Paper company IT head takes digital notes

The IT manager of Avery Products Australia, a large paper company, has revealed that an electronic pen is critical to his workflow.

John McConville, head of finance and IT for Avery Products Australia, said he has long relied on electronic pens from Livescribe to record written notes and audio from meetings.

Using a camera built into the pen and a microphone, Livescribe devices digitise handwritten notes in a special paper notebook and automatically match each pen stroke to the precise moment in the audio that the note is taken.

At a lunch in Sydney hosted by Livescribe, McConville said he currently uses the Livescribe Sky and the Livescribe 3 models of the pen, but prefers the Wi-Fi and Evernote-enabled Sky model.

By syncing audio to each word he writes, McConville said he has been able to quickly take down action points and share a digital version to his team a few minutes after the meeting concludes.

“One of the things that’s happened is that I am now the official note taker for everything.”

The title might sound dubious to some, but McConville said he’s pleased by it. “I was brought up on Yes Minister, and I remember Bernard Woolley being told that it’s the person that writes the minutes who has the most power in any committee.”

Having a good record of meeting notes turned out to be critical during the recent acquisition of Avery Dennison by CCL Industries, he said.

“CCL and Avery Dennison were fighting backwards and forwards about a tax restructure,” he said. “I got a phone call from the tax director in the US asking about meetings that we had around some restructuring but no one could find any emails about it.”

McConville said he used Livescribe’s search functionality, which can recognise handwriting and pull up relevant notes, to quickly locate the digital notes and audio recording of the requested meetings.

“The alternative was us pulling up the files which were archived two years ago and searching through I don’t know how many boxes of merged documents looking for the minutes.”

While the IT manager said he uses the pen every day, Avery has not rolled out the devices to staff. However, McConville said he’s sold it to the company’s marketing director and a few others who have seen him using the pen.

“We do paper and labels as a business, so there’s a reluctance for us to encourage people to go to a technology we don’t really have a piece of.”

Avery has rolled out Evernote, which integrates with the Livescribe pens and therefore could lead to more people adopting the device, he said.

Two other Australian business users of Livescribe are investor Peter Kazacos, executive chairman of KazCapital, and Pete Smart, the former Foxtel CTO who now heads a media technology consulting firm, SmartDigitalMedia.

Kazacos said he currently uses the Livescribe 3 for its device pairing abilities while Smart said he prefers the Sky because of its wireless capabilities and tighter integration with Evernote.

Smart confessed that he used to be more disorganised and sometimes would lose notes. For help, he turned first to Evernote and subsequently learned about the Livescribe Sky from an ad in the cloud note-taking software.

Smart has now asked his team to use the Sky as well, so that everyone’s notes flow wirelessly to shared business notebooks in Evernote, he said.

Kazacos said he uses the Livescribe 3 for meetings and conferences. He said he has never felt using a stylus and tablet for notes to be as natural as writing on paper.

“What I like with the pen is you’ve got the hardcopy,” he said. “It gives you a sort of comfort.”

“In conferences it’s particularly useful to use the audio, because at most conferences you haven’t got time to get all the stuff down.”

The three business users acknowledged potential privacy issues of recording people with a device that does not look like a recorder.

“When the pen came out, I told them that’s what it does,” said McConville. “And I will always ask permission when I want to record.”

Smart also said he asks before he records to make sure everyone is comfortable with it. “You do need to be sensitive about that.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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