July 1995

Level of govt.: County

Function: Funds disbursement

Problem: Paying vendors and rebates required county to outsource check printing.

Solution: Secure check printers.

Jurisdiction: Palm Beach County, Fla.

Vendors: Xerox, Bottomline Technologies Inc.

Contact: Denise Smyth, Dir. Automation, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Box 229, West Palm Beach, FL 33402

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Staff at the Palm Beach County, Fla., Circuit Court clerk's office was bogged down in production and accounting check disbursements early last year due to growing volume and outdated manual processes. The situation sparked an effort to identify not only a solution for the immediate problem, but also a long-term strategy for check payments - which had grown to some 400 drafts per day. Relief was eventually found in the form of new hardware and software products capable of printing and managing magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) encoded documents.

The Palm Beach Circuit Court installed the first of these new systems in March 1994 to handle general accounts payable. Consisting of a Xerox 4197 desktop MICR laser printer combined with Exeter, N.H.-based Bottomline Technologies Inc.'s custom account management and check writing software, the new system was immediately successful at replacing manual check production and accounting procedures with semi-automated procedures.

A second system was installed in April 1994 for juvenile restitution payments, and a third is planned to be up and running early this year. These new distributed check production systems completely eliminate the need for manual accounting, processing and preprinting of checks.

The major benefit, according to Denise Smyth, director of automated services for the Palm Beach Circuit Court clerk's office, is that the new system is much more flexible than what was used before. Prior to the first installation, her office was considering changing banks - a costly move given the large numbers of pre-printed checks that would need to be destroyed and reprinted. Under the new system, blank check stock is generic, and account information for a new bank can be updated within minutes without affecting the check-printing process.

MICR DESKTOP LASER PRINTING SYSTEMS

Laser printing has been around for some time, but applying this technology to check production is a recent development. Current laser-based MICR printers provide improvements in registration accuracy and readability of the MICR line. At 300 dots per inch, MICR desktop laser printers can easily print the E13B MICR line so that it meets both the American Banking Association and American National Standards Institute's specifications.

The MICR desktop laser printers, combined with off-the-shelf or custom-designed software, form a complete system that can simplify the entire document creation and fund management process while maintaining or improving on existing security requirements.

MICR laser printers use a ferromagnetic dry ink instead of normal toner. While the initial cost of MICR toner is slightly higher than regular laser toner, average yield per pound is comparable. This is more than offset by the lower material costs for check stock, which is typically cut in half.

The traditional approach to check printing employs a multiple-step process that ultimately results in the use of an impact printer to create checks from preprinted paper stock. This method requires handling by a large number of people as well as a complicated scheme for maintaining security of the negotiable forms.

The use of MICR desktop laser printers also significantly lowers check rejection rates as they are sent through reader/sorter equipment at banks. Usually less than 1 percent of MICR produced checks are rejected, compared with about 5 percent for checks produced

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