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Duty, honor, country ... cost-cutting

"Much of the history we teach was made by people we taught" is a favorite expression of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Great leaders such as Grant, Lee, Pershing, MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton, Westmoreland and Schwarzkopf are among West Point's 50,000 graduates. Other alumni have earned prominent spots in history through illustrious careers in medicine, law, business, politics and science following their military service.

In order to direct more resources toward educating and fostering those leadership qualities in its cadets, West Point tries to save money where it can in its business operations. Recently, for example, the academy was able to convert a cumbersome, costly microfiche method of archiving and distributing financial reports into an electronic system that saves an estimated $100,000 per year.

The change was precipitated when West Point officials learned it would cost $26,000 to upgrade the microfiche system to make it Y2K compliant.

"It wasn't cost-effective to upgrade an antiquated system," says Michele Crandall, electronic document management system manager. "We were aware that a number of companies had developed computer output to laser disc (COLD) technology designed to archive reports and distribute them over a network. Because of manpower cutbacks, our selection process focused on which system required the least time to administrate and train users."

The reports contain financial information about the academy and its subsidiaries--such as the bookstore, golf course, medical clinic, veterinary facilities and gift shop. The information is delivered to 250 users on the West Point campus and at several satellite facilities. The recipients include members of the financial staff, managers of various operations and administrative staff in nearly every branch of the academy.

In the old system, copies of new reports were printed and distributed by hand or mailed to the users. Generating and distributing the reports took about 1,500 hours per year. The cost of paper and copier maintenance was $20,000 per year; microfiche maintenance support costs, $30,000 per year; and microfiche supplies, $10,000.

Despite the expense and time involved, the documents weren't particularly convenient to use. Users had to page through paper documents or search microfiche strips.

The new electronic report distribution system selected by West Point is from Metafile Information Systems.

The changeover was undertaken slowly because of manpower shortages and to allow time to build user acceptance. Crandall received the new software about a year ago, and, working part time on the project, she set up all the reports and security in about six months. The new system was used in parallel with the old one through the last three months of the academy's fiscal year. By that time, users were not only trained but enthusiastic about the amount of time they were saving.

"Our users save a remarkable amount of time by being able to use the text search feature to instantly retrieve the information they need," says Crandall. "The system is capable of handling any type of information, so there's virtually no limit to what we can do."

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