Facebook To The Rescue

In an earlier article I addressed that one of the most crucial aspects of a disaster recovery plan is communications.  Communications as a whole is so vital most any solder can tell you the lack of effective communications can mean losing a battle.  Granted we are not at war within the borders of the United States but in a disaster the effect can be the same when it comes to safety.

Today a lot of people use some form of smart phone like the i-Phone or one of the Androids.    These phones can not only provide telephone communications, but email, text messages and have the ability to surf the web.  You see them everywhere you go.  All of which can play an important part in disaster recovery or DR.

Social media can play an important part in your DR communications

Facebook to the rescue in DR
Facebook to the rescue in DR

efforts.  On the web exists possibly the most popular social media website known and is growing like a weed.  If you haven’t guessed, it is Facebook.

One of the problems with Facebook is that people can and do post photos and sayings that are from questionable to borderline pornographic.  If an employee in your company is viewing something like that at work, you could stand a good chance of having a sexual harassment complaint and law suit filed against your company.

At the same time Facebook can be a great marketing and communications tool as well.  As for marketing on Facebook, that will remain as another matter for a later article.  We are going to address Facebook as a communications tool in DR.

To use Facebook as such is really child’s play.  You need to create an account with a “person’s name”.  In this case we will use Paula Personnel and for our purposes it will be the human resources department who handles the page.

Paula has all the employees added as friends so only they and no one else can see what is written on the timeline.  Personnel, or whoever is in charge of posting logs in as Paula using her email address and password and posts everything for the employees, errr ‘friends’ only.  All the public would see is the profile picture and top banner.  For added security those pictures can be of say a cute puppy and appear to have nothing to do with your business, if you desire.

In the event of a disaster or major storm the employees are instructed to routinely check the Facebook page for any updates.  And like I mentioned in the beginning with today’s smart phones that would not be much of a problem, provided they can access the internet.

I need to caution you that you make sure whatever you post is set for your “friends” list only.  Potential criminals could use that for their own advantage.  Or worse yet, the media.  So be very careful before you hit the ‘post’ button.

Twitter can also play a role in DR
Twitter can also play a role in DR

Twitter can have a minor role in DR communications as well.  But the big problem here is that when you send out a Tweet, everyone and I mean everyone can read it.  So what needs to be done is use that in conjunction with Facebook.

First Paula Personnel sets up a Twitter account.  Now all of the employees will have Twitter accounts and be followers of Paula.  In the event of a disaster or storm, Paula Tweets a cryptic message something like, “My Peeps come home”.  That could signify the employees to go to the Facebook page for any information.  But whatever is Tweeted must be very, very carefully written before it is sent out.

Social media can play an important role in DR communications if used properly and should be another tool in your arsenal.

 

Communications For Disaster Recovery

One of the most crucial aspects of any disaster recovery plan has to be communications. Without a reliable communications strategy in place all of the disaster recovery planning and efforts are seriously hampered. Any solder can tell you without reliable communications you can lose the battle.

To ensure that you have adequate and reliable communications you should consider various options and have at least two forms available.

First most companies use what is known as a PRI which is their primary form of communicating. This is a business grade telephone line and can carry several phone calls simultaneously. The PRI is a digital circuit and

The CO handles the land line communications for a town
The CO handles the land line communications for a town

requires the proper equipment to use it which is very common place in many businesses. In larger companies they would have several PRI’s in place just to handle the call volume. In some aspects that alone can be part of a DR plan. One of the big down falls of a PRI is that regardless of who your provider is the “last mile” generally is your local phone company. This connection will originate at a location in or near your town known as the central office or “CO”. Even if you have multiple PRI’s chances are that they will all originate from the same CO and most likely run along the same telephone poles.

What if the PRI goes down altogether or the CO is rendered inoperable, now what? A lot of place still use fax machines and most likely those are on what is known as POTs lines. Unlike the PRI the POTs line is old fashioned analog. A lot of fax machines also have handsets so in an emergency you can use that for communication. But these too can originate from the same CO and would use the same poles.

Hence there is a weak link right there.

One company I know of had their PRI fail when someone in the CO accidentally disconnected the service. They where down for three days while the phone company worked on the problem but they still had the fax machines to call out on. But the executives did not like that idea of talking on a fax machine so they relied on the next option.

Everywhere we go we see people on cell phones. These can and should be a part of your DRP. Although they are pretty reliable these too have drawbacks.

A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications
A cell phone can be an alternative form of communications

Not considering usage limits from one plan to another, cell phones do have a limited range and the area you are in might have sketchy to no coverage. As an example in my own town in most of it I get great cell coverage but in another section the coverage is poor at best.

Should a cell tower go down as what happened in many areas of Long Island and in New Jersey due to a lack of power from hurricane Sandy in 2012, the cell phones became useless. The were expensive paperweights. That storm not only took out cell coverage but many land-line phones where affected as well when trees fell on wires.

Many times the cell towers can become overloaded with calls and again the cell phone is becomes useless. This happened when the New York Metro area and surrounding areas were hit with an earth tremor in 2011.

Another form of communication you can add to your DRP are satellite phones. These are still costly but not too far out of reach and can make an ideal addition. Unlike PRI’s, fax lines and cell phones satellite phones

A satellite phone does not require cell towers
A satellite phone does not require cell towers

do not rely on traditional systems at least on one end of the communications side. A very big plus for these for the most part is that the range is almost unlimited with the one exception.

Aside from the cost being one of the drawbacks with satellite phones is if a satellite is not in optimum position you might not get reliable communications for a short period of time. This is slowly being rectified as more satellites are put into orbit. But when the satellite is in position, then the range is unlimited.

When you call out on a satellite phone, the signal is picked up by an orbiting satellite, then bounced to a receiving station then it goes over traditional land lines to the destination. Here lies the second issue, what if the destination so happens to be in the same area where the disaster is located and has been affected by it as well?

Some people may consider using is the good old CB Radio. These have very limited range, are subject to outside interference, and generally are not monitored by the authorities. To use a CB no license is required. The FCC eliminated that years ago which gave birth to a problem and that is everyone and their neighbors can be on the air jamming up the airwaves with useless chatter. And depending on where you are located, truckers use the CB as a way of communicating with each other.

Another form of DR communications you might want to look into is actually very old and predates the internet, cell and satellite phones. That is amateur or HAM radio.

First thing that probably pops into you head when you hear HAM radio is a room filled with complex radios, oscilloscopes, someone using a Morse code key and head phones. In some extreme aspects this is not far from the truth but that really holds true for someone who is very advanced into the hobby. But let the truth be known you can obtain a HAM radio

HAM radio can be daunting
HAM radio can be daunting

that is a walkie talkie and get great coverage.

HAM radio does require that you obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission “FCC” and that can deter someone from going forward. One of the things that can scare people off is having to know Morse Code. A few short years ago you were required to know Morse at a set speed. That is no longer a requirement in most levels of license.

What you do need to know is some radio and electronic theory which is not too hard to master. The American Radio Relay League or “ARRL”

HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie
HAM radios can be as simple as a walkie-talkie

holds classes for the public so you should look into them as a resource. I took an on-line self-assessment test in how I would fair in taking the test and I got an 80 without picking up a book. In all fairness being involved in computers on the technical level did give me a slight advantage.

At least with a HAM radio available you have the ability to reach out to another HAM radio for assistance. Some hospitals and police departments are using HAM radio as back up communications but check in your area to see if they do have HAM radio.

One thing that needs to be pointed out that whatever you say on any radio can be listened to by other people so discretion in what you say is strongly advised. Even cell phone calls can be intercepted by someone using a programmable radio scanner.

As long as we are on the subject of two way radios, one more can be considered but has some drawbacks and that is shortwave radio. Instead of being able to communicate a few miles, you can reach people around the world. Like HAM radio, you are required to have a license and the station needs a license. Shortwave radio sets are expensive as well and have certain installation requirements.

Social media for DR communications?
Social media for DR communications?

Another thing that you might have thought of is right under your nose, but it does require extreme caution in how you use it and that is social media. Social media can be used for internal communications with your staff provided you take precautions to make sure that only they can see it. I will address that in my next article.

Plus if you lose your internet connectivity for one reason or another using social media becomes a mute cause.

And naturally this all of this depends on the availability of having electricity. During Sandy a lot of areas were without power for weeks into months. So whatever your DR communications plans are, you need to have some form of backup power either through batteries or generator. In a later article, I am going to address that exact issue so check back regularly.

These are just some of the options that you can use in a disaster for communications and should be added to your arsenal of tools.

Paperless Office for Disaster Recovery

What does hurricanes Andrew in 1992, Charlie and Frances in 2004, Katrina and Wilma and Ivan and Rita in 2005, Ike in 2008, Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 have in common?  And what about the EF-5 tornado in Joplin, Mo. in 2011?  And let’s not forget the wild fires in California?  What do all of these have in common?

In each and every single one of them countless businesses were either washed, blown away or burned down forever.  Many of the businesses might have recovered if they had a proper Disaster Recovery Plan in place.  Granted in 1999 – 2005 Disaster Recovery Plans (or DRP) might have been nothing more but a pipe dream or obscure term for most while in later years some businesses started to adopt them.  Those that did stood a better chance of recovering.

A paperless office solution not only can reduce the amount of paper that you print, but can be an integral part of your DRP.  With the advent and new changes in technology part of any DRP should include some form of hosted paperless office.

Imagine losing your mission critical documents
Imagine losing your mission critical documents

In the event of a disaster where your building is inaccessible, damaged or destroyed, all of your paper documents will become useless.  As you can imagine that alone can put you out of business.  By making your printouts as electronic documents and placing them onto a secure hosted location on the internet using a paperless office solution can help bring your business back from a disaster quickly.  All you need to do is access your electronic documents any time, any place with an internet connection.

Paperless offices can handle most any type of electronic document like PDF’s, spreadsheets, word processing documents, AutoCad drawings, photographs and graphics and more.  Adding physical paper to the paperless office is as simple as scanning them into the solution and directing them into the appropriate categories.  Most copiers today have scanning capabilities built into them already that allow you to scan to a location on a server or PC as a .PDF, .JPG or .TIFF.  And many will also OCR the PDF’s for you as well.  From there all you need to do is migrate them into your paperless office.

Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office
Anything on paper can be moved into a paperless office

By being very diligent in creating and storing your documents electronically, especially mission critical ones the destruction of your building will become more of an inconvenience than anything else.  OK, granted it would be a major headache and inconvenience but at least you potentially would not be out of business and have a greater chance of recovery.

What types of documents could you consider as mission critical that you need for recovery in the event of a disaster?

  • Copies of leases
  • Insurance papers
  • Bank and credit statements
  • Receipts and packing slips from vendors
  • Invoices
  • Physical inventories sheets
  • Deposit slip receipts
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs
  • Job applications
  • Employee records
  • In essence, anything on paper

With a hosted paperless office solution the provider can customize the paperless solution to fit your business structure including showing you how to limit who can access what documents.  As an example you certainly would not want a routine clerk having access to payroll information so various levels of security can be set up.  You would need to check with the solution provider about setting this up.

Who can benefit from setting up a paperless office solution?  Everyone.  There is no business to small or too large that cannot benefit from some form of paperless office.  Especially for disaster recovery.  And you do not need to go insane and make everything paperless.  Just start with the most critical documents and move onto others.

As a homeowner or renter you too can benefit from this as well using the same scanning technology only on a smaller scale.  From here the home owner or renter can scan all of their documents and save them into a hosted paperless office just like any business in the event their home is destroyed.

Granted a paperless office solution will not eliminate all of your paper but with proper use a paperless office solution can reduce your paper flows and it can help save your business in the event of a disaster.  You just may even qualify for an insurance break for having a DRP and especially one with a hosted paperless office solution.  But check with your broker.

Paperless Office Is For Everyone

Ever since the first bit of data that was spit out by a computer, the idea of eliminating paper in the office was born but never really took hold.  The “paperless office” became a dream that has been hard to adopt even by the largest companies.  Sp far it has been called “paperless office”, “e-filecabinet”, “document management” and a few others.

The term ‘paperless office’ conjures images of an office environment that runs totally without any paper what so ever anywhere.  Where in some industries this can be obtainable but for most companies it is really out of reach.  The term ‘reduced paper office’ is a more realistic approach for just about any company regardless of what industry it is in and no matter how large or small the company is.  Even home owners can utilize and reap the benefits of a reduced paper office as well.

Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets
Imagine the floor space reclaimed by not having file cabinets

What really hinders the making of a true paperless office is that there are

certain regulatory forms that must be in paper.  Not all vendors are paperless and will still send out paper invoices, statements and packing slips.  A lot of legal documents must be in hard copy as well as well as many utility bills.  So we can quickly see that a true paperless office is a difficult task to obtain.  So we have to settle for a reduced paper office instead.  But for discussion sake we will refer to the term of paperless office.

Some of the advantages of having a paperless office are:

  • Reduce the need for file cabinets and reclaim useable floor space or even reduce the size of your physical location thereby saving on rent and utilities. A smaller place generally requires less to heat and cool.
  • Save on printing costs by not needing cases of paper, a stock pile of toner, and buying new printers every few years. By reducing the need for having cases of paper and all those toner cartridges you again reclaim storage space and never have to worry about running out.
  • Considering how paper burns pretty easily, by not having paper in the building can increase the chance of reducing the risk of fire and could make a fire easier to extinguish.
  • Document collaboration is a snap by having team members able to access the documents instantly. Even across the globe.
  • Security can be increased by limiting who can gain access to certain documents by the click of a mouse.
  • No more lost documents which is a real big advantage since they will always be available. No more of the ‘who’s got such-and-such document’ scenario which is so popular in many offices.
  • Disaster recovery can be greatly enhanced especially if a hosted solution is in place. Mission critical documents can be safely stored and retrieved at any time in the event of a disaster as long as you have an internet connection.

But a paperless office is not fully a bed of roses for there are some disadvantages as well, but a lot of these are easy enough to overcome:

  • Security is possibly the most important aspect. You need to be very diligent on who has access to the documents and how secure your network infrastructure is.
  • Like file cabinets, storage can be an issue. The hard drive of a computer
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents
    A NAS or SAN can be used to store your e-documents

    can hold just so much data.  Here you might think of using a Network Area Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) device where you can add drives as needed to increase the capacity or look at a hosted solution to hold the images.  Thankfully hard drives are fairly cheap and take up very little physical room so adding storage to a NAS is really a non-issue.

  • If your building is destroyed and your paperless office solution is in your building then you are in as bad a shape as you would be with paper. Here a hosted solution would be the best course of action.  Of course you need to review their service level agreement before taking them on to ensure uptime and accessibility.
  • Not all paperless software solutions are alike. They each have their own little quirks and learning curves.  And they all come in a variety of prices from under $200 to several thousand for custom made ones.  Unless you are comfortable with and know databases then you can make your own solution which is not that hard to do.
  • There are various documents that due to regulatory constraints must be in physical paper form, but those are dwindling down. Here you will need to consult with your lawyers and accountants to see what physical documents you need to keep.
  • End users love paper and retraining will be needed to reduce the amount of paper that they do indeed print. Granted there are times paper will need to be used but with proper training this can be greatly reduced.

Not that long ago only the largest companies could afford having a paperless office.  But as technologies improved and computers and scanners have gotten cheaper even the smallest businesses can take advantage of having a paperless office.

You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server
You already create paperless documents and the rest can be scanned into a server

Let’s start with a simple office.  All the documents that you create on your computer are already in the paperless format as well as digital photos and email attachments which are stored in a folder on your computer or server.  All that is needed is to migrate the documents into your paperless office.  As far as paper documents you need a scanner that can create .pdf, .tiff or .jpg images.  Most copiers and scanners today have that capability with the software that is bundled with the machines plus the software will run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on a PDF document to make it searchable.  These documents then can be migrated into your paperless office.

The fax machine is not dead, at least not yet and many companies still use them.  By connecting the fax line to a computer or server with a modem installed, add the appropriate software like eFax® and now all of your incoming and outgoing faxes will be paperless.  These can also be incorporated into your paperless office after ‘e-printing’ them.

You will need to research the various fax software package for some like eFax® limit how many free faxes you can make and require you to have a monthly or annual subscription.  Plus if you have several computers that you are going to fax from then multiple licenses are going to be required along with the subscription fees.  Best way around this is by setting up a simple print server that handles all of the faxing.

A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines
A lot of copies can scan and act like fax machines

A lot of office copiers will have electronic faxing built into them so it might pay to discuss that with your copier supply company.

Of course you need someplace to store the images or e-documents like on a computer, server, NAS or hosted storage.  Most importantly you need the paperless office software and selecting one can be a daunting task since there are so many on the market like PaperPort Professional® and others.

If you decide make a paperless office it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a very high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.

Of course there are other advantages to having one built and hosted for you.  Like uptime in the event that a disaster destroys your building, the host takes care of hardware and software upgrades, the host also backs up the data to help prevent loss on their end.

If you are knowledgeable in databases then you could conceivably make your own version of a paperless office.  But you would be responsible for all of the maintenance, upgrades and backups.

If you are up to the task of building your own paperless office you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server,

FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office
FileMakerPro is one such DBMS that you can use for a paperless office

MySQL®, FileMaker Pro®, MS Access®, Oracle® or SAP®.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access® and FileMaker Pro® standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle® and SAP®.

Next you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC unless the person who does the database work knows html, especially if you want web access to it.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.   FileMaker Pro® and MS Access® plus a few others will allow you to create a front end that the user sees.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database and the particular DBMS first plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro® that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your

Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office
Most any scanner can be used with your paperless office

documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

For a few hundred dollars any small business or home owner can have a paperless office solution in place.  Of course you can still spend thousands for a very robust system that has unlimited storage.  Paperless Office technology has been dramatically improved since the early days of computing to a more efficient and user friendly tool.  Now anyone can implement one in their environment.

Redundant Internet Connections For Disaster Recovery

A lot of businesses today rely on the internet for commerce in one form or another.  Regardless it is email, on-line applications, research or ordering the internet is the life blood for many companies.  Losing that connectivity can potentially cost millions of dollars depending on the type of business.

Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headache
Loss of internet connectivity can be more than a headach

Most companies will have only one internet connection, hence a single point of failure.  In order to prevent that it is wise to have a second internet connection from a different Internet Service Provider (“ISP”).

What a lot of people do not realize is even if you have a second ISP, the internet connection could potentially be supplied from the same Central Office (“CO”).  If the CO has problems then you could lose both connections.

Part of this is because most places use good old fashioned copper wires from the pole to the building to supply connectivity.  Regardless of what ISP you select, the very last mile, that is from the CO to your building runs along lines owned by Verizon.  And what now have is the single point of failure once again.

That is why when you select a secondary ISP, it pays to find out where their CO is located.

Some places will have cable connectivity like CableVision here on Long Island.  They use a totally different CO and they own the copper from along the whole stretch thereby taking Verizon out of the loop for one connection.

Other places could even have a fiberoptic connection which eliminates copper altogether and like the cable will originate from a different CO.  The fiber could also be from another provider which again takes Verizon out of the loop.

Typical fiber optic cable
Typical fiber optic cable

With the way that fiber has come down in costs and the speeds far exceed what can be obtained on copper, it pays to look into having fiber as your primary connection and copper as your secondary connection.  This way if one should fail, you will still have the other to work from.

Generally how this is accomplished is that both connections are brought into the same room.  From there they are connected to the same firewall which is configured to accept both.  Most firewalls today will have a failover built into them so if your primary line goes down the secondary takes over instantly and seamlessly.  No one would ever know.  From the firewall the connection is now connected to the network where everyone works.

Using two ISPs for redundancy
Using two ISPs for redundancy

A lot of times the firewall will also do what is called ‘load balancing.’  That is split the traffic among both connections so one does not have a bottle neck.

Some companies will even go as far as having a third connection should they lose the first two.  This can also be copper of fiber from another provider.  Some places will use a broadband connection similar to cell phones using a device where 3G or 4G modems are connected to.  This is good in case a tree or accident takes down a pole outside.  Problem with that is the costs can be very high and you would not get the same amount throughput as you would with copper or fiber.  And like cell phones you might not get good reception.

A device that I used is known as CradlePoint.  It takes three broadband modems connected to it by USB cables then to the firewall.  In testing I pulled both the primary and secondary internet connections and just left the CradlePoint connected.  No one in the office of 55 ever knew the difference.

CradlePoint router
CradlePoint router

A major issue does arise with multiple internet connections and that is if you have your own email server like Exchange, should your primary internet connection fails then you could risk the possibility of not having email at all.  Here is where you would need to discuss with your internet providers to establish what is known as BGP to ensure that your email will work regardless of what internet connection is working.

In summary, if your business relies on the internet then you should truly consider having a second connection through a second ISP.  It makes good business sense.

Make Your Own Paperless Office?

I have been asked this question several times:

“Can I make my own paperless office solution instead of buying one?”

I can see why this question is asked.  If you make one it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.  Fairly understandable reasons for building one that cannot be argued with.

Well the answer to the question is a surprising ‘Yes’ you can make your own paperless office solution.

First you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL, FileMaker Pro, MS Access, Oracle or SAP.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access and FileMaker Pro standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle and SAP.

Next unless you are up to the task you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC if you want to use a web browser unless the person who does the database work knows html.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.  Plus depending on the type of paperless office you are planning on building, knowing ASP, JAVA, XML and some other languages may prove useful.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database in general and the particular DBMS first.  Plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well, plus the other languages I spoke about but that can be optional as most DBMS’s can create a front end.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering the databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your paper documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.  These become .pdf, .tiff or .jpg files which you can scan into a directory on your computer then where you can now move them into the paperless office solution.

With the pdf files, you can OCR them, that is run an Optical Character Recognition utility on them to make them searchable.

Of course when you create the documents in the first place, as in Word, Excel or any number of programs, they are already in an electronic format so it is a very simple matter to move them into the paperless office.

And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

But if time is one thing that you are in short supply on, then you might want to look at a cloud provider that can build and host one for you.  There are plenty of advantages of having a hosted paperless office over having one that you build.

First all upgrades and software licensing is the responsibility of the provider as well as backing up the data.  A hosted paperless office is or at least should be available to you via an internet connecting regardless of where you are especially in the event of a major disaster.

If you elect to build your own paperless office, you bear the responsibility of software upgrades, upgrades to the solution, license fees if any, and tech support.  Plus if you build your own most likely you will host it internally.  If so then if your building is destroyed or damaged you just might not be able to gain access to the data.  But you can save money on monthly and setup fees plus you remain in total control over your data.

So can you build your own paperless office? Yes.  Do you want to?  Well that depends on you and your situation.  You just might decide that instead of adding another potential headache to your plate then you just might be better off to go with a hosted solution instead.

The Cost Of Printing

Have ever considered how much it costs to click on print?  A few pennies, right?  Who cares?

Now what if I show you that, by using actual data that your printing costs can be over $2,000 a year per printer.  Now that is something to think about.

To begin with we are going to use actual data taken from a company that has several printers in one office.  I selected an employee that is doing a substantial amount of printing which is not uncommon in several offices.

Let’s start with one of their printers, a HP LaserJet 1320.  The original price of the printer needs to be factored into our figures.  The printer was purchased directly from HP and the average service life is 5 years.  The price of the printer was $399 with shipping at $25 plus tax of $37.10 brings the cost of the printer to $461.10.  Using the 5 lifespan year rule the printer costs $92.22 a year.

Some people will argue that the cost of the printer should not include the shipping and tax.  But these are still costs that come out of the checking account and figure into the final bottom end of the costs.  So they really need to be factored in as well.

And since we know what model printer, we now know that it takes the 49A toner cartridge.  I wanted new HP toner and not a rebuilt unit or non-HP cartridge.  By going on line I saw that Staples, WB Mason and Quill sell the cartridge for $93.99 and add tax of $8.22 and the toner costs $102.21.  These companies offer free shipping so we are not going to factor that in.  The advertised print yield for the 49A cartridge is 2,500 pages.  That breaks down to .04 a print. A few words on toner yields, the industry norm for printing is that a typical page is covered with only 5% ink.  If you look at a typical page and visually compress the text all into one corner with no paper showing through you would cover about 5% of the page.  What can throw this off is if you print a lot of graphics or pictures, lots of heavy bold or black text, or maybe just a few lines of text per paper.  But it is safe to say that most pages are covered only 5% and HP rates the 49A cartridge for 2,500 pages at that 5%.

For paper I chose the white multipurpose paper that most companies would normally buy.  Here I went with Staples and it is advertised at $49.99 for a case.  Each case holds 5,000 sheets of paper.  Add sales tax of $4.37 and the case now costs $54.36.  From here each sheet of paper costs just a hair above $0.01, but we can safely say a penny.

Now we see that each time we click print that one pages costs $.05 each.

Where does that mean after a year?

Taking the same company and that one employee it was found that they print an average of 4,300 pages a month.  Multiply that by $0.05 and we see it costs $218.79 a month which is $2,625.51 a year.  Add in the annual cost of the printer of $92.22 and we see that printing from that one person costs us $2,717.73.

Cartridge Price                               $  93.99
Sales Tax                                         8.22
     Net                                        102.21

Divide by the yield                            2,500

Price of toner per print                                    0.04

Price for a case of paper                        49.99
Sales Tax                                         4.37
     Net paper                                   54.36

Divide by sheets in a case                    5,000

Cost per sheet                                               0.01  Cost per print                                               0.05

Multiplied by prints per month                4,300

Cost of printing per month                                 218.79
Cost of printing per year                                2,625.51

Price for printer                                399.00
Shipping from fact                                25.00
Sales Tax                                         37.10
     Net printer price                           461.10

Divide by the service life (years)                 5

Annual cost for the printer                                 92.22

Total printing costs for one year                     $  2,717.73

Just for the heck of it let’s say you have 12 employees printing that volume and you see that your costs for printing are $36,612.77 a year.  Like I asked before, who cares…now?

Even if your printing is a more reasonable 3,300 pages a month you are still looking at $2,107.15 per printer per year.

And let us not forget this is for black and white.  Color is a lot higher.

These figures will be different with each different type of printer, where it was purchased, the price paid, the brand name toner vs. remanufactured or third party, the price of paper and how many prints that you actually do.  But at the end of the day printing is not cheap and with today’s economy it pays to keep a close eye on how many pages are printed.  So in reality your printing costs would be different but it is something to keep a close eye on.

Many copy machines today have network printing capabilities in them so users can send their print jobs to those machines instead.  With many contracts you get a set amount of free prints/copies per month as part of the contract.  This can be a substantial savings in toner costs.

But the down side is if you have a lot of people printing to these machines you can wind up with people waiting for their print job to come out.  And print jobs can get messed up even when they setup print separator pages which is money tossed out the window.  Plus if you go over the allotment of print jobs, the copier company could charge you as much as .10 or more per print over the allotment.

In the long run considering that staff has to get up from their desk, walk to the copier, wait for their print jobs then walk back is salary lost that could be put to productivity.  Add this to the monthly printer charges, supplies charges, over usage charges and you really see that there is not great of a savings after all.

You can go with one of those print management companies.  Here for a monthly fee they supply all the toner you could want.  But they give you an allotment of how many prints you can do and like with the copier companies, any overage you can get hit very hard with excess print charges.  Plus you are getting their brand of toner and not brand name.

We tried that in our office and it turned out to be cheaper to stick with buying the brand name toner cartridges from Quill, Staples and WB Mason.  The toner that the print management company sold was not as good either and when one of their cartridges leaked all over the inside of a new $800 printer they did not come forward and repair the machine.

Another thing that many people don’t think about is the waste of paper when printing.  How many times is the garbage can filled with paper from a printer?  How much money is being tossed out?

With the focus on going ‘Green’ today, printing on paper can be considered a waste of natural resources.

And let us not forget one thing that was not brought into our figures, the cost of electricity to run the printer in the first place.

Another method that is very cost effective and within reach of every company is to go paperless printing and go with a paperless office solution.  With that the document is created electronically and printed as a PDF file which is easily read by any computer, provided they have a PDF reader installed which you can get for free.  Most computers today have one already installed.

The creation of a PDF file is accomplished by installing software that acts like a printer when you click print.  Only instead of spitting out paper it creates the document as a PDF file which can be read with an application like Adobe Reader.  And if you run the Optical Character Recognition or OCR on the document, it can now be searchable.

At my last company they produced workpapers that the property managers had to review and sign off on.  These were massive documents that were printed as hard copies.  Then they were mailed out to the property managers to review and finally to be signed off on.  Afterwards they were mailed back and scanned into PDF files to be put onto the paperless office solution.

A project that I was instituting was instead of printing the hardcopies in the first place, make the workpapers as PDF files right off the bat.  Review them on-line, print the signature page only and sign off on that.  Now scan that one page and attach it to the workpapers.  From there a simple matter of putting them into the paperless office.  The savings in postage alone was phenomenal.

With programs like Acrobat Professional or Standard it is a simple matter to add notes to the document should there be changes that need to be done or if not that, just print those few pages and not the entire massive package or even add pages to the PDF document.

This not only was a major cost savings as far as printing was concerned but it saved the time and the salary of a person to scan in thousands of sheets of paper and put that person to a more productive position.  Not to mention the space savings as well from not having to store all that toner and paper.

Yet as great as this can be, you still will need to make physical printouts from time to time.  There simply are areas where you need that piece of paper.  So don’t think you need to throw out all of your printers just yet.

Keeping an eye on your printing costs today should not be difficult and can save you a lot of money in the long run.  With the advances in technology that we have there is no reason not to start to move toward paperless printing and include these into a paperless office.