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More-Efficient Document Management Using Network Communications Systems.

At a certain large law firm, legal documents prepared by a central word processing group are transmitted electronically via local network to their authoring lawyers, who revise and complete them on their own professional workstations, then communicate them back to a central laser printer for high-quality printing. Clients receive better-looking documents sooner, and at lower cost.

Meanwhile, scientists and engineers at a military weapons test center use electronic mail on local networks and internetworked communications to pass technical papers to their colleagues for review. The papers can be viewed simultaneously at multiple locations, with all their charts, formulas and other graphic elements transmitted intact; and they're printed out on local and remote laser printers only after all the reviewers have reached a consensus.

And at a major Ivy League university, text for newsletters, bulletins and other publications is received via data communications from 57 extension offices throughout the state, the formatted and printed on laser printers at a central location. The result: more readable publications produced faster--and with huge savings in typesetting costs.

Each of these groups is experiencing dramatic efficiency improvements by using new integrated office systems techniques to create and produce business documents. These new systems link laser printers, professional workstations, personal computers, word processors, electronic-file units and other office equipment via local communications networks.

Such network-based systems represent a significant change that is taking place in the way people in business and government offices create, edit, reproduce and communicate all types of documents. This change involves integrating each of the elements that go into the document-making process, reducing the number of steps required for their production, and communicating them electronically to both local and remote recipients.

The kinds of documents involved in this change range from financial statements ot newsleters, from financial sttements to newslettrs, from proposals to parts catalogs. They include all kinds of reports, presentations, price lists, phone books, brochures, legal briefs and a myriad of other forms of paperwork on which modern business life depends.

The Documentation Explosion

Indications are that the production of such documents will continue to increase at an ever-faster rate. The total publishing output of American corporations, 2.5 trillion pages in 1983, is expected to rise to four trillion pages in 1989--enough to cover the states of Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin with paper stacked 60 pages high. The size of this document market is conservatively estimated at well over $10 billion annually, more than twice the size of today's personal-computer market. Clearly, an approach that increases efficiency in the creation and handling of this paperwork will payoff handsomely in the years ahead.

The new approach to managing business document utilizies local-network technology in conjunction with long-distance data communications, graphics-oriented professional workstations, personal computers, electronic-file systems, electronic printers and OCR scanners. This integrated approach has enabled many user departments to double or triple their productivity and greatly reduce costs.

Once considered rather exotic, local-area networks have now been installed in virtually every kind of office environment and have thoroughly proven their considerable usefulness.

In addition, network equipment costs have declined. For example, the electronic printers that use lasers for imaging are now available in a variety of sizes and at affordable prices. A few years ago, only very large models, selling in the $250,000 to $300,000 range, were on the market, and they were used only in central computer installations. Now, at the other end of the size and speed range, electronic printers are available for a small fraction of that cost.

These cost reductions have greatly increased the versatility of network systems. The user of a small, low-cost laser printer can, for example, employ the printer for final printing of low-volume jobs, while also using it to produce a master for high-speed xerographic dupulication or offset reproduction on high-volume jobs. The small network laser printers have the same high resolution as the large models and are ideal for quick generation of reproduction masters.

In addition, the network equipment complement can easily be expanded by adding laser printers of an appropriate size, with each printer used for the jobs it is best suited for. If desired, the job can also be sent electronically to a remote site for printing by other network systems linked by long-distance communications facilities.

However the final printing is done, network systems offers an efficient way to prepare a document, starting from the collection of information, through creation and formatting, to the final publication and dissemination. Perhaps the best way to see this is to compare the steps necessary in the conventional preparation of a document to their electronic equivalent with a network system.

The difference is apparent well before the actual writing of a document even begins. Practically every document prepared within an organization takes some degree of research--even if it's just to find out what has been published on the same subject before, so the writer can avoid duplication. With a mature network system--one that has been installed long enough for important documents to be entered into storage--much of this information exists in electronic form.

The Elimination of Re-Keying

Furthermore, it's no longer necessary to re-keyboard existing printed material to enter it into the network. Scanners that read virtually any type font and digitize the text aer now available for use with network systems. Writers have access to this material at their workstations instantly through the communications network. They can call up any page to be displayed on a workstation screen for reference. And if necessary, they can have the material printed quickly by a local laser printer.

Compare this procedure to the conventional way of assembling research material. It involves a trip to the physical location of the manual files and, perhaps, help from someone else in the office to find the information. Then, if the document is to be kept for very long, a copy must be made, probably by a copier in still another location. When the material is in leectronic form, however, it can be transferred without disturbing the original, which is available immediately for anyone else using a workstation on the network.

At the next stage--writing a first draft--the difference between old and new is just as significant. Instead of submitting the first attempt to a secretary for "clean" typing, following by editing and another typing job, the author bypasses these steps. Editing is done on the screen, and the image is not committed to paper until it's in final form.

Along with the text, most publications require some form of graphics, usually line art such as diagrams, charts and graphs. Current network systems now offer workstations that can handle failry complex graphics and provide the means to fit the artwork into the text--in effect, making up a complete page at a time on the display screen. In addition, there are scanning units that can "read" existing line art, transforming it into digital form for entry to a network system.

The Standard Graphics Method

This process contrasts with the standard method of retaining an artist, perhaps from a separate organization or ouside firm, who must be told what is wanted. Then the artwork must be scaled, description copy typeset, and so on. These steps, and the interaction with another person that may lead to errors, are eliminated when the author has an appropriate workstation to directly carry out his ideas for illustrations.

During this process, the network can provide another convenience. When multiple approvals are required or the collaboration of several authors is necessary, the text and graphics prepared on the screen of one workstation can be transferred to any other workstation, located down the hall or half a continent away, for another person's editing or added comments.

Consider a situation such as this: Four engineers in four different offices of a major coporation, located in different parts of the country, are jointly authoring a technical paper. One of them has written the first draft (complete with equations, blocks diagrams and other graphics) on her own professional workstation, and the paper must now be reviewed by the other collaborators.

The Collaborators Communicate

Instead of mailing the draft to them, she communicates it via long-distance data communications lines; and the authors review the paper simultaneously on their own professional workstations, adding new material where appropriate. Each of them can then communicate his or her own version to the others for review.

The authors may need to communicate revised versions back and forth several times before a consensus is reached. However, this process of reaching full agreement on the paper can now be accomplished in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks, as was the case when drafts were sent by mail.

Only when the publication is edited and approved is it converted to rpinted form. If offset will be the final form of long-run printing, a small laser printer makes the masters. If it's a job better-suited to the special characteristics of high-speed electronic printing, a large laser printer may be used. In either case, the publication is now recorded on electronic media, so revisions are easily made, just as with a conventional word processing system.

An added degree of printing flexibility is provided by data communications. If desired, the document can be communicated for electronic printing at an office in another part of the country or even overseas--or it can be communicated to several locations for simultaneous remote printing. And all of the document's graphic qualities are retained, whether the electronic printing is local or remote. This capability is especially helpful in reducing mailing costs and in speeding the delivery of time-dependent materials such as newsletters.

The Document-Creation Approach

The type of document-creation approach described here is currently being employed by users of numerous vendors baseband LANs, such as our 8000 network systems. Many of these systems use the Ethernet local-communications network, one of the "open" networks that allow the use of other vendors' equipment, such as IBM and other personal computers and DEC/VAX systems.

Availability of an open network is important if the network system is to be economically implemented in offices where personal computers and other units from a mix of vendors have already been installed. Equally important is the ability of the network user to start small and expand the system in an unrestricted manner as requirements grow. For example, one should be able to start with a few workstations, a file server and a laser printer, and later expand the system to virtually any size.

Information communicated on an Ethernet network moves at rates up to 500 pages per second (10 million bits per second) from one piece of equipment to another. This baseband network has no switching logic and is not controlled by a central computer. It's a passive communications medium, and simply accepts transmissions from attached system elements. This technique was chosen for simplicity and reliability; if any one of the elements fails, the others are not affected.

Such a network consists of a coaxial cable, made up of one or more segments typically several hundred meters in legnth, and a communications transceiver for each element of the office system. Each of these elements provides control for its own transceiver.

These networks are used to connect system elements within a building or part of it. Other transceivers with associated processors can be used to connect networks to each other and to outside communications facilities for long-distance transmission.

A crucial element for an effective local-network-based document-management system is the electronic printing system. These printers use a laser to create images and a xerographic process to convert the images to visible form. They offer a combination of characteristics essential for successful document management and not avialable in any other kind of printing. They provide high resolution (90,000 dots per square inch) and high speed, producing a complete page at a time.

The Electronic Printers' Speeds

Electronic printers are extremely fast. For example, our largest electronic printer produces 120 pags per minute, and the smallest produces 12 pages per minute. By contrast, high-speed line printers typically produce up to about 1200 lines (the equivalent of 20 pages) per minute.

Electronic printers are also extremely flexible. Their type fonts and sizes are virtually unlimited and can be changed from page to page and within a page. They can produce any image--a drawing, a logo, the characters of any language. They print a complete document at each pass, instead of many copies of a single page, eliminating storage problems and waste. Furthermore, electronic printing doesn't require preprinted forms, because the image of a form can be stored electronically and printed at the same time as the text material to be used with the form.

The implications of that fact are enormous. At one stroke, the painful process of designing and revising that form is entirely changed. Above all, there is no need to keep a supply of printed copies of the form in storage. With electronic printers, "demand printing" produces only the desired quantity. The digital "master of course, is always available in the system's memory to produce more copies if needed.

The economics of electronic printing are persuasive. The cost of conventional printing is 60 to 70 percent labor, with the balance going to capital equipment and supplies. Electronic printing reverses these relationships, allowing major productivity improvement for each labor dollar. Whereas the per-page costs of conventional printing decrease slowly with volume, they are essentially constant in electronic printing. Thus, larger print runs aren't needed to achieve low unit cost.

With a complete integrated local-network system in place, there's a radical change in the process of combining information from various sources with a team's ideas and experience in order to complete a project. Consider the development of a formal proposal designed to win a contract. This is a prototypical case, complete with tight deadlines, big rewards for success, high costs for failure, and the necessity of team effort.

The Conventional Text Methods

Using conventional methods, several people would work separately on the text. To resolve differences and device smooth transitions, copies are made, editing is done, additions are agreed upon, and then the document is all retyped. Files are searched manually for supporting material and some missing items may have to be sent for, introducing delays and uncertainty. Graphics must be prepared by artists, perhaps from a different department or an outside service, with further delays as schedules conflict. Finally, type is set, and pages are printed separately and must be collated. Usually, to be safe, many more copies are printed than will be used, with consequent storage costs and waste. And much of this work is done by people earning high salaries, who are often kept waiting.

In contrast, the use of an integrated network system gives each member of the team immediate access to the others' thoughts, text and suggestions. If one of the members is chosen as editor of the overall document, the results are available to all the others for remarks and approval. Graphics are produced by one or more members of the team, using the programmed drawing aids of a professional workstation.

The Electronic Copying Process

Existing material can be copied instantly from an electronic file--and is still available for another workstation user's access. Materials from outside sources that are not yet stored in electronic form can be read by a graphic input scanner and made available to the team. And the electonic printer converts the results into printed form, a complete document in each run, while retaining it electonically, in case copies are needed later.

Documents have always been the medium of business action, and they will continue to be; no matter how advanced our technologies become, it's inconceivable that we will be able to do without words and imags in easily handled form. The task is to produce useful documents with greater efficiency and productivity. In local-area networks linking powerful and versatile office machines, we have at hand the tools we need. In effect, the long-touted "office of the future" is, in large part, here right now.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Adams, R.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1985
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