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How Consolidated eliminated 45 million paper documents with image processing.

Bills of lading, delivery receipts, and numerous attachments are associated with each shipment to ensure complete delivery at the stated destination. To improve customer service and significantly reduce operational overhead, Consolidated Freightways, Inc. (CF) eliminated this paper chase problem by installing an image processing system.

"The primary purpose of the system is to improve internal efficiency and customer service," says Phil Seeley, vice president of administration and MIS at CF's administrative offices in Portland, Ore. "When documents had to be manually retrieved from filing cabinets, it could take as long as two weeks to respond to a customer inquiry regarding an invoice. With image processing, we can now respond in 30 seconds."

With over $4 billion per year in annual sales, CF generates more than 52 million documents each year. These documents need to be retrieved each time a shipping or receiving customer has a question about shipment status, wants clarification about an invoice, or needs to make a claim.

CF's enterprise-wide image processing network now centralizes storage of all document images and dispenses with all hard-copy documents. It also enables CF staff, at any office, to retrieve documents instantly via fax, on any shipment and quickly resolve customer inquiries. Copies of these documents can also be faxed to customers directly.

At the core of the image processing system is a 48-site nationwide network of NonStop CLX computers from Tandem Computers Inc., Cupertino, Calif. These CLX systems act as servers to local area networks in each Scanning Center and also are linked, via Tandem EXpand networking software, to four, two-processor Tandem VLX computers in CF's central data center in Portland, Ore.

EXpand software allows transparent distribution of databases and applications over the carrier's wide area network, so data can be located close to where it is needed most, but also available everywhere in the network. Communications between the CLX computers and VLX hosts is via one or two leased 56 kb/s or T1 lines, depending on traffic from each Scanning Center.

Bart Godbey, project manager, Image Processing System, explains system logistics: "When a customer's shipment is first consigned to us, a barcoded sticker is placed on each customer's bill of lading and sent, along with the delivery receipt, to the appropriate Scanning Centers. Here, the documents are scanned, and the barcode (which is used to index the documents) is automatically captured. After an automated reconciliation process, the paper documents are then discarded."

Images are recorded through scanning workstations at each Scanning Center which consist of a scanner, a personal computer, and a 19-inch high-resolution monitor. Because each image can contain as much as 800k of data, the workstation also compresses scanned images (using CCITT Group 4 compression) to 40k on average. Scanning workstations can scan 16 documents per minute.

Another similar workstation, but without a scanner, is present at each site to make corrections to scanned images. This may occur, for example, if the barcode is not picked up on the original image, or if a barcode is not present.

Both scanning and correction workstations are linked on the Ungermann-Bass LAN. Linking the LAN to the CLX computer so it can function as a server to the networked workstations is a firm-ware product from Tandem called Multi-LAN. All images stored on these LANs are sent to the central VLX system daily.

This central computer system can support input of 200,000 images per day from the 48 scanning centers. All images are stored and indexed on optical disks for fast and easy retrieval to printers, workstations, or Group 3 facsimile machines. A maximum of 26 million images will be stored on-line in optical disks, with additional storage provided on archived optical platters.

All images are indexed in an SQL database which supports 156 million images. The database rows of this SQL table, called the document master, uniquely identify images and their location on a specific optical and/or magnetic disk. Image locations are given by volume, subvolume, filename, and offset.

This index, and therefore the actual images, can be accessed through any of 20 "view" workstations attached to the central VLX host via an Ungermann-Bass LAN and Tandem MultiLAN firmware. In addition, image inquiry is supported through CF's IBM ES9000 host mainframe and an existing CICS application. Through this application, an estimated 20,000 documents requests are expected to be made each day. CF's image processing system is now fully implemented and the search for additional uses for the system is underway.

"Our image scanning system provides a general purpose architecture that is suitable for use with any kind of document," Seeley says. "Other documents which we may consider scanning include line haul driver pay forms, personnel files, and claims files.

"With its flexible and easily expandable platforms," he concludes, "it shouldn't be too long until we have reduced our mountain of paperwork to a molehill of stored images."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:wide area networks
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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