Hired earlier this year to service an extremely large consumer loan portfolio, Household Financial Services found itself battling a huge logistical problem.

Information Household needed was contained in 1.2 million paper files, stored at various locations throughout the United States. Household had to come up with a plan to retrieve the files from 600 locations throughout 34 states and bring them to a central servicing location.

"The magnitude of files was unbelievable," said Debra Vander Weit, director of operations. "Had we tried to complete this operation manually, without the use of bar codes, it would have taken us a year."

Household Financial Services, a provider and servicer of consumer lending products, is a division of financial services giant Household International Inc., based in Prospect Heights, Ill.

To assist in its task, Household enlisted the services of Advanced Office Concepts Inc., a records management company based in Fullerton, Calif., to coordinate the technology aspect of the transfer. The actual labor was performed by File Pros, a document control firm based in Santa Ana, Calif.

"We knew how to accomplish the acquisition. We came up with the idea and a plan to implement it, but we needed to go to an outside vendor to help us facilitate the file transfer," said Ms. Vander Weit.

The first step in the transfer was to design a routing system to move the countless boxes of documents. The files were shipped via truck to a 52,000-square-foot warehouse in Southern California that Advanced Office Concepts set up specifically for the project.

Once the boxes arrived at the warehouse and unloaded they were given a bar code, the key to the inventory and tracking process.

"We were able to track a box of files as it moved from station to station once it was labeled," said Susan Speyer, an office systems specialist with Advanced Office Concepts. "After we initially logged all the boxes, we then had to go through each of the individual file folders and audit the contents and inventory the shipments."

According to Barbara Volkov, president of File Pros, it took the three organizations a month to get everything ready for the job.

In order to accomplish the time-consuming task of reviewing more than eight million documents, Household asked 140 employees to work back-to-back eight-hour shifts, five days a week for 10 weeks.

Within the first week of operation we were processing 28,000 files a day," said Ms. Volkov. "At one point in the operation we were able to process 45,000 files a day."

The employees used 310 bar code wands to scan the files and get a menu of what documents should be contained in the files. The staff took the information and created a data base containing the status of each of the documents.

"The staff was able to see what should have been in the files and then actually scan the files to create a data base that detailed which folders were complete and which were not," Ms. Vander Weit said.

The use of the scanners ensured the contents of the files would be reported accurately, because the bar code appropriately tied the documents to the files. It also provided Household with up-to-date information on how the operation was progressing.

"We were able to know where all of the files were at all times," said Ms. Vander Weit. "The information from the scanners was used to give us daily reports and allowed us to audit the site, with the ability to double-check the information."

Besides setting up a warehouse, Advanced Office Systems also set up a local area network to track the files.

Advanced Office Concepts used a software program called Image Trax, which tracked the files and created custom reports that allowed document auditing.

"The LAN used Image Trax to track the documents back to back," said Ms. Speyer.

The information that was downloaded into the Image Trax system allowed Household to get up-to-date information of the status of the project. Image Trax is a records management system that was developed by Document Control Systems, a sister company of Advanced Office Concepts.

The system allows users to receive instant reports of file locations and provides real-time accounting for physical assets. The system will, on demand, create management reports to analyze efficiency and productivity.

"Image Trax enabled us to monitor the status of the project and how it was progressing and if it was on time and accurate," said Ms. Vander Weit. "We were able to know where all of our files were at all times."

The LAN also served as a backup to ensure that none of the data was lost once it was scanned. The system was designed so that each terminal ran independently to store the data and then sent it to the Image Trax data base.

"We required Advanced Office Concepts to provide continual service throughout the day, even if the network went down, as well as provide a backup so that we would not lose any data if the site went down," said Ms. Vander Weit.

While the boxes were being tracked and inventoried in the depot, Advanced Office Concepts was printing eight-inch color-coded labels to be attached to the files at another location. Color Bar, a PC-based color printing system was used to print the labels. The system, which was developed by Document Control Systems, is used to create labels that have both numerical and linear data, combined with a color-coded filing system.

The labels were then affixed to the files and ready to be sent the Household Financial Services for storage.

"It is fascinating that we were able to track 1.2 million files through the whole process," said Ms. Vander Weit. "Something of this magnitude could really have gotten out of hand, and it did not."

Household selected Advanced Office Concepts from a number of vendors that had solicited the business. The reason Advanced Office Concepts won the contract was because it best convinced Household's managers that it could handle the work without problems.

"We went to them with the project plan and told them what we needed, and they showed us how they could do the job," Ms. Vander Weit said.

"We were very glad to be able to accomplish the task, knowing that we did not have to compromise accuracy," she said.

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