IMAGING Boosts Public-Sector Productivity
IMAGING Boosts Public-Sector Productivity<@VM>Activity Creates Demand<@VM>Enterprisewide Info Flow
- By James Schultz
- Mar 16, 2001
In the pre-Information Age, managers were content to dispatch platoons of clerks to comb through vast paper repositories for crucial documents. Widespread computerization, the hyperabundance of information and changing demographics have since made labor-intensive paper retrieval expensive and time-consuming.
Enter imaging. By digitizing and storing documents, imaging offers government and other large enterprises rapid access to archives and an effective means of delivering enhanced services to citizens and employees alike.
"Since its inception in the late 1980s and early 1990s, imaging has been on a continual increase in terms of sales and implementation," said Betsy Fanning, director of standards for the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM). "It's a type of technology that can really help in environments where people have traditionally handled great quantities of paper and information. The paper is still there, but people are getting better at converting it into a usable electronic format."
According to a 1999 study conducted for AIIM by the GartnerGroup, the imaging market for vendors who provide hardware, software, maintenance and supporting services to the public and private sectors in the United States is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 26 percent through 2003.
By then, the report predicts market size will have ballooned to $41.6 billion, an almost fourfold increase from $11.1 billion in 1997. The study's authors expect the highest total percentage growth to occur in integrated imaging systems and document-components management, at 74 percent and 63 percent, respectively.
By 2003, the report predicts that large-scale, or production, imaging will lead all imaging categories in revenue at $8.6 billion, followed by document-repository management at $6.7 billion.
Driving the growth in imaging applications within government is the need to increase agency productivity while improving delivery of e-government to citizens, with the promise of easy access to online paperwork.
Imaging applications are utmost on the minds of administrators confronting the potential retirement of nearly half the federal work force by decade's end. If managers are able to arrange routine electronic access to archived communications, such as memos, e-mails, some voice mails, even bookmarked Web pages, expertise that otherwise would be lost through worker exits could be preserved.
"Imaging is providing an additional means for implementing electronic government," said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services for Federal Sources Inc., a McLean, Va., firm that specializes in public-sector IT market research. "You need an interface that works well with government and well with citizens. Documents management and imaging management are a great tool for getting there."
Imaging, however, is not just a simple matter of pulling information from documents and converting it to electronic use. Integrating multiple data sources is critical and must be coordinated to ensure a smooth marriage among existing infrastructures and online communications networks.
According to the experts, imaging's ongoing challenge is to homogenize otherwise heterogeneous formats, establishing organizationwide standards so that managers will be capable of fully leveraging digitized information resources.
For large organizations such as the U.S. military, putting resources to full use requires accommodation to existing legacy systems. That was the challenge faced by Xerox Corp. of Stamford, Conn., in an imaging project for Evans Army Hospital in Fort Carlson, Colo.
As a tertiary care facility, Evans is the largest managed-care hospital west of the Mississippi, processing 350,000 patient visits annually with 1,200 employees. Evans, like its counterparts across the country, is required to maintain meticulous records. Patient information must be kept current, with related memos, data and medical records archived yet quickly retrievable.
Evans faced spiraling costs associated with maintaining an eclectic mixture of outdated copy machines, faxes and printers scattered throughout the hospital, even as the demand for timely, accurate and secure documentation soared.
To save money while expanding the hospital's administrative capabilities, Xerox used a combination of hardware and software, including scanning, printing, faxing and copying capabilities, in a single device at several different speed classes to meet individual department needs.
The hospital's Information Management Division now can maintain all of Evans' medical records in a central, electronic repository, allowing physicians immediate access to patient information. Hospital publications are also scanned and content posted directly to the Evans intranet.
Security has been improved. Previously, confidential information was printed remotely to a work-group printer, where employees would have to arrange to retrieve documents to prevent unauthorized viewing. Users can now print on demand, in person, at several conveniently placed printers by using personal security codes entered on the machines' keypads.
Imaging also enabled Evans to streamline an accreditation process required by the College of American Pathology, a nationwide organization that awards a seal of approval to nationally respected research laboratories.
Within the hospital's pathology laboratory, outdated policy information required by law was available but stored in bulky six-inch binders. Using its new imaging setup, the lab was able to scan some 1,000 pages of documents, updating the text to reflect the hospital's adoption of new procedures that meet military regulations.
"Imaging in the traditional sense meant dedicated mission-critical systems," said Marlon Miller, Xerox digital systems marketing manager. "Imaging has progressed now to desktop applications, but it has to be integrated into the broader, companywide enterprise. Ideally, imaging takes information and makes it electronically available so it can be distributed throughout the organization."Xerox also put its imaging expertise to work at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. With 45,000 soldiers and 10,000 civilian personnel spread over 350 square miles, Fort Hood is one of the largest military bases in the United States. Because the terrain surrounding Killeen is ideal for combat training, Fort Hood has become the Army 's premier installation for the deployment of heavy forces.
Although the base imposes strict controls over the production, distribution and use of its forms and other publications, each year Fort Hood distributes approximately 46 million pages of documents.
Despite the high volume, publication costs were increasing, and military personnel weren't receiving information in a timely manner. So the Army hired Xerox to develop a comprehensive, integrated electronic system that would address Fort Hood's core document-management requirements, including revision control, print-on-demand and distribute-and-print access control.
|Imaging originally referred to the digitization, electronic storage of and electronic access to printed material. Imaging has now come to include not just documents digitization, but also the electronic capture, storage and retrieval of nonprint media such as photographs, e-mails, Web pages, video and audio clips and digital recordings.|
Now, Fort Hood users can access documents through their desktop Web browsers by entering values into a query interface, viewing the document fill-in forms or printing out a hard copy. Administrative support for Fort Hood's large user population is minimized by employing a standard Web interface and "thin client," which includes links to other sites where users can easily download any required applications.
For those requiring hard copies, adopting distribute-and-print and print-on-demand capabilities eliminated the need to travel to a central warehouse to retrieve and distribute documents. Fort Hood was thus able to reassign about 20 full-time personnel to other duties, improving productivity.
"Our studies indicate that paper and electronic formats will exist side by side," Miller said. "People who work with information need it in different forms. You have to set up an infrastructure to move information smoothly around an organization. Imaging is a piece of that infrastructure."
Betsy Fanning, AIIM
Worker access is a key advantage to imaging standardization. Employees should be able to share labor and expertise over distance and time. Slow or incomplete exchange can damage an enterprise, public or private. If properly implemented, imaging can make an enormous difference in how an organization operates day-to-day.
Larry Den, vice president of information technology for R.M. Vredenburg and Co. in Reston, Va., noted one study claiming the average government worker spends 25 percent of the workday trying to retrieve information.
Moreover, information use across an organization can be cumbersome: On average, a given document is copied nine times in the private sector and 14 times in government.
"It takes a lot of time to walk down the hall to a file cabinet, and then maybe one or two people will work on that paper copy," Den said. "With documents in electronic format, you get the time back; you're more productive."
People can work collaboratively or independently. "But you all have rapid access to the information you need to do your job effectively," he said.
Planners should not ignore nontraditional means of communication organizations routinely use. Imaging functions optimally when easily accessible data repositories contain nonpaper information sources and are accessible via the Internet or over agency intranets.
"Imaging isn't just putting the world of paper into electronic format," Den said. "There are documents and files, such as e-mails, that will likely never be printed. Yet they're corporate documents."
Vredenburg has managed several imaging projects for government clients, including providing imaging assistance to national security agencies in meeting a 1995 Clinton administration executive order cutting in half the time that documents must remain classified. The previous 50-year protective period was reduced to 25 years, allowing access for historians and the general public.
Imaging solutions have allowed the agencies to survive an avalanche of Freedom of Information Act requests made as a result of the declassification change.
The ultimate use for imaging in the public sector likely will be Internet-enabled citizen access. While paper won't be entirely eliminated, it may be reduced as the public is increasingly able to access federal, state and local databases for information on everything from tax payments to the status of criminal cases.
Routine Internet access to paper documents was the aim of modernizing the Securities and Exchange Commission's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system, known as EDGAR. EDGAR's primary purpose is to increase efficiency and fairness of the securities market for the benefit of investors, corporations and the economy by accelerating the receipt, acceptance, dissemination and analysis of time-sensitive corporate information filed with the agency.
TRW's Systems & Information Technology Group in Reston upgraded EDGAR to make electronic filing easier and faster by allowing companies to use the Internet to transmit filings, complete with graphics and hyperlinks. Features added to HTML documents have also enhanced the presentation quality of EDGAR data for SEC users and investors.
The new EDGARLink client software also is easier to use and more tightly integrated with filers' document-editing tools. Filers can now routinely check administrative actions, such as submission status, and review and modify their company's data online. The software supports Internet filing, the downloading and installation of EDGARLink software, and the optional use of certificates for authentication and digital signatures.
Not all agencies of government are as far along as the SEC. Imaging as a means to move from large-scale, paper-based legacy systems to all-digital, online data repositories remains a work in progress. While the public sector should eventually manage the transition, there will be inevitable delays and bumps in the road as imaging techniques are polished and refined.
"It will still take quite a while ? years, probably ? for stakeholders to figure out how to leverage the digitized information [from imaging]," said Federal Sources' Bjorklund. "That's not just the government, but the entire industry."
The challenge is determining the fundamental information needed to conduct business, effectively capturing the information and then making it useful.
"You can't just digitize a process without paying attention to the details on the front end and throughout the entire process," he said.