DOCUMENT AND IMAGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS - Part 1

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, July 1994 - The Law Works, September 1994 - NewsWare, October 1995

A full-featured document and image management system (DIMS) integrates the management of the images of text and graphic documents as scanned in from paper or film, text and graphic files through import routines, and the text that results from using optical character recognition (OCR) to translate images of documents consisting of dots back into logical text.

In this article, I will be mentioning several of my favorite products. I don't claim to give unprejudiced opinions. I do believe, however, that nobody gives unprejudiced opinions - not systems integrators, not VARs, not dealers, and especially not "independent" consultants. I just make it my duty to make my prejudices clear so that you may add as many grains of salt to my opinions as you think is necessary. I only ask that you keep in mind that I am in a position to get authorized to sell just about any product that I care to. This disclaimer is my way of avoiding penalizing companies with good products just to avert accusation of conflict of interest.

If you are interested in document and image management systems, you need to know about, or perhaps even join AIIM, the Association for Image and Information Management (301-587-8202). AIIM is just starting to experience the same changes that publishing has gone through over the last few years. Their industry was originally ruled by large proprietary vendors fighting to lock customers into their own unique (and incompatible) way of doing things. This gradually transitioned into an intermediate stage wherein these manufacturers offered scaled down systems in an attempt to stem the tide. These shrunken systems contained standard pieces of PC technology with a different brand name slapped on the front and the price tag boosted to levels barely below the old systems. Just to make things interesting, they often tweaked these systems just enough to make them just as proprietary as the old systems.

The biggest breakthrough in AIIM these days is not technological - it is political. Nien-Ling Wayman, President and founder of Compulink Management Center, Inc.(310-212-5465), the makers of the LaserFiche family of document and image management software (my favorite), has been elected to the AIIM board of directors. This is the first infiltration by a representative of an open PC/LAN product into an organization dominated by manufacturers of large, expensive, proprietary systems. I have commented previously that her most difficult job was to refrain from laughing aloud when one of her colleagues tells her that a particular project either CAN'T be done or that it can be done - but it will cost a MILLION dollars!

First, here are some examples of existing document and image management solutions, just to give you an idea of what they're being used for. The uses are not always obvious. (In case you are wondering, these are LaserFiche installations.)

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was sued for $24.5 Million. (Does anybody remember the movie "Chinatown", and how complicated water allocation is in California?) They purchased a document and image management system to store all documents and research material associated with the case. They used this system as leverage to negotiate an out of court settlement for only $2 million. That was less than the estimated legal fees for a multi-year courtroom battle. The opposing attorneys were so impressed that they later purchased a system for their own firm's use. This is an example of how lawyers can use document and image management systems. Many such systems were originally designed with legal clients in mind.

Northrop uses a document and image management system to store their Material Safety Data Sheets. They had a legal requirement to have information on the chemicals that they use available for immediate access in an emergency. They now store 8000 active documents and 10,000 inactive documents, all available for instant access. It eliminated fines for non-compliance while reducing paperwork handling costs.

The IRS is using a system to track the documents used in going after money launderers. They store both the legal filings and evidential documents for instant access and long term storage.

20th Century Fox stores their script library in a document and image management system. It includes every script that they own, including the thousands that were never produced. They consider this database one of their greatest assets, in that any new idea can instantly be compared with this database so that the ideas contained within the old scripts can be utilized and potential copyright violations can be avoided.

Best Foods started putting research materials into a document and image management system after they accidentally duplicated an expensive report which had been done years before in a different department. Now they scan their document database prior to beginning any research project.

Merisel, the giant computer distributor, uses a document and image management system as the base for their fax-on-demand system that is used by many resellers. They call on a touch tone phone or directly via their fax phone and can get product information faxed back to them.

As you can see, document and image management systems are very horizontal (as opposed to a vertical market) in nature. That is, they are useful across many different types of businesses.

Before I cover the technical aspects of document and image management systems, I want to give a warning. Most hardware and system software used in document and image management systems were designed for and perfected on networks. The single user versions of drivers that make the sophisticated hardware work are frequently unstable and inefficient. Be prepared to be an unwilling beta site for these single-user systems.

The first step in planning a document and image management system is to contact a lawyer who specializes in the legality of electronic documents. Unless you have no interest at all in the legal standing of your stored documents, this is a must. It is the only way to protect yourself. Also make sure that the product you choose absolutely forbids the alteration of the underlying original image. You should remove any image editing capability from scanning workstations - including something as simple as Window's Paintbrush. Even the possibility of altering the original may invalidate the legal standing of your images.

I will continue with Document and Image Management Systems, Part 2, next month. It will cover the technical aspects and will include examples on how my clients are using the technology.


1994, Wayne M. Krakau