Avi Resort & Casino Hits the Jackpot With MPS

by Raegen Pietrucha

Alongside a flowing blue stretch of the Colorado River at the southernmost tip of Nevada stands Laughlin’s Avi Resort & Casino, the only American Indian-owned casino left in the state. Built in 1995, it boasts more than 450 rooms and 25,000 square feet of gaming area. It also possesses a separate, 8,000-square-foot storage space stacked floor to ceiling solely with paper records.

Jay Johnson, Avi’s director of information technology, joined the team in 2003. Among his initial goals: Get Avi to engage an MPS program and get the company’s printing under control.

Drivers for engagement

Johnson came to Avi not only with extensive knowledge in his chosen field, but prior experience with IKON’s managed print services program at a former workplace. “It just saved us so much hassle,” he recalled. Imagine his rude awakening, then, when he first walked into Avi’s unmanaged print environment. “Every little department was doing (its) own printers,” he said. “Some offices had more printers than humans. We had 150 printers on the property that people had bought themselves — all kinds of different ink — and they’d call IT when the ink ran out, and we’d run around trying to fix them constantly. There was one night — a New Year’s Eve — I was trying to pour toner out of one container I poked a hole in into another so we could have printing for the evening. I have so many nightmare stories about printers. It was terrible.”

Given this scenario, Johnson swiftly decided to make it his mission to get printing under control via MPS. It was easier said than done, though, because he was met with a great deal of internal resistance — some of which, admittedly, was justified. “What most of the managed print service companies were lacking was a real hard ROI for us,” he said. “They estimated by our volumes, but what my team and I did was actually query our purchasing database to see what we had bought with regard to toner, printers, everything, and came up with a solid number.” Plus, Johnson faced the usual barrier end users put up with respect to adopting MPS: fear of change — though the degree of the former is typically not proportional to the amount of the latter that will actually take place, nor does the former consider the potential benefits of the latter. “(Avi was) still … years behind technology-wise, so it took a couple of years for me to convince enough people that this would save us tons of money, that it was the right thing to do and would save us tons of time,” Johnson said.

IKON’s MPS salespeople tried courting Avi when Johnson first began working there, but for the reasons indicated above, the timing was off. By the time Avi was ready to talk MPS, the reps Johnson had been dealing with at IKON had moved on, he said. Enter Konica Minolta, Avi’s current MPS provider. Having recently stumbled across a rep from that company whom he felt comfortable with, Johnson again rallied his cohort to embrace MPS. “A sort of groundswell started,” Johnson recalled, “(and) I didn’t want to take the chance that the organization would lose its gusto for wanting this solution.” So he signed on with Konica Minolta. Avi had finally embarked upon its MPS adventure.

Managing print

It was high time for Avi to clean up shop. One of the first steps in this process was to consolidate its print environment. Konica Minolta staff members joined Johnson on a New Year’s Day to reduce Avi’s 100-plus printer fleet to 14 copiers/MFPs and approximately 46 printers (primarily Hewlett-Packard LaserJet devices). Subsequently, Avi’s staff printing costs shrunk by more than 65 percent. But this wasn’t the only reduction Konica Minolta’s OPS managed print program yielded. “I’m saving about 60 man-hours a week, I’d estimate, not having to be totally responsible for printer problems,” Johnson said. “We’re never out of toner because we have a regular inventory, so the toner auto-fills when it gets down to a certain level. They supply the toner, they repair, and we just pay them a maintenance fee per month according to the volume of    printing. That’s such a relief.”

Avi didn’t stop at MPS and standard print management, though, when it came to reducing its total print spend. Johnson looked at the costs for outsourced printing that the casino was doing to advertise as well, finally deciding to invest in a wide-format digital printer to bring this work in-house. “Digital printing has advanced to the point where the quality we can produce is far superior to what we can get from a traditional print shop,” Johnson said. “(And before), if there was a typo or spelling error, it’d take us five days to turn it around and a great deal of expense. Now we can just stop the run (ourselves) and have it out on time.” The purchase of its own digital press also allowed for the possibility of integration with the casino’s confidential client database, so Avi was now able to customize its mailers in ways it never had been able to before as well. (Mass mailings prior to this customization, Johnson felt, served to confuse the wide range of clients Avi caters to and ultimately damage its market share.) Bringing the printing of posters, banners and other marketing materials under Avi’s own roof has helped it save quite a few pretty pennies — about $300,000 worth a year, to be exact, Johnson indicated.

Avi continues to look for ways to reduce its overall print expenditure, considering and in some cases creating near- or completely paperless systems for itself to achieve this goal. Johnson indicated that he has made the slots system 97 percent paperless already and has plans to make several other systems at Avi paperless as well. He elaborated: “We are regulated by several control agencies — the Nevada Gaming Control Board … and also the National Indian Gaming Association. We have to be audited by both entities. The amount of paperwork that we have to keep and for what duration of time — up to five years — we’re printing (it) all. We have a huge warehouse that we have to keep air-conditioned full of boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of paper. If an auditor comes in and demands a certain day’s report from four years ago, we have to go pull a box or five, dig around in there and find the exact report. (However, recently), the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the federal government have accepted what they call ‘WORM’ storage, which is ‘write once, read many.’ As long as (records are) somewhere unalterable by the common user, … they are on board.” So with a scanning solution that allows documents to be stored electronically, Johnson plans to eliminate the more expensive and more cumbersome paper version of these records. “I can foresee huge costs and efficiency savings,” Johnson said, “(so) I’m in process of taking them paperless.”

Finding many document management systems that would assist with this process expensive and overly complicated in relation to Avi’s needs, Johnson has scripted his own filing structures for records he’s transitioning from paper to electronic form. He’s also chosen to approach document security in a like fashion. “In the tech industry, they’re (oftentimes) stacking solutions on top of solutions that people already have,” Johnson said, “so instead of putting something else on top of the built-in Windows security, we’re just going to go with something that works, that we understand.”

Challenges

The road to MPS success is rarely a smooth one. Although he eventually got buy-in from Avi’s leadership and staff to implement the program, Johnson hit many bumps along the way — even after the ink had dried. To start, there was some resistance among employees regarding the removal of so many printers — often straight from their offices — in the first stage. “As a token of (our) commitment, my general manager and I both had the printers removed from our offices, and we walk down the hall to get our printouts,” Johnson said. “So if anybody complains, ‘I’ve got to get up and go across the office to get my printout,’ well, they have our example.” Then, since there were now eliminated, relocated or entirely brand-new devices around, Avi’s employees had to be educated on which to use, for what purposes and how to do so. Thankfully, for the first few weeks of the MPS engagement, Konica Minolta staff remained on-site to provide this initial training.

And while part of the whole appeal of MPS is having someone else service print devices, Avi’s tech team still strives to be reasonable when it comes to requesting service, investigating each problem itself to make sure it’s not a simple issue that can be easily resolved in-house before calling in the big guns. However, in the beginning, this too presented its own challenges. What requires a tech and what doesn’t when it comes to those mysterious error codes? “We’ve had to discover for ourselves what the (error) codes mean … by trial and error,” Johnson said, “but we have, and now we know exactly what the problem is if it’s one that we’ve encountered before. If an HP printer is low on toner, our system knows it’s low on toner. It sends an A34 supply error, and that’s what my system reports back to me.”

Looking to the future

Johnson has already witnessed how the MPS program Avi has leveraged has changed employees’ print behavior. He believes users are being more cautious about their printing now that they’re aware pages are being tracked, but he also thinks the program has made people more conscious about paper consumption in general and has inspired them to make better choices. “We are trying to be more green,” he said. “I’ve got little tags on my email … that say, ‘Please consider the environment before printing this email.’” To continue forward with output reduction, Johnson is planning to implement a type of rules-based, secure-release print solution at some point down the line. “These (devices) have built-in user quotas if you want to impose them,” Johnson said. “You can set everybody up with a PIN number, (and) they can not only print their documents (and) go retrieve them at any time throughout the day, but they’re also held accountable for how much they’re printing.” Engaging this, he believes, will further “green” Avi’s processes in the future.

As users become more eco-conscious and new technologies provide greater ease of communication, Johnson feels Avi’s plan to become as close to paperless a business as it can possibly be is not only in accordance with the mindset of the times, but an inevitability. “I see printing on the decline, honestly,” he said. “I can foresee, within five years, 90 percent of our activities that are now printed being paperless. (And) it’s so much easier for people, once you break them out of the mindset that ‘I need a piece of paper in my hand.’ With everyone getting a personal mobile device, it’s so much easier just to have it all in one spot. The workload (would be) so much less because (employees) are not sorting through files all day. I can imagine an IT director being able to totally divest himself of responsibility for printing.”

MPS Tips from Jay Johnson, Director of IT, Avi Casino

I was so desperate to get any kind of solution in place, I cut back as much as I possibly could on the quality of the equipment. I bought smaller models that really weren’t designed to handle the capacity they were going to just so I could get it past the board. That’s a mistake. I should’ve spent twice as much money and gotten robust equipment. That would be the first thing I recommend to anybody: Stick to your guns and be comfortable within your volume levels. Don’t skimp. Make sure your solutions are robust enough to handle what you’ve got.

(Additionally), I would court the vendors carefully and make them all aware that they’re in direct competition with each other. Maybe adopt them all on a trial basis; see what their billing’s like, see what their service is like, see what it’s like to call up and add a new printer or remove a printer. Get to work with them all on a trial basis for a month or two until you can make the right choice.

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