Deerfield, Florida-based Gemaire Group sells HVAC-related equipment, parts and supplies to licensed air conditioning contractors through a distribution chain of 81 showroom branches in 15 states throughout the Midwest and South. With 1,100 employees and average annual revenues of over $600 million, Gemaire is a major force in the HVAC industry.
Starting as a single warehouse in Boca Raton, Florida, Gemaire is now a part of Watsco, Inc., a publicly-traded company that recorded $1.76 billion in revenues and $447 million in gross profits in 2007.
Gemaire Generates an Increase in Paper Due to Growth
Gemaire faced a challenge that all companies would like to have: Accommodating a phenomenal rate of growth. Explosive expansion raises a variety of questions that must be addressed, but one is often overlooked until it can no longer be ignored: How will the company deal with all of the paper that the accelerating volume of business transactions generates?
That sounds like a trivial quandary until you dig into it—and “dig” is an appropriate verb. Paper-based transactions generate a mountain of physical documents that can bury a thriving company. The real estate costs for the required filing cabinets can be huge, but the labor costs that are incurred to manage paper documents are typically an even higher expense.
That was the scenario at Gemaire. Filing cabinets occupied considerable floor space. What’s more, because of its growth, Gemaire was generating and storing an ever increasing volume of paper. It reached the point where the company needed much more space than it had. Something had to give.
In addition to the real estate costs incurred to accommodate filing cabinets, paper handling was a burden at Gemaire. When documents were required, employees left their desk went to the filing cabinet, searched for the required pieces of paper and then took them back to their desk. When employees finished their work, the documents were then re-filed. All of this manual activity took a significant amount time. Worse, if a document was inadvertently misfiled or it was sitting on someone else’s desk when needed, additional time was wasted to hunt for it.
The problem was compounded when corporate needed information stored at a branch. In that case, the corporate employee called the branch where someone hunted for the required documents and faxed them to corporate.
All of this consumed precious employee time. What’s more, sometimes the information was needed to serve a customer who called with a question. Then, either the customer was kept on hold while the necessary documents were retrieved or an employee called the customer back later.
Paper posed another prickly problem. It’s vulnerable.
Being a part of a publicly traded company, Gemaire is subject to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations that require the retention and protection of a wide spectrum of company data. But paper documents are subject to loss due to fires, floods or human error.
Yet, because backing up paper involves manually copying the documents and acquiring an equal amount of storage space elsewhere, it often isn’t considered to be a financially viable option.
Gemaire knew there had to be a better approach. It was right. The company now uses Webdocs from HelpSystems to store and manage documents electronically.
Searching for an Easy-to-Use Document Management System
Webdocs, which is available in versions that run on Microsoft Windows-based servers as well as IBM System i servers, allows organizations to electronically store and manage document images and other files, such as PC files, emails and computer-generated reports. The documents can then be accessed using up to 10 keys or through a full-text search. When the documents are stored, the keys can be entered manually or Webdocs can automatically extract them from barcodes or textual data appearing within the images. Once loaded into the system, authorized personnel can use a standard Web browser to access the images over the Internet from anywhere in the world.
Before buying Webdocs, Gemaire looked at other document management products. The choice primarily came down to ease-of-integration with the Mincron application that Gemaire runs on System i. Mincron offers an interface that provides seamless integration between Webdocs and the Mincron software. Because this interface was pre-written, the total cost of ownership for Webdocs was much lower than the alternatives when the cost of hiring the other vendors’ consultants to code an interface was taken into account.
Today, virtually every document that arrives at Gemaire or that is created as part of its business processes is scanned into Webdocs, including:
- Sales orders
- Pick tickets generated when orders are filled
- Cash and credit card receipts
- Vendor return documents that are created when warranty work is required
- Supplier invoices
- Credit applications
- EPA certifications
- And more
Now, rather than sitting as paper in filing cabinets, all documents are stored online as images. Users simply press a key from anywhere in the Mincron application to retrieve documents related to whatever they are working on at the time. Webdocs then populates a pop-up Window with the requested images—without the need for users to leave their desks or interrupt their workflows.
Webdocs provides easy, instant access to documents for people throughout Gemaire. In fact, every laptop and desktop computer in the company, all 700 to 800 of them, connects to Webdocs.
Maximum Productivity; Minimal Paper
The primary benefit that Gemaire receives from Webdocs is the tremendous boost in productivity that was gained by switching from paper documents to electronic images. People no longer have to interrupt their daily routines to head to a filing cabinet and search for documents. Instead, a click of a button brings up all the documents they need right at their desktop—or, in fact, anywhere they happen to working at the time—without interrupting their normal workflow.
As an example of what this means in practical terms, consider the accounting department’s month-end audits. In the past, the department had to call all of the branches, request the information they needed for the audit and then wait for documents, such as sales orders, to be faxed in. Assembling the required information used to take a day-and-a-half. Today, that’s down to no more than a couple of hours because the accounting people can call up all of the documents themselves, without needing to call the branches.
Webdocs also helps Gemaire to reduce errors in its business processes. For example, the branches use Webdocs as a filing system for all of their sales orders, transfers, purchase orders and other documents. The branches can run an inquiry to verify that, for example, all invoices are in the system. This allows them to easily spot any gaps and scan in the missing documents.
In addition, backing up documents is no longer an issue. Because they are stored as electronic images on disks attached to the company’s System i server, documents are backed up as a part of Gemaire’s normal data backup processes.
Gemaire also appreciates how easy Webdocs is to implement, use and manage. The company was able to install the software and have the accounts payable system up and running, with all of the related documents loaded, within five days. And, “There’s pretty much zero maintenance required for it,” declared Ken Plummer, IT manager at Gemaire. Furthermore, Plummer reports that the need for user support has been negligible. “When you roll something like this out to 1,100 employees you expect an increase in tech support calls, but Webdocs generates very few calls. It’s very stable.”
Gemaire hasn’t attached a dollar value to the benefits it receives from Webdocs, but the potential for a return on investment was clear right from the start.
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