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Innovative thinking pays off in performance

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Replacing two sites with a modern building in Mascot allowed TNT Express to replace its motley collection of printers, copiers and faxes with a planned, efficient, output fleet.

From its origins in Australia in 1946, TNT Express has grown to be a multinational provider of express freight solutions, with 43,000 employees servicing more than 200 countries.

TNT Express is also widely recognised for its innovative use of technology. For example, its Front End Data Completion (FEDC) project, which provides customers with a user-friendly way to track and trace their consignments, has won the company numerous awards. In 2004, TNT Express scooped the pool at the MIS Innovation Awards for its implementation of FEDC, winning the overall Premier Award, winning the Enterprise Solutions, Supply Chain Excellence and Off the Wall Awards, and being a finalist in three other major categories. In 2003, TNT also won the Australian Freight Innovation/Technology Award for FEDC.

After two decades in the iconic TNT Towers building in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern, TNT decided to move both its Australian head office and the finance and administration teams onto one site -- a new open-plan facility in Mascot. According to IT Director Gary Smith, TNT recognised that this move was a 'golden opportunity' to replace its motley fleet of almost 200 printers, copiers and faxes with an innovative new output solution incorporating 73 multifunction devices (MFDs) and laser printers.

Organic growth

Until 2004, TNT's output fleet -- that is, its collection of printers, copiers and faxes -- had simply evolved without an overall plan, especially whenever TNT acquired operations that used a quite different range of output devices. The result: more and more models from different vendors -- each with their own software, training requirements, supplies and service support -- were connected to the TNT network. Some of the printers even ended up on the desks of individual employees, when it would have been far better for them to share a cost-effective network printer with other users. Meanwhile, most of the copiers in TNT were four or five-year-old analogue devices, with few of the abilities of today's digital workhorses.

In many ways, this unplanned growth in TNT's output fleet can be contrasted with the company's approach to managing the rest of its IT infrastructure -- which includes such rigorous procedures as a standard operating environment (SOE) across all its PCs and clear policies for distributing software throughout the organisation. With the move to the new building, TNT seized the opportunity to bring the same degree of planning, efficiency and innovation to the management of its output fleet as well.

"CIOs have made invaluable contributions to business strategy with a focus on PCs, infrastructure and enterprise applications," said Mr Smith. "In the past, we have tended to neglect output fleets -- printers, copiers, faxes and MFDs -- but there's no reason why we shouldn't work closely with the general services department, applying a similar approach to this area too."

Planning the pruning

To determine its exact output needs, TNT engaged a consultant and together they examined the floor plans of the new building and the print volumes of each part of the company. They liaised with the respective departments, and planned an output fleet that would maximise the availability of powerful print, copy, scan and fax services to all employees while minimising the number of devices. Then TNT put the entire project out to tender.

The tender responses flowed in, and TNT selected Canon's for its overall solution -- which consisted of the perfect mix of colour and black & white MFDs of various print speeds and configurations, as well as a handful of colour laser printers.

Another factor in TNT's decision was the steps that Canon was willing to take to smooth the entire process. For example, while other vendors had supplied most of the printers that TNT was planning to replace, Canon had supplied most of the copiers that were currently in use at TNT's 60 locations nationwide, according to Stephen Price, National Purchasing Manager, TNT Australia. As part of its flexible strategy for helping TNT to upgrade all its output fleet, Canon was happy to help TNT turn in some equipment that was still in its lease period. Canon's focus was on solving problems.

Landscaping the fleet

With a change of this magnitude -- vacating two sites, occupying a third site, and replacing almost 200 output devices with a fleet of less than half that number -- planning, testing and deep co-operation are essential.

TNT and Canon began with a test installation of about 30% of the equipment in the finance and administration centre, before it was closed and these teams were relocated to the same new building as the head office functions. This gave TNT the opportunity to get used to the equipment and iron out any wrinkles over the course of a few weeks. All staff within this period had the opportunity to attend training sessions.

Thanks to this careful testing, TNT and Canon knew exactly what to do when it came to relocating everyone to the new site. With the head office move, for example, Canon was able to deliver and install the equipment over the course of a weekend. Staff left their old desks on Friday and sat down at their new place of work on Monday. When they arrived, they had only to click on an email message and all their printer drivers, printer queues and the like were automatically installed and configured. Both an account manager and a network consultant from Canon were on hand all day to answer user questions personally. "They just wandered the floors and anybody who had questions could ask them for a solution," Mr Price said.

Healthy growth

While there are cost-per-page benefits to upgrading to the latest Canon MFDs, TNT is quicker to point to the performance benefits that came from completely replacing its output fleet. Users can now make true colour reproductions, rather than scanning in colour, returning to their PC, finding the scan file and then printing it. They can now produce documents at 50 pages per minute, including automatic stapling. And they can create professional quality A3 posters and full-colour brochures in-house with ease.

Even better, the devices that provide these abilities are within reach of the staff in TNT's new open-plan facility. "Our department was spread over four floors, but now we occupy two-thirds of a floor," said Mr Smith, using the IT department as his example. "In the new open-plan layout, we're closer together -- and we're all a few steps from the nearest MFD." In TNT's new modern home, it's common for staff to leave their desk and interact with their colleagues - as well as with the shared devices that are a vital part of their working environment.

Together, Canon and TNT are now preparing to install what will be their next innovation in output fleet management - NetSpot Accountant. This software promises to measure and control the total number of pages printed - by department and individual user, by device and device group, by paper size and paper type, and by billing code. This will be yet another shining example of the sort of savvy technology management that has accompanied TNT's growth from an Australian start-up in 1946 to a multinational provider of express freight solutions today

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