Rising Demand Creates Robust Imaging Environment

Rising Demand Creates Robust Imaging Environment

John Grizz Deal

By John Makulowic

John Grizz Deal is riding high in the IT imaging saddle these days. The president and CEO of LizardTech Inc., Seattle, says the company is growing faster than he ever imagined. At last count, he has turned down six suitors who wanted to buy the firm.

Deal claims a strong grip on the raster imaging market and believes the JPEG 2000 committee may well propose the use of his MrSID (Multi-Resolution Seamless Image Database) technology for that standard.

The whole picture fits together well with the surge of interest in document imaging and work flow management among civilian agencies at the federal, state and local levels. For a firm like Deal's, which focuses on the image environment, the sky is the limit as large corporations explore all IT means available to reduce costs and make more data in different formats readily accessible to their bevy of knowledge workers.

LizardTech's solution is targeted to major users of very large images, such as the Fortune 1000 companies, military intelligence, government and geospatial and medical communities. In Deal's words, it gives "immediate pixels-on-demand access." The MrSID tool lets users compress images from 15:1 for gray scale and 50:1 for full color, depending on image content and color depth.

"Our effort now is less on the MrSID compressor and more on the imaging environment, on delivering the pixel where the user needs it, on bringing the current system down to the desktop," he says. "We are seeing strong demand, with over 3 million users downloading the MrSID viewer. By the end of the year, MrSID will have deeper penetration than any other professional imaging environment for raster images."

Over the last 12 months, according to Deal, the company has experienced a 1,000-times increase in revenue, spurred by the release of its shrink-wrapped image encoder last spring. Deal claims an installed base of 50,000 professionals who do the encoding for their organizations.

On a different imaging tack are companies like OTG Software of Bethesda, Md., which provided document imaging and optical storage components to the Army Corps of Engineers; or PowerScan Inc., a subsidiary of Star Technologies Inc. of Potomac, Md., an image capture and processing software developer whose clients include the National Technical Information Service. NTIS is the largest repository of government-funded technical, scientific and research studies available to the public.

Using OTG components, the corps instituted an electronic imaging and document management program that has now expanded to seven sites nationwide. The applications include real estate, site permit processing and materials purchase.

In the case of NTIS, a division of the Commerce Department, it is using PowerScan's software as part of an Imaging Print on Demand solution. Last year alone, NTIS generated $50 million from products and services with its 325 employees.

According to Alan Linden, PowerScan's director of business development, agencies are becoming more aware of imaging as a cost-effective technology to tackle business problems. His firm's software drives most of the SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) scanners on the market today.

"Companies should seriously address their level of understanding of their own applications before planning a document imaging solution," Linden says. "They should also understand the cost of their paper-based system with real quantitative numbers. Further, they should have hard figures for turnaround time, the number of documents processed, their labor costs and their equipment amortization."

For NTIS, there is more than 50 years of information, from geological surveys to space exploration, in 4 million titles. They make up about 600 million one-page images. Between 40 and 60 new titles are received daily in hard copy. They contain up to 7,500 one-page images.

In the past, when a new title arrived, NTIS sent it to a different site for abstracting and cataloging. The titles were then sent back to NTIS. One copy was kept for archiving, and the others were for sale. Nightly, the abstract and catalog number would be updated in the NTIS database.

When a title was requested, NTIS staff would create a "pick ticket" by hand, search the archives to get a copy and then make a ship ticket. Under that process, it took between five and seven days to ship a title. When titles ran out, an archived copy would have to be photocopied, bound and shipped, adding to the shipping time.

Re-engineering was required. Enter imaging and work flow management.

On the client side, Barry West, NTIS associate director for production services, already sees what are some of his biggest challenges.

"A big challenge has been converting the work force from a print-shop mentality to a high-speed electronic imaging management system, from print to [graphical user interface] workstation. Some have cut it and some have not," he says. "Another challenge is cutting through change. For people who are used to doing the same thing for 30 years, it is tough to go against the grain."

While West lost about 30 people through a reduction in force, the re-engineering and streamlining of business processes from imaging and document work flow continues. From West's observations, those who have adapted successfully share an open-mindedness, a desire to learn something and an openness to change.

As the work place continues to change, West says he will be looking to build up an in-house technical support staff. The skills needed include Oracle database and languages for the Internet, such as Java, Perl, cgi-bin and HTML. He would also like to see client-server understanding and networking.

Kathpal Technologies Inc., Dunn Loring, Va., is a small 8(a) firm that has made a business of analyzing imaging and work flow solutions and setting up "redaction factories." Harish Kathpal, president and CEO, has been working in this area since 1987.

Kathpal is working on several major defense and civilian contracts in imaging, one of which he believes to be the largest in this field. It is for the National Security Agency, and it involves converting from a classified to an unclassified format 30 million images of data that are in paper, microfilm and multimedia forms.

The company also is engaged in transcribing magnetic tapes to digital media as well as designing a searchable database at the Center for Cytological Oral History in Bethesda. Further, it is developing a conversion/redaction system to convert presidential libraries material for access via the Internet and the World Wide Web.

"The single biggest challenge in these contracts is to put together an operations research approach," says Kathpal, noting there are at times 50 to 100 people, ranging in pay grades from GS-5 to GS-14, processing forms. "There is a concern about labor costs. We developed a methodology to perform a detailed time and motion analysis of the work flow."

His firm establishes productivity rates for each position, collects the data and generates reports at the end of each day. It also establishes quality circles to share ideas and learning experiences.

With this approach, Kathpal is winning contracts at other agencies, including the Treasury Department, where his firm will do a full range of imaging support for correspondence tracking, and the offices of the general counsels in two other agencies.

In the middle of all this is one of the key players, Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y. Its software is being used precisely in the areas that Kathpal is targeting as growth opportunities for his firm.

Jim Edwards, director of technology integration service at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is using Kodak software on both the client and server sides in his Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) application for executive correspondence tracking in the VA central office.

As Edwards notes: "One challenge that anyone faces in setting up an EDMS type system is that implementing it in a knowledge worker environment will surface weaknesses in existing business practices. Exposing those weaknesses can create a cultural resistance to the solution. In fact, these cultural barriers to adoption outweigh any technical impediments that exist."

One element ? a stroke of good fortune from Edwards' view that served to grease the wheels for his solution ? was finding a nearly complete family of commercial client-server products, including document imaging and work flow, that allowed the VA to take what Edwards calls "an unmodified, snap-together approach to implementing a solution."

The VA worked with a legacy correspondence tracking system that did not involve work flow or imaging and did not constitute a repetitive transaction. There was no one-size-fits-all answer. The introduction of imaging allowed the VA to move to an electronic folder concept that could easily move correspondence through the organization and lead to a signed reply.

The folder became the complete official record of that activity. After accumulating a folders database of several thousands of pieces of correspondence, one could search the database for prior correspondence. Even better, there were no out-of-physical-space file issues, no searches of paper in cabinets, no standing in line at fax machines and no document repair actions required.

But Edwards cautions: "Just because the office is now PC-oriented does not mean cultural barriers and support requirements melt away. In fact, higher order requirements are generated, such as defining key volume indicators."

Among those indicators, developed in the course of normal business, are the image attachment growth rate, the folder growth rate, peak log on (or what Oracle refers to as the high-water mark) and a prediction when you will run out of storage.

In a recent return on investment analysis of tangible and intangible elements conducted for the VA by KPMG Peat Marwick, done after two and a half years, the VA showed a 25 percent return on investment, well above the 10 percent set by the Clinton administration.

Judged by a normal business performance outcome, the average number of days needed to process a correspondence fell from 70 to just under 29. According to Edwards, it is still dropping. The figures gain even more credibility, he notes, when you realize that more than 30,000 correspondence pieces over the two years were considered, and that the workload has increased while the support staff has declined.

Thus, while document imaging and work flow management are becoming a more integral part of the IT landscape for the enterprise, they will continue to make new demands on the departments using the tools and seeking to attract a more highly skilled force of knowledge workers.

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