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Adapting LANs for wide-area document imaging.

There are two ways to explain the growing demand for document imaging systems in the utility industry. The simplest is that organizations are overwhelmed by paper documents, and electronic imaging is a cost-effective storage and retrieval solution.

However, imaging is more than just a filing system.

After a corporate merger, the Regulation Department of PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power and Utah Power, turned to electronic imaging to store and access regulatory documents in offices located in Portland, Ore., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Prior to the merger, these offices used different indexing and filing schemes to manage paper-based records.

Most importantly, PacifiCorp needed to be able to find documents quickly and respond in a timely fashion to requests from state and federal regulators, legal counsel and in-house staff. The company's Regulation Department handles a number of inquiries for rate information and for historical information about the companies that constitute PacifiCorp.

In particular, it needs to be able to support the company's external legal counsel and justify any rate increases request.

Imaging allows organizations to convert paper documents to electronic images (similar to the document image transmitted by facsimile machines), store the images on optical disks or magnetic media and access and manipulate the images on desktop terminals.

Imaging offers faster access to documents, elimination of lost or out-of-file documents and more efficient processing--all culminating in improved office productivity.

When Regulation began studying imaging, the document indices were online, but the documents were handled in paper form, and the indexing schemes were different at the two sites. In Portland, documents were processed by the file in which they were kept, but we had no idea what was inside the file; in Salt Lake City, the documents themselves were processed. The department was handling an astronomical amount of paper and needed better management and control of it, faster access to it and more powerful capabilities for searching through it.

The imaging system we installed is the AT/Image application package from Atlis Image Systems, Inc., a document management systems integrator headquartered in Rockville, Md. The application integrates a variety of specialized software tools necessary to perform document management, integrating imaging, full-text searching and relational database technology. It is based on an imaging "platform"--a foundational system designed to be the building block for production applications--from LaserData, Inc., of Tyngsboro, Mass.

For our needs, the most important characteristic of the system is that it is based on industry-standard hardware and software, allowing us to adapt it to fit our needs rather than having to adapt ourselves to suit its capabilities. It employs standard PC systems for image workstations, uses Microsoft Windows as the interface, and runs on a LAN we had already installed to connect our PCs. The system is also adapted to roughly one-third of the workstations in Salt Lake City.

The two locations are connected via PacifiCorp's wide-area telecommunications lines.

The system also offers us the ability to modify it and expand it as we need. For example, if state regulatory commissions require utilities to file documents in electronic form, we can add facsimile support to the system to allow us to transmit documents in fax form directly from the imaging system to the appropriate commissions.

The critical issues early on are figuring out precisely what the needs are, getting everyone who will use or be responsible for the system to "buy into it," and justifying the cost of the purchase.

We addressed the first two of these challenges by assembling a task force with representatives from several departments--about a dozen people in all.

The task force studied imaging for a year, relying heavily on internal surveys of users to assess the volume and frequency of retrieval, how we use the documents, and how we wanted to. We predicted a one-year payback on a $100,000 system. Analysts alone save 467 hours per year by being able to call up documents on their desks instead of requesting them through the document center. Hours spent looking for documents in the Portland Document Center would drop by around 1,100 hours per year--a 90% improvement.

Our mantra was "flexibility." We stressed that we wanted a modular product which could be increased by orders of magnitude without our having to rework the system, retrain the workers and convert all the files.

Responses were all over the ballpark, topping out at $650,000. A few systems were proprietary, and we threw those out immediately. All were above our budget, however, so we took the top three contenders and began looking at what we could eliminate while still meeting our business needs.
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Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Wide Area Networks; PacifiCorp
Author:Hiestand, Connie; Beasley, Barbara
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1994
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