Office Technology Trends: A Change in Direction

By Chad A. Safran
Published in the September 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

A Change in Direction - Office Machines Pushed Out for Newer Products
Credit: Created by Jeff Clapp, Creative Director, Group C Media, Inc. (Photos: istockphoto)

What has sharp teeth but does not bark? What offers protection but does not talk? What can help facility managers (fms) keep a site secure without forcing them to spend a great deal of money? It’s the paper shredder. One of the oldest office machines, the shredder is now considered an indispensable part of the office. With the security of personal information a constant concern due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) legislations (among other privacy laws), fms must be more diligent than ever regarding the disposal of secure information.

First manufactured in Germany in 1935 and based on the idea of the homemade pasta maker, shredders are now a vital part of any fms’ security design. According to Nancy Heaton, senior marketing manager at Itasca, IL-based Fellowes, Inc., 85% of businesses have experienced a data breach in the past two years.

And says David Withers, marketing director of North Charleston, SC-based MBM Corporation, “Shredding is no longer an option-it’s a necessity. A company cannot afford to risk harmful litigation or be put at a competitive disadvantage due to theft of confidential data.”

Different Shredders, Different Cut

While strip cut shredders are what most people think of when it comes to this technology-producing an output that looks like fettuccine noodles-they are not as secure as users think.

In 1979, the U.S. government found out about that firsthand during the Iranian Revolution and subsequent takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Because strip cut shredders were the only way many top secret documents were destroyed, the pieces could be reassembled. The Iranian government hired local carpet weavers to reconstruct the papers, allowing the new regime to gain insight into covert American activities in the Mideast and around the world. Strip cut models, while still prevalent in the marketplace, have evolved into several different types of shredders: particle cut, hammermills, pierce and tear rotating blades, grinders, disintegrators and granulators, particle cut, and cross cut (aka confetti cut). This last offering is taking over strip cut models in popularity.

Cross cut shredders turn paper into diamond, rectangular, or parallelogram shapes. This is done by using two contra-rotating drums.

In the past, fms would often hire shredding services to dispose of their confidential documents. This approach could be costly and it was seen by some as a security risk. With budgets tighter than ever, few fms want to pay upwards of $2,000 per month to an outside company simply to destroy documents.

In many cases, fms can purchase one or more shredders capable of handling all their document disposal needs for less than the annual cost of a shredding service. More importantly, sensitive papers stay on site; they will not be seen by anyone outside that particular group.

Shredders are now an indispensable part of the office for fms. The machines, however, must be reliable in destroying documents for them to be effective
Shredders are now an indispensable part of the office for fms. The machines, however, must be reliable in destroying documents for them to be effective.


What Makes A Shredder Worth Its Price?

According to Withers, fms need to consider five qualities when buying shredders:

Quality: Cutting heads, which are the heart of any shredder, must be of high grade steel in order to destroy paper and handle non-paper items such as staples, paper clips, and CDs.

The machine also needs to last. “The true mark of shredder quality is run time-the number of sheets shred over time,” says Heaton.

Shred size: This will vary depending on the sensitivity of the material to be destroyed. MBM makes a machine that cuts paper down to 1/32″ x 7/32″. Fellowes has a product that reduces paper down to particles 30mm2.

Safety features: No fm wants anyone using this equipment to lose a finger, which is why many machines feature safety guards or automatic shut off capabilities when paper gets jammed.

Bin capacity: Larger bins do not need to be emptied as often.

Quiet operation: Destroying documents can create a great deal of noise, which interrupts an office environment. One characteristic all shredders must share, no matter the size or type of cut, is reliability. “Shredders need to perform the first time and every time. If a confidential document is not destroyed, the company can be held liable,” says Heaton.

An MFP helps fms to combine many of the functions found in various office machines into one piece of equipment. (Credit: Staples, Inc.)

The Great Dust Collector

While shredders have become a vital part of most offices, another device often cries out for use-the fax machine. Once a cutting edge piece of technology used to speed up the process of sending and receiving a document, it often sits in the corner acting more as an artifact than a functional piece of office technology. The advent of e-mail and digital files has cost the fax its previous standing on the office machine priority list. Fax machines account for only 1% of Framingham, MA-based Staples, Inc.’s $27 billion in annual sales.

However, these machines are not complete fossils in this day and age of electronic transmission. “Users in law offices, real estate offices, and medical offices are just some of the business applications where the fax is still an integral part of the workflow,” says Tracey Mullan, senior category merchant with Staples. At least most fax machines use plain paper instead of the old thermal paper, which used to cause fms supply cost headaches and were difficult to read.

Although the fax machine is still called upon occasionally, it generally serves one purpose for fms: space eater. The same may often be said of the copy machine.

Once upon a time these pieces of equipment took up whole rooms, and employees often traipsed across an entire building just to make copies of a meeting agenda. Again, with the rise of digital technology and the Internet, documents are now attached to e-mail, leaving each individual employee responsible for printing out a copy. Not only were many copiers inconvenient and bulky, but also they were often messy-leaving toner on hands and shirts when a fresh copy was grabbed.

In many instances, the black and white copiers have been replaced with color versions. They come in analog and digital types, with digital being more relevant in today’s networked offices. Color copiers, however, tend to be pricier due to the need for heavier paper stock and multiple costly ink cartridges.

The use of the fax machine in offices has been greatly diminished with the advent of e-mail and digital documentation
The use of the fax machine in offices has been greatly diminished with the advent of e-mail and digital documentation. (Credit: Istockphoto)


Doing It All

With office space getting tighter and the cost of operations per square foot on the rise, office machines needed to take up less area. Trying to fit phones, printers, fax machines, and copiers into an office setting is now more complex. One solution to the result of this machine madness was the development of the MFP (multifunction printer/peripheral/ product).

An MFP combines printing, copying, faxing, scanning, and even e-mailing, into one compact business machine. MFPs can fall into one of four categories: AIO, (designed for home use); SOHO (best set up in a small office or home office); production printing (for heavy production needs such as book printing); and office-the option most popular with fms.

The office MFP offers basic print, scan, copy, and fax features in addition to allowing the user to run custom software and encrypt data. Most of these machines are often networked as well.

One extra benefit of MFPs for fms is cost consolidation. Rather than have one type of toner for the fax and a variety of ink cartridges for the printer, only one set of supplies is needed, resulting in lower costs.

“For offices that are space constrained, as well as users who are looking for the best combination of features, performance, and value, an all in one (machine) is hard to beat. They simplify work lives,” says Mullan. Life made easier? That’s something fms don’t hear very often, but it certainly would put a smile on their faces.

This article was based on interviews with Heaton, Mullan, and Withers.