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Just-in-case mentality

Posted on: April 23, 2017

Reading this article from my RSS feed, Bon Voyage Copy Machine, reminded me of a process I led as head of an e-learning centre several years ago.

Like most departments, mine had a fax machine and photocopier. They were largely redundant because we did not send faxes or need much by way of paper copies.

If some ancient entity demanded it, we could rely on an online service to send the odd fax. We also needed paper copies only when a similarly outdated department inside or outside our organisation required it.

We calculated the costs of maintaining both a fax and copy machine. In the case of the fax machine, the taxes alone from the annual phoneline subscription far exceeded the cost of our yearly usage. The photocopy machine needed paper, toner, and servicing. Paper was relatively cheap*, but the cost of toner could buy a new machine.

*Paper was cheap, but wasteful. The copier was LAN-linked and people from other departments could accidentally send print jobs to our machine.

So we got rid of our fax machine by writing in to folks in charge. My assistant also calculated the cost of getting rid of fax machines across our entire organisation and having just a few shared ones in a central location. The savings were substantial, but the suggestion to centralise fax machines was ignored because convenience and being in the comfort zone mattered more than cost and change.

We invested in a newer and networked copier that would scan and send e-copies to our computers and phones. This reduced the cost of consumables. It took a while for other departments to follow our lead, but they had an easier time because we had already battled with written proposals and were a case study of cost-savings.

The cost of staying in the past is not just overtly financial. There is also the hidden cost of maintaining change resistance and inertia. The financial cost is easy to see on a spreadsheet and justify to an administrator or policymaker. The stubborn costs are not.

Like it or not, the world has moved away from cassette tapes, film rolls, and diskettes. We should add to this lot the fax and copy machines. Unless you operate in a museum, they are as obsolete as the thinking behind their use. If you can find reasons to justify them as a worker today, you might be obsolete too.

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