Monday, February 28, 2011

Selecting Imaging Software

Imaging software is a subset of ECM (Enterprise Content Management). Essentially, imaging is the methodology of getting paper into the ECM system (as an electronic document). Often, the two are bundled together as one seamless package (or suite). Other times, they are separate.

For instance, when an organization purchases a COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) ECM system, most of the time, the package includes an imaging component (or module). Common ECM software that includes an imaging module are (partial listing);

There are some ECM systems that do not provide for an imaging module. Most often, this is the scenario where an organization's IT staff will build their own ECM system. For example, the backend database is SQL or Oracle and the front-end is a website, in order for authorized staff to access the electronic content. Under this, more increasingly common scenario, imaging software needs to be purchased in order to get the paper into an electronic format (e.g. as a TIF or PDF).

When considering the right ECM system for an organization, the actual imaging module (or imaging methodology) is of critical importance. Why? This is because the act of imaging is where considerable labor component exists. Not to mention, the separate requirement for data entry - in order to be able to find the electronically scanned images.

After calculating a ROI (return on investment) many organizations rely upon SoftFile to provide the actual imaging and data entry components. This is because, SoftFile can simply provide imaging for much less than an autonomous approach.

However, if the organization is bent towards the autonomous, do-it-yourself approach, do consider the following. When purchasing an imaging system, before the first page is scanned, 80% of the costs will be for the hardware and software purchases. Conversely 20% of the out of pocket costs will be for applicable maintenance contracts.

Now, after the first page is scanned and everyday forward, 20% of all costs will be for maintenance contracts and the remaining 80% will be on your organizational labor. So, it is critical that your selected imaging system can mitigate labor as much as possible.

In order to mitigate labor costs, your imaging software needs to automate as much as possible. For example, your selected imaging system should be, at a minimum, able to utilize (partial listing);

  • Barcode technology
  • Including Parent-Child level (sublevel) barcodes
  • Full-text OCR (Optical Character Recognition)
  • Zonal OCR (template based)
  • IMR (Intelligent Mark Recognition)
  • More

SoftFile offers ECM consulting. Why not call and benefit from our 23 years of imaging experience.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Common ECM Mistakes

As SoftFile has worked with numerous federal, state, local public agencies and the general business enterprise environment. We have seen many electronic content management mistakes. Such mistakes might not be noticeable at first, however they can compound over time leading to total ECM failure. These mistakes typically include any of the following (partial listing):

  • Not enough document profile fields captured
  • No records retention schedule expiration listed
  • Use of too many folders (instead of a ECM database)
  • Use of students or interns to scan and index documents

Document Profile Fields

Metadata is generally considered the data that is automatically collected when a document is scanned (e.g scan date and file size). Document profile field(s) are those fields that are captured in order to electronically retrieve (look-up) a document. Most records management experts assert that three (3) document profile fields should be captured (in case one or two are collected in error). For example,if you are scanning historical newspaper articles, the document profile fields might be the article's: title, author, date, source.

No Records Retention Schedule Expiration Listed

It is an error to assume that, simply because it has been scanned, an electronic document should be saved forever. We save documents - usually in reaction to some legislative requirement to do so (e.g. a medical record for seven years). Otherwise, if the record is destroyed prior to the legally required retention period, a patient might be able to successfully sue. However, say there is some sort of mistake in the record, if you keep a record longer than you are required to do so and the mistake is discovered in say, year nine - when the record could have been deleted after year seven, you are still legally responsible for what is recorded.

Use of too many folders

Psychologically, the use of electronic folders (and sub-folders) makes us feel comfortable in terms of saving electronic files. However, those same folders often hinder our ability to perform a global search by keyword or phrase. It is important to think in terms of a common database with the use of document profile fields instead of the use of folders and sub-folders.

Use of students or interns to scan and index documents

Really, this is a very bad idea on numerous levels.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Free Government Consulting

While there might be a hiring freeze, perhaps you will be able to reallocate current resources to the core business service once SoftFile has eliminated your labor intensive bottlenecks.

Such bottlenecks are often paper-processes.

SoftFile realizes that due to the current budget constraints, government departments are being asked to identify ways to reduce expenses.

SoftFile is experienced at using innovative document technology to help government agencies with their business processes.

Our consultant will be able to offer you different options that can reduce the costs associated with your current paper document processes.

Our government services consultants will arrange to visit your office at a convenient time. They will spend up to four hours analyzing your paper processes and gathering information. They will then prepare a report which will offer possible solution options.

What's The Catch?

None, SoftFile has been successful at helping other agencies save money by using technology to improve business process. We believe we can do the same for you. There is absolutely no obligation to purchase anything. We won't pester you with any follow-up phone calls and emails.

What Do I Get?

You will simply receive a written report that you can share with your management detailing ways to improve the current business process. This report will contain two or three practical options to help make your business processes more efficient and less expensive.

What Types of Processes Do You Analyze?

SoftFile specializes in the following areas. Click on the list for more information:

Friday, February 11, 2011

Microfiche Scanning

This article discusses the various types of common microfiche.

SoftFile routinely converts all sort of microfiche images into an electronic format.

Most of SoftFile's customers ask SoftFile to convert their microfiche to electronic because they no longer have a microfiche viewer (or don't want one) and because the records retention for the microfiche is probably very long or permanent.

Like all documents that SoftFile scans, microfiche is usually people of property type documents.

About Microfiche Jackets

Both 16MM or 35MM (or a combination of both) can be inserted into a microfiche jacket. The following image illustrates a five channel 16MM microfiche jacket that is partially used.

Microfiche is used instead of a reel of microfilm so that the respective records can be individually unitized. This approach was generally used where the microfiche was to be retrieved by the public. Whereas, using a reel of microfilm (where a reel of 16MM microfilm might contain between 2,000 to 7,500 images per one reel) one would need to scroll through thousands of images before finding the one, six-page record that they were interested in viewing.

This was especially the case where the records were confidential. For example, if you requested to view your personal records, they were often available on microfiche. This is because if on microfilm, you could see someone else's private records.

In addition, microfiche was often updated (where microfilm images might have been added to the same microfiche jacket years later. It is impractical to update a reel of film by splicing in images.

Usually a 16MM microfiche jacket might contain up 65 images per one fiche. Typically a 35MM only microfiche jacket might contain up to six 35MM microfiche images. It is not uncommon to find combo 16MM/35MM microfiche jackets in use at various building authorities (city building division) so that both the microfilm plan sheets and documentation were together on the same microfiche.

16MM Microfiche35MM MicroficheCombo Microfiche

About 105MM Microfiche

It is not uncommon to come across 105MM microfiche. This is essentially a microfiche with one large image (typically some sort of architectural plan sheet).

About COM (Computer Output Microfiche)

Although in some respects COM looks like any other microfiche, it is quite different.

First, a COM image is much smaller. Whereas in terms of its reduction ratio, a 16MM microfiche image might be a ratio of 24:1 (24X), often a COM image is 52:1 (52X). This means that while most 16MM microfiche might contain up to 65 images maximum per fiche, a COM fiche might contain 240 images!

Also unlike 16MM microfiche, where each image is a photographic miniature (or a photographic negative) of a document, a COM image was never a photograph of a document.

During its inception, computer memory was much more expensive than today. Therefore, instead of printing out mainframe data (to free up expensive memory) the data was sent to COM. At 52X smaller than an 8.5X11 printout, COM was much more manageable than paper. So a COM image is actually just mainframe data, which is organized to resemble a document.

Similarly, UltraCOM was developed which was even smaller than 52X. As computer memory became less expensive, the requirement for COM fell out of popular usage.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


When considering a paper to electronic document conversion process, the decision about the electronic file format is generally a selection between either a TIF or PDF. This is because both support a multi-page format. Whereas as JPG or PNG supports a single image only (page 1 of 1). This means that if your scanned image was a three paged document you might need to click on three different JPGs as opposed to just one TIF or PDF.

  • some-file.jpg
  • some-file(2).jpg
  • some-file(3).jpg

  • some-file.pdf
Most commercial electronic document management system viewers will support both a multi-page TIF or a PDF. However, SoftFile generally finds that a TIF will load faster. The capability of the file to load faster is important if you anticipate having to look through numerous electronic documents. However, if your electronic document management system is internet browser based (e.g. IE, Safari, Opera, or Firefox), you will want to choose PDF. This is because you cannot view a TIF through an internet browser without first installing a TIF viewer.

It is also important to consider the end user. Are the end users simply those in your office? If so, TIF might be a better choice. If not, it will probably be a better idea to go with the PDF selection. Why? This is because (typically) a PDF will open provided that a PDF reader (Adobe's Reader or Acrobat) is already installed on the end user PC (which is very common place). Whereas, it is sometimes a wildcard as to which default program on the end users computer has been associated with a TIF.

Finally, it is important to note that just because you have elected to use a PDF, this DOES NOT mean that the PDF is automatically keyword searchable. The PDF, like a TIF, is still just an image-only. If you desire to search across either the PDF document or the entire repository of PDF documents, you will need to pass each PDF through an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) process.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Estimating Paper Volume

The document conversion services industry generally charges on a per image basis. This is because once a project is completed, the total quantity of images is easily quantifiable.

This begs the question, how many images do I have?

In trying to determine how many images you have, first calculate the total amount of sheets of paper (8.5" X 14" or smaller) by using the following benchmark.

  • For every one foot of paper, assume 2,000 sheets

This means, if full, that a standard sized document storage box (length 15" X width 12" X height 10") is about 2,500 sheets. So, twenty full boxes might contain as much as 50,000 sheets of paper.

This means, if full, that a standard sized four drawer file cabinet (where each drawer is about two feet deep) will contain about 16,000 sheets of paper. So, ten full four drawer file cabinets might contain as much as 64,000 sheets of paper.

While the above calculation does not take into consideration the amount of space used by folders or file separators, it is still a safe assumption none the less.

For example, within one foot of records (on a shelf) if there are ten file separators (that is 200 sheets of paper on average per one file) it is still safe to assume that the total sheet count is about 2,000 sheets. However, if there is a file separator ever ten pages, the cardboard dividers will take up a lot more room. As such the total sheet count might be closer to, say 1,000 sheets of paper.

Of course, once the total sheets of paper have been calculated, the next step is to figure how many images you have. Say you have determined that there are 100,000 sheets of paper. Next, simply determine your estimate in terms of how many of those sheets maintain a backside image. If you determine that about ten percent of the total paper volume maintains a backside image, your total image count is about 110,000 images.