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SMB survives Katrina by going paperless

Find out how this small insurance company was shut down -- but kept running -- when Katrina struck.

When Joseph Maiorana says he runs a mom 'n' pop shop, he means it. For 15 years, Maiorana, his wife, and their children have done everything from answer the telephone to consult with clients and take out the garbage at the family's New Orleans insurance agency.

Three months ago, Hurricane Katrina forced the Maiorana family to close up the Joseph Maiorana Insurance Agency, Inc. and drive several states away to safety.

"I threw my Dell server in the back of my Expedition and away we went," Maiorana said. "I packed up the family, the dog, the hamster -- and a laptop."

By luck, the Maiorana's Louisiana home survived the late-August hurricane. And by making a smart technology decision, Maiorana said, he was able to preserve all his client data -- even though his office file cabinets floated in flood water and rusted shut. Maiorana saved the day, and thousands of documents, by 'going paperless' a few years back, he said.

"Let me tell you, it was nice when a client would say 'I lost all my equipment, but I don't have a copy of my policy.' And we'd say 'Not a problem,'" recalled Maiorana, who is currently running his business from his granddaughter's playroom.

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"I've got friends in the business who lost everything and have no clue as to who the clients are, where the client base is, who owes them money and who doesn't," he said.

Finding the right vendor

The decision to switch to electronic file keeping, and do away with paying for storage space that was vulnerable to flooding, was an easy one for Maiorana. But finding the right software company wasn't, he said.

"Most of the legwork I did on the Internet. I looked at various companies that furnish this stuff," he said. "We finally decided on Cabinet NG, which was one of the more expensive ones." There was a range of selections, he said, some with much higher starting prices than Athens, Ala.-based Cabinet NG -- but also cheaper options that weren't as appealing, he said.

"I'm a mom 'n' pop shop," Maiorana said. "To go spend $4,000 for a program and another $4,000 for a server that has mirror drives to protect the information -- that's something I have to think about." For starters, Maiorana needed something that non-technical types (like him) could use without having to pay for extended training.

"What made us decide on Cabinet NG was the configuration," Maiorana said. "It looked more like a file cabinet to me. I could have a separate cabinet for clients, or for accountants."

Framingham, Mass.-based IDC estimates the market for digital/paper software and services grew by 17.4% worldwide in 2004. In a recent market evaluation, Kwon Chin, IDC's research manager for document solutions, predicted the market would double by 2009. At the enterprise level, Filenet is a chief competitor to Cabinet NG. At the single-user level, the smallest shops, Paperport is Cabinet NG's best competitor. In the mid-sized market, IDC evaluated the following document management vendors: Cabinet NG, Canon, Captaris/IMR, docSTAR, DocuWare, Hyland/OnBase, Laserfiche, Liberty IMS, Omtool, Ricoh, Sharp, Toshiba, Westbrook, Xerox, and ZyLAB.

"Most likely, small companies will look at Captaris, Cabinet NG, and possibly Liberty IMS," said Michael Maziarka, director at InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, a Weymouth, Ma.-based research firm specializing in document technology. "Xerox DocuShare has been adding more capabilities to become more scaleable -- but their price allows them to play across the spectrum."

"I think a lot of organizations are really trying to digitize as much as possible," Maziarka said. For smaller companies that are not impacted by SOX and other regulations, getting away from file cabinets is still a priority, he said. "This way, the information is searchable and it should be much easier to find. That's true whether you are a small company or a larger company."

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