 individual functions.
Back in the day -- a year ago -- you only had access to color copiers and printers at Kinkos. And if an office did have a color copier, it usually had a fence around it or a lock on it due to the prohibitive cost of reproducing in color.
"Prices have substantially dropped. Before, the cost per color copy was anywhere from 75 cents to a dollar. Today, it is more like nine to 14 cents," says Kumar.
Also many machines today can print in both color and black and white, saving the cost of buying or leasing two separate machines.
A need for speed
Although the time spent waiting for a fax to cycle or a document to scan may seem minimal, added together over a month or year, those few minutes become hours of lost productivity.
"Today's machines can scan 40 to 60 pages a minute ... and the average new printer has gone from six to eight pages a minute to 13 or even 130 a minute," says Kumar.
Add to that the cost difference of using a digital printer with lower-cost developers, and a printed page averages five cents a copy.
So what more can we expect from office equipment in the next few years? Archiving systems, higher speed, less expensive machines and, according to Kumar, "perhaps in the next 20 years, a paperless society." How to reach: Northcoast Business System Inc., (216) 642-7555
Kim Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor of SBN Magazine.