Pugh's Goes Paperless

Michael Pugh, co-owner and CFO of Pugh's Earthworks based in Memphis, TN, says he first began thinking about transitioning to a paperless office back in 2005. Since then the business has grown dramatically. Three additional branches have been opened. The volume of paper being generated daily—not to mention the inefficiencies tied to the handling of all that paper—soon spiraled out of control. Pugh reached his breaking point in 2010.

"We were simply out of room at our main facility in Memphis," Pugh recalls. "We already had one entire office stuffed full of filing cabinets. Additionally, we had well over 100 three-ring binders with work orders from the past couple of years. We're talking about the type of paperwork you don't need to put your hands on every day, but still important enough that you don't want to shred it. I didn't know what to do. I was looking at having to pay someone off site to store our paper. That was tough to swallow."

Pugh happened upon a company called Cabinet NG at a QuickBooks user's conference. He learned about a product called CNG-SAFE, a complete document management and workflow software product. His curiosity over the concept of paperless was revitalized.

Identifying your needs

Pugh wishes he would've heard of CNG-SAFE in 2005 when he first started thinking about going paperless. He spent the next three years blowing upwards of $25,000 on industry-specific management software that didn't accomplish what he wanted it to. "We even toyed with the idea of having a software developer create something for us," Pugh says.

The frustration was that many of the leading software products are geared toward scheduling. "We still like to give our crews that printed job sheet," Pugh says. "Then they have something in front of them that they can refer to and write notes on. They're hot and dirty, jumping in and out of trucks all day. I'm not really in a hurry to give them expensive smartphones or anything like that.

"The problem I have with scheduling software is that things change all of the time," Pugh continues. "The weather turns bad, a crew finishes up early on a property, or whatever. You go to all that trouble to type your schedule into the computer, and then it all changes. We end up spending way too much time adjusting schedules in the computer."

What Pugh says he needed was something that simply allowed his office staff to take a job sheet (with foreman's notes) and store it electronically. He also wanted something that would streamline communication. "If our branch manager in Little Rock sold a contract, for example, the main office in Memphis needed a copy, as did our manager in charge of annual flower orders," Pugh relates. "Before it was all said and done, we had to make seven or eight copies of this contract so all of the necessary people had one. Keeping track of all of this was becoming a logistical nightmare."

Steps to implementation

Pugh decided to begin the conversion to paperless in October 2010. This was a good time of year because things start to slow down a bit. Furthermore, his staff could utilize a dual system for those last three months of the year in order to get their feet wet. In other words, they began scanning all documents but also retained the paper copies. "We already had paper copies of everything for the first nine months of the year, so this seemed to make sense," Pugh says.

It also seemed to make sense to refrain from converting all papers from the previous nine months to paperless. "How much time do you want to spend doing that?" Pugh asks. His main goal was to stop the accumulation of paper documents from that point forward. Plus, much of what was already on file would be reaching the end of its useful life soon. So Pugh decided to leave all of that alone.

As the company's CFO and a self-described "computer geek," Pugh took it upon himself to lead the conversion effort. He decided to go "all in" and purchased the complete package of software from Cabinet NG, in addition to some hardware and a couple of scanners. He also purchased a new server from another vendor. The total investment was around $25,000.

Training went rather smoothly. "The software is pretty intuitive," Pugh says. "Both myself and our office manager picked it up pretty quickly. Actually, the other managers who have access to it also caught on pretty quick."

Pugh opted for a five-user license. Three are "static"—Pugh, the office manager (Kaye Redus) and the customer service representative (Jennifer Houston) are constantly using the system. Two additional licenses are then classified as "concurrent"—meaning no more than two people can be using the system at a given time. Pugh says this enables other key managers to jump on and off the system periodically if they need to check on something.

How they are saving money

Now more than a year into their paperless transformation, Pugh says the company is saving money in several ways.

They've quit printing tons of paper, saving thousands of dollars on paper and printer ink.

They've been able to convert that unproductive storage room into a productive office, saving the company more than $700 per year in square footage.

The customer service representative—who previously spent a significant amount of her time searching for paper files tucked away in cabinets and three-ring binders—now has more time to do what she was actually hired to do. "Being proactive in performing outstanding customer service is so important right now," Pugh reminds. "It's great to have someone above and beyond the account manager or foreman that's checking in with the client. Now our CSR has time to do that."

Pugh's is now emailing invoices to roughly 80% of their customer base. This is saving at least $10,000 in printing costs and postage.

More efficient logistics is another way the company is saving, though it's difficult to put a dollar amount on it. "The CNG SAFE software has a module that interfaces with Microsoft Outlook," Pugh relates. "When you email an invoice to a client (as a PDF), CNG SAFE automatically saves a copy in that client's file on the server. So now we have one repository—an electronic filing cabinet on our server—which only authorized people can access. We no longer have a situation where certain information is stored on the server while other information is on a manager's laptop, for example. Our goal is to store everything related to a given customer in that given customer's file on our server."

Favorite Features

Michael Pugh says his company's paperless transformation is constantly evolving. "This software can do so much. One thing I wish I would've done differently is attend a CNG SAFE user's conference right away. I didn't get to one for nearly a year. The earlier in the process you can attend one, the better off you'll be."

In that first year, though, Pugh and his team came to appreciate two features of the software in particular.

Workflow Management. When a document is scanned, you can create a rule for it. For example, you could have that document automatically emailed to certain people.

QuickBooks Integration. This comes in especially handy with vendor invoices. When an invoice is scanned, there are some fields you enter the essential data into. That data then flows directly into QuickBooks. "We now have some of our suppliers, such as John Deere Landscapes, that are emailing us our invoices so we don't even have to go to the trouble of scanning anything," Pugh says.

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