Tools for the paperless agency

Tools for the paperless agency<@VM>Standards will improve the flow

The lowdown

  • What is it? Integrated document management software has several components, including imaging and workflow, for creating electronic documents from other media and moving them quickly throughout an organization's network.


  • What roles do imaging and workflow systems play? Imaging systems are composed of computers, scanners, digital cameras and printers. They convert paper, fax, microfilm, slides, X-rays and other documents into electronic formats so that documents can be managed more cost-effectively. Workflow systems move electronic documents along assigned routing paths.


  • When do you need them? You need imaging capability to convert large volumes of documents into electronic formats for easier access, retrieval and storage. You need a workflow system to control the flow of electronic documents within an organization.


  • When don't you need them? If your document conversion requirements aren't extensive, they might not warrant the price of the software.


  • How much do they cost? It depends on what you need, because these programs are highly scalable and customizable. The base price can vary widely, depending on such factors as server OS, the components being used and the number of servers. Some programs come with extra licensing or consulting costs that add significantly to their base price. Per-seat prices could drop markedly according to the numbers of users. Most of the prices in the accompanying chart are for entry-level systems; you should contact vendors for more exact pricing information.


  • Must know info? In the past, imaging and workflow software programs could be bought and used as separate packages for workgroups and small departments. Today, most are designed to work under an integrated, Web-accessible, client-server document management umbrella.

  • Captiva Software's FormWare, above, lets users correct errors on scanned douments and create functions such as event-driven routing of documents and error handling. Its price starts at $10,000 per server, $150,000 for an enterprise system.

    Imaging and workflow systems cross paths at the heart of integrated, electronic document management

    Agencies have made significant strides toward electronic processes such as contracting, citizen transactions and document storage but, like other organizations, they still put plenty of ink on paper.

    Industry analysts report that about 94 percent of business information is still stored on paper, and that 2.7 billion new sheets of paper are filed into folders every day.

    Part of the reason change has been slow, agency chiefs have said, is cultural: People have a comfort level with current methods, and that often means paper.

    But even hard copies pose risks. Up to 5 percent of an organization's paper files are lost or misplaced annually at a replacement cost of about $180 per document, and the annual losses of a large company can exceed $5 million, according to software manufacturer Optical Image Technology Inc.

    Integrated document management software programs can help avoid the losses caused by handling paper documents. They also, not incidentally, can put agencies on the road toward fulfilling mandates to go paperless.

    Organizations willing to make the initial investment can find significantly reduced personnel and administrative costs, a quick return on investment and, perhaps most important, the ability to turn seemingly unrelated data into usable information.

    Strong imaging and workflow components lie at the heart of most integrated document management software. Imaging systems help turn paper-based text, photos and microfiche into an electronic format for easier management and storage. Workflow systems move electronic documents quickly and automatically along assigned routing paths.

    High-end packages also typically include other features, such as computer output to laser disk (COLD), optical character recognition/intelligent character recognition (OCR/ICR), and content management and decision-support systems.

    Most document management suites work with client-server architectures running Microsoft Windows NT or Windows 2000, as well as one flavor or another of Unix. Most come with built-in databases or compatibility with third-party database programs for helping users search and retrieve documents.

    Web gateways built into the server provide authorized users with browser access to all documents residing on the system's database.

    Integrated document management systems tend to be highly scalable, from workgroup to complete enterprisewide systems. Depending on what you need, you can pay anywhere from several thousand dollars per server to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for a system.

    Most of these programs are geared toward vertical markets such as the banking, financial or insurance industries, but they also are being used in government installations. Tower Technology Inc.'s Tower IDM 2.0, with its integrated bundle of imaging, workflow, COLD, enterprise relationship management and content modules, is being used by the Treasury Department to automate debt collections and clarify communications between various departments within the agency.

    During peak processing weeks, Treasury's Birmingham Debt Management Operations Center receives more than 25,000 new documents and prints 300,000 debtor statements. All debtors' documents are now captured, indexed and committed to the Tower Content Repository, providing both the agency and its clients with better service, according to a Tower spokesperson.

    Five-year-old law

    Another spur toward paperless processes is the Electronic Freedom of Information Act, which requires agencies to make records created after Nov. 1, 1996, available electronically. It also requires agencies to index frequently requested records and make them available in public electronic reading rooms.

    Feith Systems and Software Inc. recently included its new EFOIA Workflow Management Software as part of its FDD 6.0 integrated document management program to process EFOIA requests.

    Vredenburg's HighView 3.3 includes a trio of products aimed at government uses: VeFOIA for EFOIA requirements and processing; VeCASE, a criminal case management software program for use by the FBI and police; and VeCLASS, which government organizations can use to comply with Executive Order 12958 concerning Classified National Security Information.

    Straight-through processing is a goal of integrated document management. STP denotes the ability to handle transactions electronically, end-to-end, with little or no human intervention. In most cases, the steps involved in STP include:

  • Electronic data capture via some type of imaging software that applies to all types of media

  • Use of an OCR/ICR component for converting typed or written data to electronic format

  • Connectivity to information in databases via the Internet, an intranet or a private network

  • COLD for automated storage and content repositories

  • A decision-support system for artificial intelligence

  • A workflow component for managing transactions throughout the entire process.

    Here's a rundown of an integrated document management system's basic features:

    Document imaging. The imaging components use computers, scanners, digital cameras and printers to convert paper, fax, microfilm, slides, X-rays or computer-aided design documents into electronic formats. Users can then index them according to their own criteria. Virtually all imaging systems support Web browsers and provide advanced image viewing'zoom, rotate, thumbnail'annotation, markup and support for multiple workstations.

    OCR/ICR. Optical character recognition and intelligent character recognition are specialized types of imaging software used to automate the process of transforming text-based documents into a readable electronic format.

    Workflow. Workflow software's main task is to move electronic documents quickly and automatically along assigned routing paths within an organization. Minimum features generally include route planning, parallel routing to several people simultaneously, rules-based routing that governs where documents go, document tracking and monitoring.

    COLD. Integrated programs with computer output to laser disk components provide the ability to move terabytes of data into long-term storage by writing documents onto CD-ROM disks. Documents can be automatically indexed according to ASCII'for text'or image formats. COLD software also supports optical jukeboxes or other high-end storage repositories.

    Databases. Object-oriented databases'typically third-party products such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle or Microsoft Access'serve as data repositories from which users can quickly retrieve desired documents.

    J.B. Miles of Pahoa, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@gte.net. Three groups are working to develop standards to enable the interoperability of workflow and image management software so users can build a best-of-breed approach that isn't limited to the products of a single vendor.

    The Workflow Management Coalition and the Object Management Group have created specifications for interoperability between between systems. The groups' Workflow Reference Model identifies different components of a workflow system, along with the architecture and required interfaces between workflow clients and applications. The Workflow Management Coalition also is developing an XML specification to help workflow products make better use of the Internet.

    Meanwhile, the Association for Information and Image Management International is developing a new set of standards for color imaging and improved methods for converting documents to images.
    Check these organizations' Web sites, at www.wfmc.org, www.omg.org and www.aiim.org, for updated information about recent developments in standards.
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