Tract Consultants

Business: urban planning, landscape architecture

Founded: 1973

Headquarters: Melbourne, Australia

Employees: 115

The numbers tell the story. That’s what Tract Consultants found when they decided to get a handle on their print and copy expenses. For years the multi-disciplinary design firm had been aware of their document costs. Dez Stallard, IT Officer at Tract, explains: “the best way to make a change at our firm is to quantify the results.” We sat with Dez and discovered that a little statistical analysis goes a long way.

Tell us a bit about you and your business.

We specialize in landscape architecture, urban design, and town planning. We’re one of the few firms in Australia that do all those things. We’re based in Melbourne with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, and Darwin. We were founded in 1972 and have about 115 people.

 

Our print environment’s fairly simple. We have a mix of black-and-white and color Canon MFPs. We use Designjet large format devices.

 

How were you managing print expenses in the past?

We used the classic clipboard on every printer and copier. Big red sign “record every print.” Employees were expected to write down their activity—page counts, project numbers. We emphasized the importance during new employee orientations. Our account staff gathered logs manually entered them into the system every week or two. They had to chase people down to get things clarified. The couldn’t read the handwriting. It was all quite inefficient and it only amounted to about six to seven hundred dollars a month in captured expenses.

 

In the year or so before we got Argos the numbers really began to drop. People felt more pressure than before and stopped recording anything. The culture was allowed to slip so that people could stay busy. And at the same time our print and copy volumes were going up. That’s when we knew it was time to look at cost recovery software.

 

What led you to choose Argos for the job?

The firm’s directors charged me with researching software packages. None of the products we looked at were the right fit. We have a tricky culture here and we didn’t want to introduce something that would disrupt the our employees. Most of the software we saw was too rigid and didn’t integrate with our accounting system very well.

 

The project went on hold when we decided to replace our finance software. A year later we’d moved to Deltek Vision and were ready to move forward. I met the Sepialine guys at Deltek Insight [Deltek’s annual conference]. Finding cost recovery was a specific directive for the conference. So it was great to find a product right there at the show that met our requirements almost item for item. Our high-level requirements were:

 

  • Not interfere with users’ workflow. Didn’t want it to pop up before print. Every other piece I saw did that.
  • Had to integrate with project management software. No more data entry. Projects or data.
  • Work with our HP and Canon equipment.

Getting and implementing software is usually tricky and time-consuming. It’s usually a love/hate affair. But we were able to get Argos installed easily and, within a day, we were able to see what the value was going to be. Usually I have to write a case study for new software purchases, and there’s usually a lot more back-and-forth. With Argos, there was none of that. The directors approved the purchase faster than any other software purchase we’ve ever made.

 

How was the experience implementing Argos?

Every step of the way it worked. It was set up the way we want it straight away, and we were able to see information right away through the evaluation period. Support was great; we’re very pleased with it. The Sepialine support guys were willing to do whatever they needed to do to make it work, even working around the timezone differences, and they’re really knowledgeable about the product. In one case we found a minor behavior in the software that we wanted changed. The Sepialine team heard me out, agreed it was a good idea, and implemented it within a few weeks.

 

After installing, we tracked silently for six weeks. The users were unaware that we were being tracked. Using early data we estimated our return on investment to be one to two months. We guessed that we’d see a 30 percent drop-off in printing, since our staff would hopefully print less once they knew they were being tracked.

 

How did your employees respond?

We ran the software silently for six weeks while we gathered data. Then came the day to turn on the desktop clients for all our employees. Like most software roll-outs, we held a few in-person sessions to explain the software and show how it worked. I expected some resistance, but instead everyone seemed to agree that it was a far better way to solve the problem than the old clipboard method. People were happy to see the software come in.

 

Since we’ve rolled Argos out I’ve actually received unsolicited feedback from employees talking about how much they like the software. That’s a rare gift in the I.T. world.

 

We purposely decided to only require the tracking popup for color printing. Black-and-white printing is tracked silently. We did that to incentivize people to use black-and-white, and make them think twice before using color. It worked. We’ve seen a 50% reduction in color printing, which is good because for color we pay 15 times more in fees and seven times more for paper, so it’s a substantial cost difference.

 

What do you like most about Argos?

For us there’s lots to like. The employees like the way the pop-up keeps track of their recently-used projects and favorites. Everyone seems like like the Snooze feature, which we set to 60 minutes. They don’t abuse it; they only use it when there’s pressure on. For me, the way it integrates with Deltek Vision is great. I set up a schedule to keep our projects up to date, and I haven’t had to do anything to it since. I check in on it once in a while to make sure that new projects are going in, and it just keeps doing the right thing. There’s almost no ongoing maintenance.

 

Most importantly, we expect to triple our reimbursable billings because of Argos. And that’s something everyone likes.

 

How have the employees out on the floor received Argos?

Nobody really likes being tracked; so, the less obtrusive, the better. We’ve been able to tailor the billing popup so they only see what we want them to see and they only have to enter a project number. They can see both name and number and sort it. They have two canned comments for cases where they cancel a print job, and that’s it. We’ve made it as simple and streamlined as possible. Once people get used to it, it’s fine.

 

Any words of advice for other companies?

I’m definitely going to recommend Argos to anyone who needs this kind of software. It’s a great idea to track silently at first. Bring about a few key users and take note of their experience. Think about the manner in which you want to present it to your staff. Present it as an advantage.

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