GCN INTERVIEW







What’s more



Family: Married, two sons
Car: BMW 635 CSI
Last book read: Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien
Cheng
Heroes: William R. Hewlett and David Packard,
co-founders of Hewlett-Packard Co.
Dream job: Besides current one, being a
physicist’




GCN: What’s the mix
of federal, state and local governments that use your LaserFiche products?


WACKER: We have about 100 counties, more than 100 police and military units and
sheriffs’ departments, about 400 cities and more than 250 school districts, in
addition to federal organizations. Altogether there are about 1,100 government sites that
use LaserFiche.


GCN: What types of
documents are they storing?


WACKER: The counties tend to store property deeds. Cities store clerks’ agendas
and council minutes. Bankruptcy courts, Customs sites, and fish and wildlife groups store
a variety of information. Much of it is public records that have certain retention
periods.


Increasingly, people are demanding more records that used to be kept on paper or
microfilm, and governments are moving to document imaging.


GCN: Are many of the
systems end-to-end electronic, from filling out the forms online to searching for and
retrieving them?


WACKER: They are all in various stages. Some are sophisticated—you file documents
in bulk, you scan them and manage them on a network. More and more sites are turning to
the Web, so that anyone with any kind of connection, from dial-up 56K modems to Integrated
Services Digital Network to T1 lines, or anyone on an intranet with any Web browser can
access the documents.


We recently released our LaserFiche WebLink product, which does not require any
Hypertext Markup Language programming. Each HTML page you see on the Web used to take an
experienced programmer around 20 minutes to format—for example, a 10,000-page
portfolio would take a year or more to convert. Anyone using a scanner and WebLink can do
that much in a week. That’s a drastic change.


GCN: How many pages can be
stored?


WACKER: It depends on the server size. Servers are getting less and less expensive. You
can buy a 5G disk drive to store 100,000 pages for a couple hundred dollars. That works
out to 0.1 cent per online page. A year ago it was much more.


Look at CD-ROM, which is a little slower. You can buy CD storage for about 15,000 pages
for $1.50, which works out to 0.01 cent per page. On the horizon is digital video disk.
The price of electronic storage is dropping faster than anything else I see. The Internet
is everywhere now. Any citizen with a modem and a browser can access government documents
online under Microsoft Windows NT, Novell NetWare or Unix.


We technologists consider this an exciting moment in history.


GCN: Do you think this
will be the way everyone will consult all historical documents in the future?


WACKER: Yes. The challenge is that people have to decide which documents to store. Some
documents are transient and have very little value. You throw them away. Anything else you
drop into a scanner. It’s so much easier to manage and distribute the images than to
manage the paper.


GCN: What about deleting
the images after their retention period?


WACKER: You can delete one by one, but practically speaking, it makes a lot of work. We
have a better way: handling documents in bulk. When you scan a document in, you put it in
a hard drive volume with a retention date in 2002 or 2005 or whatever date applies. You
handle it by bulk, migrating all the documents in the volume to CD-ROM or archiving them.
When the retention period ends, you deal with the whole volume as one.


A lot of computer systems are designed to tell the user, “You must do this and
this and this.” My philosophy is to make the computer do most of the work, to
liberate us. Software should be so easy for people that they love to use it.


It’s a real challenge for technical people. They sometimes have a macho way of
trying to change how people work. But software should fit into the user’s rhythm.
Some of us are very organized, some of us are flawed. The system should help us organize
without any effort on our part.


No document imaging system is of any use if people don’t scan the documents in
first. So they have to love to scan them in; they have to cooperate voluntarily. That is
the key issue for us designers. We have to remember the human aspect.


GCN: How do you gauge your
software’s user-friendliness?


WACKER: We talk to customers regularly. They tell us what features they want, what to
change. When we have development meetings, we talk about how the customers use the
software and whether a keystroke should come before a mouse click. I always think about
whether the person who is going to use the software is going to do this first or that
first.


I had the idea for PC document imaging in 1981 and 1982—almost two decades ago. I
was trying to put a roomful of documents into a computer system. The only way we could do
it at that time was to categorize each document and enter the key words into a database.
The problem was that only a small portion of the intelligence was in the computer and 95
percent was still on the paper.


Around 1986, optical disks became much cheaper—about $200 for 200M at that time. I
wanted to physically deposit the documents on them, as effortlessly as possible, and be
able to retrieve any page. The challenge was how to handle bulk information so that it was
retrievable by masses of people and—with surgical precision—to find one document
instantly.


GCN: How fast are
electronic records growing compared with paper records?


WACKER: I think electronic records are coming on very fast. But the paperless office is
not going to be a reality. You can print things today so much faster and in different
ways. Computers have increased paper production, not reduced it.


As a realistic person, I think paper is going to stay with us at least for my lifetime.


GCN: Will optical
character recognition ever become extremely accurate?


WACKER: The accuracy depends on the document. OCR is getting better and can even handle
some handwriting. I have found that typewritten pages are recognized with about 97 percent
accuracy. We view OCR text purely as the intelligence for the document—an image
itself has no intelligence. For us to search it, we have to use OCR. Our fuzzy-logic
search acknowledges that even with OCR errors, we can still find the document for you.


GCN: But will OCR improve
much more?


WACKER: I started using it very aggressively around 1986. There was a breakthrough
then; you could recognize multiple fonts and sizes. I have not seen as fast an improvement
in OCR in the last few years. I wish it would improve as fast as storage is improving.


GCN: What percentage of
paper documents do your customers scan?


WACKER: Of our 1,100 government sites, probably 10 percent of their documents are
scanned. Out of the billions of pages, they have captured several hundreds of thousands to
millions. Imaging is a relatively new thing and, until recently, it was hindered by the
expense of disk space. The price drop isn’t good for the drive manufacturers, but
it’s good for the users.


GCN: What will happen in
the CD-ROM and DVD market?


WACKER: Human beings all have to feel comfortable psychologically with a medium. Paper
is a physical thing. Microform is something you can touch and feel. Electronic images
aren’t. A CD can store 15,000 pages, and DVD is phenomenal. I think it will
accelerate the adoption of imaging.


We can put our search engine on a CD. You can burn the CD and not need a copy of
LaserFiche to read it. Just pop it into your PC and look at it. Anybody can look at your
repository, which used to be in the back room or in microfilm boxes.


GCN: In the long run, what
will become of microform records?


WACKER: I used to think microfilm would go away much faster than it has. Its cost is
not decreasing; it’s increasing because it’s harder to maintain, just like any
other older equipment. Eventually it will be a museum piece. It won’t totally die in
my lifetime; it will survive like old gramophones.

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