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Posts Tagged ‘fax

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 We also needed paper copies only when a similarly outdated department inside or outside our organisation required it.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.

Last week I received email from GeBIZ to complete a survey (PDF file) and then either email the file or fax it.

Gebiz email requesting for survey returns.

The message and instructions begged these questions:

Perhaps someone conspired to rile GeBIZ users up so much that they would provide feedback to demand for more efficient and effective practices.

An online version of the form is both more efficient and effective.

  • Its submission is immediate as is a confirmation of receipt.
  • There is no need for people to compile data from two different sources into one.
  • The data can be automatically collated and analysed without first being inputted manually from the emailed PDFs or faxes, thereby reducing human error.

If this is what happens to a survey, I dare not imagine how other processes might be compromised.

As an educator, I cannot help but wonder what messages actions like these send to the larger system. Are these indicators of push-backs on progress?

I do not think that my concern is unwarranted. While mainstream school teachers are not quite affected Internet restrictions, there are already restrictions on services like Dropbox and mobile services.

If plans are only as good as their implementation, why does “smart talk, dumb walk” persist?

Policies crafted by leaders shape the work environment and culture. If higher-ups associate the Internet, social media, or anything “e” as dangerous or wasting time, they will enact policies that reinforce such hang-ups and nurture a culture based on fear.

Consider this scenario. Imagine I propose that school personnel decide on whether they spend money only on a textbook collection or Chromebooks. The books do not raise an eyebrow, but the response to Chromebooks is “Yes, but…”.

As different as schools are now compared to a generation ago, values and practices today are arguably still entrenched in the past. Ask teachers if they integrate technology and it is still common to hear phrases like “technology to enhance”, “the basics are more important”, “we don’t want the kids to be distracted”, or “the exams are handwritten”.

Technology should not just enhance, it should enable learning. The basics have changed and are more complex and kids need to be empowered. Very little outside of conventional exams and schools is handwritten. Even GeBIZ asked for email replies.

Despite the smart talk and inspiring rhetoric, what actually makes a difference is the walk. It easy to say you want innovation in schools. It is more difficult to create conditions for change.

One thing I see more of (that I would rather see less of) is paperwork. I would like to see as little of it as possible, be it better electronic versions of the paper or the removal of unnecessary processes that create the need for this paper in the first place.

One thing that ended up on my desk recently was our fax bill. Who faxes nowadays? We have to pay something under $43 (including tax) each quarter. But the tax for the fax alone ($2.80) was more than the cost of what we actually faxed (about 40 cents).

There are alternatives to traditional fax-like Internet fax services and email + scanning, or better still, digital signatures. That is what people still want faxes for right? Fuzzy or pixelated and barely legible signatures, that is.

BTW, in my search for a CC-licensed image, I found another solution that is at least two years old.

I did not know that you could use a mobile phone connected by bluetooth to a Mac as a fax!

But the larger issue is not faxing. It is the fact that every department here as at least one fax that we don’t really need. If you do the math, it really adds up. With the same amount of money, you could hire one or two pretty well-paid administrative or technical folks to run just one fax machine for the whole institute and do some other more productive work too.

Why don’t we? Because we cling on to things out of sentiment or stubbornness, or because we don’t know any other way.

But wait, if you read this blog or if you sense your environment regularly, you will know that there are better ways. In doing that you will realize that there is little room for sentiment and you cannot afford to be stubborn in the face of change.

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