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COLD system phases out fiche in four months


Managing paperwork can be as important to a business as having the right products to sell. How quickly and easily customers receive information is crucial to a company's success.

The importance of managing the flow of information has always been understood by The Pfaltzgraff Company, a pottery business founded in the early 1800s in York, PA, by Johann George Pfaltzgraff. After he emigrated to the United States from Germany, Pfaltzgraff began producing salt-glazed crocks and jugs for neighboring farm homes. Today Pfaltzgraff designs and markets more than 60 casual dinnerware patterns, stainless steel flatware, pantryware, glass gift and serveware.

While Pfaltzgraff designs are rooted in tradition, new technology is core to its business processes. Today, designers use a 3-D CAD/CAM design system alongside their traditional watercolors and colored markers. Plaster molds for forming the clay are machined within hundredths of an inch of precision by high-end computer modeling programs. Salespeople carry laptop computers that can access customer information instantly, and electronic data interchange has revolutionized the way customers order products.

But the company realized it had to replace a time-consuming process it used to access important administrative documents, and formed a project team to investigate a new system.

"Our principle methods of archiving computer data were microfiche and paper," explained Lloyd Myers, system development manager. "This meant that items in long-term storage were difficult to access and to index, and the microfiche was expensive to create and to copy."

Accessing microfiche records required special equipment that was only in one location, he added, further restricting information accessibility.

"Most of the records were housed in a building dubbed the Library of Congress by employees. Needless to say, this involved long retrieval times," said Myers.

The new project team, after researching options, decided that a computer output to laser disc (COLD) application would offer the best solution. Four different products were tested on-site and evaluated, and the team eventually selected MetaViewer by Metafile (Rochester, MN).

According to Myers, "Its full-text indexing did not use selective fields as some of the other programs we tested, which slowed the operation down. Depending on the PC used, we can index 15,000 pages an hour."

Within four months the new system was in full operation and the microfiche system was phased out.

"Things moved very quickly," said Michael Maloney, manager of Technical Services at Pfaltzgraff. "Metafile spent two days doing an initial workup that gave us a big head start and saved research time. Its technical support has been responsive, too. In fact, we developed a list of possible areas for improvement, and Metafile plans to include our suggestions in the next software release."

The new system has brought efficiency to Pfaltzgraff's customer service and credit department. The credit department used to spend hours locating an invoice, copying it and faxing it. Now it takes seconds to search for the record and fax it directly from the workstation. About 25 people used the microfiche system. After an hour's training, each was comfortable with the new system and pleased with the time savings.

Today 150 people use the system and more than 200 reports reside on it, including accounting, credit, customer service, EDI, inventory and the Pfaltzgraff Retail Division's sales reports. More than 1 million pages are on the system, of which 250,000 are invoices.

"An initial concern was the system's ability to handle large volumes," said Myers, "but we are finding that the average response time is between five and 10 seconds."

Since Pfaltzgraff already had an installed network with the majority of workstations high-end 486s or Pentium Windows PCs, the cost of installation was $50,000 for the software and a network file server dedicated to COLD. A dedicated PC receives incoming data from the host, indexes, compresses and stores it on the COLD server. The network is fairly large with 500 attached PCs and another 100 PCs able to use dial-in access. In all, there are 15 different locations. The server is equipped with a 16-GB RAID 5 disk and, after being live for four months, 3 GB have been used. By Pfaltzgraff's estimates, the disk should be sufficient for one year, but in the third quarter the addition of an optical jukebox is being considered.

Savings from the entire project are expected to more than pay for the system within the first six months. Microfiche savings are $35,000, and when paper is eliminated, there will be another $30,000 in savings. Factoring in the reduced time spent filing and the improvement in customer service, Pfaltzgraff administrative systems have taken a giant leap forward

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