Departmental Document Imaging: Issues and Concerns
by: by Daniel
Copyright 1992 CAUSE From _CAUSE/EFFECT_ Volume 15, Number 1, Spring
1992. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is
granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial
advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its date appear,and notice is given
that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and
using information resources in higher education. To disseminate otherwise,
or to republish, requires written permission.For further information,
contact CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301,
303-449-4430, e-mail info@CAUSE.colorado.ed
Daniel V. Arrington, Management Analysis Coordinator with the
Division of Operations Analysis at the University of Florida,
has been a Certified Office Automation Professional since 1986.
He has worked with computers for more than twenty years and has
authored a number of papers concerning microcomputer-based automation.
In addition to internal management consulting duties, he shares
responsibility for providing personal computer support to all
divisions of Administrative Affairs at the University of Florida.
Document imaging is a process used to transform printed text,
pictures, and figures into computer-accessible forms. Imaging
technology clearly offers dramatic opportunities for enhancing
office automation, but vendors may be too quick to promote imaging
as the ultimate solution for document management problems involving
both space and personnel. This article presents relevant issues,
observations, and a few suggestions that may be useful for anyone
thinking about establishing departmental document imaging and
management systems, based on investigations undertaken at the
University of Florida.
Colleges and universities throughout the country are struggling
to find some way to deal with paper documents that must be maintained
to ensure institutional accountability. The cost of storing, filing,
and finding documents continues to escalate even as familiar but
time-worn paper handling methods fail to take advantage of modern
technologies. In fact, estimates suggest that less than 1 percent
of the 1.3 trillion documents stored in U. S. offices today are
available in any kind of computerized format. Although document
management has been complicated by bleak fiscal conditions affecting
hiring and spending patterns at many institutions, issues of accountability
and efficiency must be resolved before the situation gets completely
out of hand.
Many vendors are now promoting document imaging as the preferred
solution for paper management problems. Certainly, converging
advances in a number of otherwise diverse automation technologies
have heightened interest in using computers to address issues
associated with processing, storing, and using paper documents.
Even though product demonstrations and reports of successful new
system implementations imply that imaging is exceptionally advantageous,
five- to six-figure price tags often mean commercial systems cannot
be purchased regardless of their potential value--discretionary
funds are simply not available.
Two years ago, several University of Florida offices began assessing
the potential benefit of imaging applications. An investigation
conducted by the University's Division of Operations Analysis
included hands-on evaluations of selected imaging technology products.
Observations of vendor presentations prompted an attempt to duplicate
system capabilities offered by proprietary imaging products. The
goal of our investigation was simply to find out if it was possible
to match the functionality of expensive commercial systems by
using readily available and relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf
personal computer (PC) hardware and software. As we reported in
a CAUSE90 presentation, lack of an adequate database management
system and various component limitations precluded successful
completion of the project. Nevertheless, observations derived
from the experiment have proven useful in ongoing evaluations
of commercial offerings and will undoubtedly lead to further investigatory
work at the University of Florida.
On the basis of our experiences in that investigation and since,
this article presents relevant issues, concepts, observations,
and a few suggestions that may be useful for anyone thinking about
establishing document imaging and management systems in their
organizations. Results of preliminary investigations into this
technology by two University of Florida offices are shared.
Document imaging describes a process whereby sheets of paper
are passed through a page scanner to produce graphic images or
pictures. Imaged document files (images) can be managed as regular
computer files and, with the aid of appropriate software, can
be retrieved, printed, and to a limited extent, modified.
Traditional document storage methods are resource intensive and
expensive. Discussions involving storage problems commonly cite
accessibility, cost, space, security, and system integrity as
some of the issues to be resolved by document imaging. Since
computer files occupy far less physical space than paper records,
substantial cost- avoidance savings can be gained by using former
storage areas for more critical purposes such as laboratories,
classrooms, or offices. Another expected benefit is improved efficiency
as people locate and retrieve documents faster and more easily.
This issue is especially significant because personnel costs are
usually the most expensive component of any institution's operation.
Even a cursory examination of these points can lead to favorable
cost/benefit projections, but the most valuable advantages of
document imaging will only be obtained through shared processing
techniques made possible by local area networking. Simultaneous
access to the same document by different workers may literally
revolutionize document processing methodologies. Imaging appears
to offer a continuum of "potential value" benefits with simple
document archival at one end (easy to do, now) and parallel processing
of normal business functions at the other (difficult to do, sometime
in the future).
As awareness of document management technology increases, perceived
advantages of paperwork automation become more compelling. Although
benefits such as these are extraordinarily desirable and have
been promised many times in the history of computer automation,
efforts to actually attain them have been both challenging and
Experience gained with the introduction of other innovative technologies
suggests implementation issues, both apparent and subtle, must
be anticipated before an imaging application can be seriously
considered. Cost justification and funding are the most obvious
problems of turnkey systems, which sell for hundreds of thousands
of dollars. Other, far more dangerous pitfalls include: resistance
to change, problems typically associated with automation of manual
practices and procedures, dangers inherent in over-dependence
on a single vendor or on a vendor's proprietary system, and problems
caused by unrealistic expectations--such as the idea that document
imaging will finally lead to the paperless office.
Two very distinct ideas are involved in document imaging. The
most common one is to make a digital representation of a document.
Under this graphic imagery approach, a scanner is used like a
camera to take a "picture" of the original document, saving text,
line-art drawings, and photographic figures in a single graphic
file. Text imagery, on the other hand, depends on optical character
recognition (OCR) to convert scanned text into standard word processing
documents, while intentionally disregarding drawings and figures.
With graphic imagery, everything on the original page--including
handwritten notes, date and time stamps, alterations, figures,
drawings, and typed or printed text--is saved exactly as it exists
when the document is scanned. A popular format for saving bit-mapped
graphic files of scanner images on PCs is called TIFF (Tag Image
File Format). Like a photograph, once it has been "taken," few
actions beyond displaying, rotating, scaling, or printing a TIFF
image are possible. Modifications can be made with certain kinds
of graphics programs, but these are unlikely to be used in document