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Departmental Document Imaging: Issues and Concerns

1. Introduction

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide advice in the selection, purchase, implementation, and use of Electronic Document Imaging Systems. These guidelines comprise recommendations and standards developed by a wide range of organizations, both technical and end-user. These guidelines were developed to assist in assuring that Electronic Document Imaging Systems acquired by governments in the State of Georgia meet existing legal and operational requirements. Following these guidelines offers no guarantee as to a system's integrity being questioned. However, following the recommendations outlined in this document affords a defensible system, which documents the users good faith efforts in employing the best existing standards in this field.

These guidelines, and the work group assigned to create them, recognize the timeliness and obsolescence of Information Technology. It is hoped that these guidelines will be treated as a living document, subject to change and improvement like the technology they represent.

1.1 Overview of Electronic Document Imaging

Electronic Document Imaging Systems are computer-based systems that store digitally encoded document images. These systems provide image retrieval and distribution on demand. They are an alternative to paper or microfilm record systems.

2. Issues and Concerns

The adoption of an Electronic Document Imaging System by an agency is a major administrative and operational decision carrying responsibilities and commitments. The use of Electronic Document Imaging Systems requires workflow reassessment and the documentation of information management procedures. Electronic Document Imaging Systems increase accessibility and distribution of information in a timely manner. Application software will allow accurate tracking of information for audit purposes.

Electronic Document Imaging Systems cannot solve access problems stemming from inefficient or poorly planned existing information management systems and practices. In fact, Electronic Document Imaging Systems may exacerbate existing deficiencies. Maximum benefits are realized when existing workflow procedures are analyzed and adapted to take advantage of the new technology, rather than just automating existing processes. Managers, in consultation with qualified records managers, should analyze the existing records systems, practices, workflow, and indexes, and correct any deficiencies before implementing an imaging system.

2.1 Planning and Feasibility

Agencies should perform a feasibility study to ensure that an Electronic Document Imaging System is appropriate for its information management needs before committing to a particular application. Agencies must realize that the information being created or converted to an electronic format is an asset, which needs to be managed for a larger, strategic advantage. Electronic Document Imaging Systems will transform the way agencies do business while dramatically improving productivity, effectiveness and accountability. The following areas need to be analyzed and evaluated before implementing any system:

    • Business Process Analysis
    • Work Flow Evaluation
    • A complete inventory of existing records
    • Data needs assessment
    • Alternative technologies assessment
    • Network support
    • Costs/benefits analysis
    • Projected growth
    • Retention and legal requirements

2.2 Implementation

Adopting a digital imaging system requires careful and consistent documentation of all records and the technical process, which converts traditional paper-based documents to a digitized format. The agency should designate a system administrator with the responsibility for system operations. This person would be able to give knowledgeable testimony about the technical aspect of the system and the procedures utilized for the recording and maintenance of public information. The compatibility of the proposed system with existing systems and communication with other information systems outside the agency need to be studied. Consideration needs to be given as to how this system will interact with other systems.

2.3 Migration and Retention

A retention period is the time that records are needed for administrative, fiscal, legal and historical purposes. All records, including those stored in imaging systems, should be maintained and disposed of as part of a legally accepted records management program in order to ensure their acceptance as legal documents.

Maintaining access to records stored on Electronic Document Imaging Systems requires a comprehensive migration strategy . The strategy plan should factor in vendor stability, system obsolescence and media longevity. Electronic Document Imaging Systems should consist of hardware and software that conform to non-proprietary standards and are constructed in open system architecture.

Obsolescence is a way of life in the information technology world. Agencies need to keep pace with constant change and improvement. This requires a proactive approach to system maintenance and upgrade. New applications should be backward compatible with existing applications. Administrators should also plan to budget between five and ten percent of the original system, annually for the cost of upgrading and data migration.

2.4 Legal Issues

Adopting Electronic Document Imaging Systems requires careful and consistent documentation of all record actions and the technical process, which convert traditional paper-based documents to a digitized, electronic format. An agency utilizing Electronic Document Imaging should prepare a formal statement describing the mission and function of the office and the procedures and digital standards employed. An agency's reliance in the new electronic format, and its documentation of strict established conversion procedures will ensure that the information and the system generating it satisfy the rules of evidence.

2.4.1 Expungement.

The system capability to expunge (erase all traces of) images and their related index entries will be required in some instances. The potential for expungement orders must be must be considered in planning and feasibility studies. AIIM TR28-1991, The Expungement of Information Recorded on Optical Write-Many (WORM) Systems, will offer guidance for meeting these requirements. This technical report is now (1995) being updated to include rewritable optical media.

2.4.2 Redaction of Confidential Information.

Image systems must have the capability to redact (mask or hide) confidential portions of documents or indexes from public inspection. All public records, except those specifically exempted by law or court order, shall be open to public inspection.

3. Technical Guidelines

Digital imaging technologies have developed rapidly in the last five years and will continue to develop into the next century. As no system is generally regarded as a standard, it is important to acknowledge that certain proprietary and non-proprietary standards will emerge as generally accepted by the industry and system developers, integrator users, and records managers.

Because of the rapid changes in technology and the entry and exit of firms in the marketplace, it is important to set base guidelines for the responsible implementation of these technologies. The long-term nature of these digital storage mechanisms and the significant value held in information assets of the various agencies using these mechanisms motivates the adherence to international, national, and industry standards relative to quality, storage, security, indexing, and access. Records managers, systems administrators, program managers, and systems vendors need to be familiar with current standards that are applicable to this area of information technology.

This subject is discussed in detail in a technical report issued by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), The Use of Optical Disks for Public Records. (AIIM TR25-1990).

The following are general guidelines of key areas of interest to anyone working with imaging systems. Attention to these key areas will help ensure successful implementation of systems and long-term responsibility for valuable records.

3.1 Documentation

System documentation: If you wish to maintain an effective operation and continue to retrieve data as your operating environment changes over time, you must keep full documentation of:

  • Hardware and software, including brand names, version numbers and dates of installation, upgrades, replacements, and conversions.
  • Data structure and content, including the file layout and data dictionaries.
  • "Enhancement" algorithms. These are techniques for processing an image so that the result is visually clearer than the original image.
  • Operating procedures, including methods for scanning or entering data; revising, updating, or expunging records; indexing; backing up disks, tapes, microfilm, etc.; testing the readability of records; applying safeguards to prevent tampering and unauthorized access to protected information; and carrying out the disposition of original records. In addition, to provide audit trails, you should document procedures for logging and tracking.

Full documentation of your operating procedures will contribute to the legal acceptability of your records management program and will help to make the data you produce from optical disks admissible as evidence in legal proceedings.

3.2 Hardware and Software Selection and Specification

When you are selecting a system, strongly consider those with open rather than proprietary designs; open systems will give you the most flexibility when you are choosing equipment and will support interconnection, information system integration, and information sharing.

Prepare specifications for hardware and software that will require your vendors to continue to support and maintain their products.

Establish performance standards, incorporate them into your specifications for hardware and software, and require vendors to support them with a substantial performance bond.

Select systems that provide a scanning resolution with enough density to produce a high-quality image. Scanners should have verifiable quality and should be at a density of at least 200 dots per inch for textual documents and 300 dots per inch for engineering drawings, maps, and other documents. Calibration and maintenance of the scanners should be as per the manufacturers recommended schedule.

Verification and inspection: Include visual inspection in your operational procedures to verify the completeness and accuracy of the scanning process once documents have been transferred to a disk.

Seek vendors who use standard rather than proprietary compression algorithms to make future migrations of data more certain and reliable. Imaging systems shall utilize the Consultative Committee on International Telegraphy and Telephony (CCITT) Group 3 or Group 4 compression techniques without proprietary alterations to the algorithm.

If the use of a proprietary compression algorithm is unavoidable, the system must provide a gateway to either Group 3 or Group 4 standards.

Require vendors to supply programs or provide services to test the readability of your disks periodically. Agencies must ensure readability of electronically stored images. A sampling of images from both primary and backup storage media must be read annually to verify continued accessibility.

3.3 Data Indexing and Image Headers

3.3.1 Indexing

When information is stored in a medium that is not human-eye-readable, complete and accurate indexes are essential. Your system design, therefore, must include provisions for appropriate indexing. When information will be retrieved for many years from records that will be retained and used over a long period, for example, you must develop and document indexes with future users in mind and include in your operational procedures an index check for accuracy at the time the index is created. The index storage method should be based on standard relational database technologies with access using standard SQL queries.

3.3.2 Image headers

A standard image file header such as TIFF or vendor supplied image file header should be used. If a proprietary header is used, the system must provide a bridge to a non-proprietary header label standard such as ANSI/AIIM MS53.

3.4 Media Handling, Backup, Storage

3.4.1 Labeling

Label disks, tapes, and other storage containers with particular care since it is impossible to determine content merely by looking at a disk or tape. Labeling is critical when the disk and its index are stored on different media. Security copies shall be marked with appropriate external labels that identify the government entity, system and software used, and any access restrictions. The agency should maintain specific, detailed documentation of the contents and the system specifications needed to access each backup tape or disk.

3.4.2 Back-up and storage

It is vital to make full, frequent, and regular backups of optical records and magnetic indexes. Store your security copies in secure and suitable facilities, preferably off-site, and since environmental conditions for the storage of optical disks have not been established, follow the manufacturers' specifications. Agencies should adhere to the manufacturer's recommendations for temperature and humidity conditions for the storage of security copies of optical media. Backups for indexes, images, and other system components stored on magnetic media or optical media should be housed in an area with stable environmental conditions. Room temperatures (between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit) and relative humidity (40 to 45 percent) are the current standard for magnetic media. These should also be observed for security copies of optical media.

3.4.3 Refreshment, migration, and conversion plans

Prepare an appropriate plan for "refreshing" data and for migrating and converting images and corollary indexes to new storage media as needed to preserve the records in an accessible form. Data maintained on electronic media should be recopied onto new media at least once every 10 years.


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