Digital War on Paper Redraws Document Technology Market

Digital War on Paper Redraws Document Technology Market <@VM>Enterprisewide Myth<@VM>Paperwork Elimination Act<@VM>Jet Form's Initiative<@VM>Channel Opportunities, Challenges Lie Ahead

By John Makulowich



There's a new weapon in the ongoing digital war against paper. No surprise, it's the World Wide Web. That tool to browse the Internet is fast becoming the information age's answer to the philosopher's stone, the substance that alchemists thought could turn base metals into gold.

Like much else touched by the Internet, the information technology industry and its systems approach to design and development, the process of reducing paper to bits is no longer simply scanning. Now it is lumped with other processes and gets a new name: document technology applications.

What was once just imaging, the act of converting information on paper to digits through devices like scanners, becomes document imaging and falls under a number of broad categories defined by technology and use.

In a new study prepared by International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., for the document industry's key trade group, the Association for Information and Image Management International, Silver Spring, Md., the authors identify three segments for document imaging systems: production imaging, component imaging and desktop imaging.

What's the difference? The first is designed for high-volume conversions, such as mail room automation or check processing. The second offers controls, such as Microsoft's ActiveX, to customize systems. The third lets the end user manipulate a limited number of imaged documents.

The more important difference beyond these subcategories is the way in which document technologies as a market is evolving. The IDC study, "State of the Document Technologies Market, 1996-2002," by Gerry Murray and Amie White, noted the difficulty of clearly defining the market and suggests six segments. These include: electronic document imaging, work flow, document management, full text retrieval, computer output to laser disk and film-based imaging.

In commenting on the study, Priscilla Emery, senior vice president of information products and services for AIIM, admitted the difficulty in defining the document technologies market. This statement appears on her trade association's Web pages: "The term document management is used in so many ways that confusion reigns when trying to describe what it really means."

But she takes it one step further. "Not only is the notion of the enterprise ill-defined, but we are continually redefining what counts as a document," said Emery.
She said the enterprise is ill-defined because the notion of enterprisewide itself is something of a myth. It depends on what you are trying to do. For example, there are generic applications, such as e-mail and word processing, that are clearly enterprisewide.

"Once you get into specific applications, that's a different issue entirely. Claims processing is one example of an application that you would not want enterprisewide. And the idea of scaling a production system enterprisewide is somewhat unrealistic," said Emery.

As far as the document itself, Emery thinks that how you deliver and manage a document becomes a whole new problem and opportunity for hardware and software developers in this time of the Web.

It raises core questions about how best to tackle the issues document management raises, such as whether to select an integrated suite of tools to handle all the functions, or to seek the best of breed in each of the six categories outlined in the IDC study. (See sidebar)

One government agency that appreciates the extent of these issues is the National Climactic Data Center, the world's largest active archive of weather data.

A branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, itself part of the Commerce Department, NCDC chose the OnBase! Electronic Document Management System developed by Hyland Software, Rocky River, Ohio, to create its central storage repository. The NCDC goal is to index all this country's weather archives so users can retrieve the data through the World Wide Web.

The developers of OnBase! boast that their 32-bit client-server application combines document imaging, computer output to laser disk, Internet, work flow and publishing into one integrated system.

Stephen Doty, NCDC project manager in Asheville N.C., is overseeing the imaging of 100 million pages of historical weather information that dates back to the turn of the century. Using a contractor in West Virginia for the task, Doty's staff is shipping a million records a month to that contractor to convert to standard tag image file format and to index.

These weather records, with hourly information, were collected every day of every year and covered 25 variables, such as temperature, pressure, winds and cloud formation. Converting them to digital images amounts to putting about 7,500 TIFF images on a CD-ROM.

Ask Doty why he used TIFF and you get a direct response. "It is very generic. We made a conscious choice to go with a vanilla format, pure open platform," he said. "One of the reasons we went with the OnBase! system is that it handles TIFF without mucking up the headers."

In effect, Doty is heeding the remarks of AIIM's Emery by trying to ensure that whatever definition of document is adopted, whatever system is used to work with them, the records will be accessible in the future; in effect, defying the constant change that is the Internet and IT today.

Still, he expressed frustration at how labor-intensive the battle has been to ensure the quality of the imaging and the indexes.

"An individual pores over the results from the contractor. We take a random sample of about 10 percent of the records on a given CD-ROM," said Doty. "Going through this process, you realize the juggling needed to balance the economics and labor and wishes of the project. This is an ongoing problem, that is, the need to ensure that any contractor is producing high quality that we can use."

Now 10 months into the project with 10 million documents processed, Doty hopes to convert and index another 8 million in the next nine months. One short-term goal is to process 20 million documents, records from 1949 to 1994, that can then be put on the Internet and made available to the public.

Nien-ling Wacker

Beyond the need to preserve historical records and allow the public access, what is driving interest in document technologies, at least from the federal side, is the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, passed Oct. 21, 1998, under title XVII, section 1701-1707 of public law 105-277, the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act.

The paperwork elimination act gives the government five years to put into place IT that allows electronic submission of information as a substitute for paper. It also calls for the use and acceptance of electronic signatures by executive agencies.

Title XVII did not escape the attention of two eager entrepreneurs, one from a company whose president is credited with starting the PC document imaging industry back in the early 1980s, and another that is offering to put on the Internet for free a multitude of government forms.

Nien-Ling Wacker, founder and CEO of Compulink Management Center Inc., Torrance, Calif., developed the first PC-based document imaging software system, sparked by a corporate study she did in 1981.

She initially offered the system in 1986 and got her first customer in 1988. Thirteen years later, Wacker, trained as a physicist and who regards herself primarily as a designer and systems analyst, is moving to the Web.

Listening to her describe the early years, you realize some of the key factors that make document management a real option today. For example, a 10 Mb disk for storage cost $2,000 back then, optical disks went for $200, and scanners cost about $3,000 to $4,000. All three can now be purchased for a tenth of those prices, respectively.

Wacker fondly recalled an interview by a fellow countryman ? she was born and raised in Shanghai. "In the course of the conversation, he said, 'You know, Ms. Wacker, we Chinese were the first to invent paper. Now you will be the first to get rid of it.' "

Wacker's philosophy of the market is that a document imaging system will only be useful when people can retrieve the information.

"In real estate, the key is location, location, location. In our business, the key is retrieval, retrieval, retrieval," Wacker said.

Her newest product is the LaserFiche document imaging package, described by her company as "the new generation of electronic records management systems."

Sold through value-added resellers, the product allows users ? government agencies among them ? to archive, access and distribute scanned documents over intranets and the Internet using Web browsers.

The LaserFiche software automatically indexes every word in the document and lets users index by customized key fields. The product includes the ability to search by full text and fuzzy logic based on an algorithm first developed by Wacker in the mid-1980s.

The company also offers LaserFiche Plus for firms that want to create a CD-ROM bundled with her search engine and LaserFiche WebLink for conversion of documents to HTML, the current language of the Web.
Another enterprise seeking to exploit Title XVII is JetForm Corp. of Ottawa. Focusing on work flow and electronic forms solutions, the company announced in January an initiative to allow the federal government to distribute for free over the Internet forms created with its software, FormFlow 99.

According to the company, this will let the general public file government forms using an Internet browser without downloading any additional software or browser plug-ins.

The product, FormFlow 99, offers extensible markup language and electronic signature support. This means public responses will be authenticated and become legally binding records of fact.

Today there are more than 6,000 different government forms on file with the Office of Management and Budget, such as tax forms, financial filings and compliance reports. They generate more than 23 billion responses from the public annually.

Bob Wayman, Hewlett-Packard's chief financial officer, in commenting on the Government Paperwork Elimination Act and the company's ability to file electronically, said: "For Hewlett-Packard, the savings would be $1 million per year for just one form: the W-4 [dependent declaration tax form for taxes]."

For Lynne Boyd, senior vice president for government operations, the focus of JetForm is streamlining business processes, specifically the movement of structured information.

She noted that more than 80 percent of business documents are actually forms, which she defines as those with a clear and definite structure. Examples include filings for the Securities and Exchange Commission and Food and Drug Administration, and standard mortgage and financial documents.

"Title XVII not only makes it easier for individuals and companies to submit information. It is an opportunity for the government to be friendlier by streamlining its processing and serving more as a helper," said Boyd.

Among the issues that surfaced during a recent seminar the company held was universal access, such as voice-enabled forms for visually impaired people.
The following are five key trends cited in the report by International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass. These are expected to spark growth in the document technologies markets:

*Popularity of the Internet and proliferation of corporate intranets;

*Integration between document technology systems;

*Standards that guide architectural development of document technology systems and their interoperability;

*Scalability of document technology solutions beyond the initial work group pilot phases into enterprisewide deployment;

*Knowledge management.

Among the more interesting findings, the authors concluded integrated systems will become the de facto market standard by the turn of the century. Driving this move to the suite approach is the lower cost of ownership, rapid deployment, integration facilities and easier training, maintenance and support requirements.

The authors also found the adoption rate of integrated systems more aggressive for channel partners than for vendors, and said that vendors able to offer increasingly more technological capabilities in an integrated suite environment will enjoy an obvious competitive opportunity.

The biggest question mark in the trends surrounded the notion of knowledge management, which is used by vendors to describe everything from scanners and optical character recognition to intranets. IDC opted to exclude knowledge management as part of document technologies.

Beyond these trends, but critically important for the channel, the IDC study found that vendors will have to more carefully manage the channel to capture as much of the services opportunity as possible without hurting their already established channel partnerships.

Two industry trends putting more importance on the role of channel partners are the mainstreaming of the markets for document technologies and the integration requirements that are becoming more key to customer satisfaction.

Overall, the authors concluded the trend will be closer partnering relationships between vendors and their business partners. In this case, the vendor will likely supply the marketing, sales, base technologies and support services, while the channel partner focuses on implementing solutions to the customer.

— John Makulowich

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