When Paper Meets Digital

In many fleet of aircraft, paper can become a big issue. The endless transporting of paper between departments often causes delays and leaves a good deal of room for error. In addition, the storing of numerous documents and maintenance manuals can become an even bigger issue if operating out of several buildings or locations. Aero Union Corporation, a leading fixed wing aerial firefighting operator located at the Chico Municipal Airport in Northern California, found it was facing these same challenges.

Aero Union, also a provider of products and services for commercial and military aviation markets, including maintenance services, realized that the challenges it was facing were unnecessary. It sought out an effective way to address the more than 400 pounds of paper, such as maintenance manuals, checklists, work and parts orders, and many other documents often required to be stored within or around each aircraft. In seeking a solution, Aero Union was introduced to the eCopy ShareScan and eCopy Desktop systems.

Thinking digitally
In the early ’90s Ed Schmid, the CEO and founder of eCopy, was in search of a new technology worthy of investment. He witnessed the increasing use of computers and email in the workplace and at the same time saw desks covered in paper and people struggling to manage it all. Schmid thought a product like ShareScan would be an effective way to bridge the gap between paper and digital communications. This idea led to a product that allowed users to scan a paper document and send it through the internal network as an email to a person within that same network.

With a rise in the use of the Internet this original product evolved into what today is called ShareScan. The ShareScan now offers the ability to send scanned documents to anyone with an email address as well as retain documents electronically for edits. Bill Brikiatis, director of media and industry analyst relations, explains further. “We really bridge the gap between paper and electronic systems. eCopy was founded on the premise that paper will never completely go away. What we do is allow people to take information that is on paper and use it with their computer systems.”

eCopy software gives a digital copier the ability to turn paper documents into digital files, which can then be transferred among employees with the intranet or sent via the Internet.

eCopy use is so effortless it requires no training. Brikiatis explains, “One of the main reasons we have been so successful is that most of our customers find it extremely easy to use. It’s easier in most cases than using the copier itself, and staff rarely, if ever, gets trained on a copier. We try to design it and do usability testing so that a person can simply walk up to it and complete a task. In fact, when we are demonstrating a product at a tradeshow we start by handing people a piece of paper and letting them do it themselves.”

When using eCopy, a paper document is placed in the tray of the digital copier, followed by the selection of the eCopy option on the operations panel. It can then be scanned and sent to the user themselves, through a fax, or emailed. Email recipients can be selected at the copier from the same address book that they use for their PC email. All paper documents scanned are then converted into PDF (portable document format) files.

This technology was something that Aero Union decided to take advantage of, knowing it could improve its processes by going digital. Mark Hernandez, the director of finance, IT, and human resources at Aero Union, states that moving into a “paper meets digital” operation was done after reviewing the several systems available, but it was the eCopy system that stood apart because of its additional features. “The additional benefit was being able to take a document scanned, and add markups with eCopy Desktop. This led us to purchase eCopy rather than just a document scanning system.” Aero Union also enjoys the security provided by the system. In order to scan and send a document, users must enter a username and password before completing the task, a feature that meets FAA regulations.

eCopy was initially suggested by the IT department, they believed that the individuals in accounting specifically would benefit most. Previously, invoices, purchase orders, and other paperwork were stored in a series of filing cabinets. When an issue regarding an order came into question, it meant rifling through countless cabinets in numerous buildings.

The new system offered the ability to store all papers digitally on a shared drive with easy access. Employees from different departments are all able to view the appropriate files from their own locations and at the same time. Accepted by the accounting department, it didn’t take long for its use to grow according to Hernandez.

“Initial reaction to eCopy was diverse, with departments such as accounting welcoming the paperless workflow and added functionality, and other departments more resistant to adopting new technology. But our employees were quick to adopt eCopy once they understood its benefits and saw how easy it was to use.”

Like most changes, all employees did not embrace the eCopy system right away. “Change is hard in the company, so we saw resistance, moving from paper to electronic was one of the biggest hurdles that employees had to get over. They always want to hold something in their hand. They didn’t really trust the electronic side until we proved to them it will still be there tomorrow and they can pull it up. Once we got over that hurdle, everyone started using it a lot more and it is still progressing. We are still adding users, especially in the MRO division people are really picking it up,” explains Hernandez.

The maintenance department at Aero Union uses Pentagon 2000 to help maintain the workflow of the shop, as well as four digital copiers with ShareScan. Technicians use the systems for purchasing, requesting checks, and for helping to control inventory and work orders.

Hernandez explains the company finds it to be a very useful tool. “We have the computer set up by each workstation in the hangar where every aircraft would depart. Mechanics use those to look up technical publications and see parts availability. We use eCopy to scan in tech pubs, any tech pub changes are scanned in and added to the original PDF files. We are constantly updating our tech pubs and that is what they then use on the shop floor.”
At Aero Union it is consolidating all maintenance manuals, and by storing them digitally on a shared drive they can be viewed by all. Imagine the convenience of that!

In addition to consolidating maintenance manuals, eCopy has improved the process for obtaining parts from the parts department. “When they request parts for whatever they are working on they will bring up a pick list in eCopy Desktop and then email it to our stores department a couple buildings over so that it can be delivered directly to them. Instead of in the past when a mechanic would walk two hangars over, give them a list of parts, and then wait at the counter for the parts. So the mechanics no longer need to leave their workstations, increasing productivity,” Hernandez explains.

With the help of eCopy, Aero Union is trying to work out a more effective solution for managing the digital paper flow from the on-board mechanics. Together with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it will be developing a sign-off process for all aircraft maintenance documentation. The new process which meets FAA regulations will result in less paperwork and more timely processing of work orders.

Hernandez is pleased with how the product has improved work proccesses and knows it will continue to do so. “Without eCopy, Aero Union could not function as it does today, and we are constantly finding even more ways to leverage the solution for improved efficiencies.”

Cost effectiveness
Aero Union Corp. has witnessed a reduction in financial workflows virtually from days or weeks to a matter of minutes or hours, reducing processes by as much as 70 percent. It has also reduced interoffice mail volumes by 60 percent by practically eliminating the need.

Aero Union operates out of six different buildings at its local airport. To transfer papers from building to building, it had an employee that executed mail deliveries twice daily between each building. Hernandez explains that this was not the most effective operation. “Things would get lost and cause chaos, and it takes a day or two to get information. Having electronic emailing, people would get their material within minutes. Plus we were able to eliminate the need for mail runs, saving costs in addition to the increased speed and efficiency of electronic distribution.”

Future improvements
Having seen the increase in productivity, Aero Union is looking for more ways to improve its processes. “We are now looking into document management systems. As we increase the number of digital documents, we find ourselves saying, ‘where is that document and how can I find it easily?’

We are doing our best to try and use shared folders and locations, but sometimes a person may not know what folder holds a document. A document management system is the next step for us. It would give everyone the ability to find any document throughout the company quickly and easily.”

With the ease at which employees may soon find documents, there is also a need for increased security in their viewing and altering of documents. “We also have to have some security placed on those documents. You may not want everyone to have the ability to look at certain documents.”

The Connectors provided by eCopy will make the possibility of using other systems a welcome one. “eCopy has lots of Connectors that they build, like a Connector to Microsoft SharePoint, and we are looking into that. They have several partners besides Microsoft that they have built Connectors between their systems and eCopy. We are leaning toward using one of these connectors. We have increased our eCopy users from 40 to 90 throughout company. It makes sense to keep eCopy. People are getting used to it. eCopy Desktop is easy to use, it will only take 10 minutes to train someone on how to use it and once they start using it they like it.”