The second "I" in AIIM may stand for image, but much of the attention at the Conference of the Association for Information and Image Management in Chicago last April was focused on document management, workflow and the Internet. Imaging, which experts believe has plateaued as a technology, is fast becoming a subset of document management, the umbrella term for software and processes that capture, store, distribute and present various types of data -- from text and images to graphics and video.
Throughout the show, which attracted more than 40,000 people and 350 exhibitors, was the constant buzz about the World Wide Web. Most vendors had prototypes of products involving the Web on display, in demonstration or available for release.
Many of the Web products centered around document management or workflow. Documentum Inc. (Pleasanton, Calif.), showcased Accelera, software that enables users with standard browsers to navigate and query an organization's document repository and then view the documents, regardless of their original format. Interleaf Inc. (Waltham, Mass.), has introduced similar software called Intellecte/Business Web.
Both products allow government agencies to broaden access to information without the time and expense usually associated with delivering information to workers, especially those in district or field offices. The key is the Web browser, a software tool that can run on any kind of computer: Windows, Macintosh, OS/2, UNIX and even terminals.
For state and local governments hoping to use the Web to provide access to scanned images, there's InterSite, an intriguing software program from Iota Industries Ltd., a company based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Using the Netscape Web browser, a worker can search an image database using keywords. InterSite converts the scanned documents into a searchable image format document, which can be read by its word pattern recognition tool.
Once the relevant document images are found, InterSite retrieves strips of the original image, highlighting the keyword matches. By giving the worker a portion, rather than the entire image, the software is able to process search requests much faster over slow communication lines. The worker simply has to select from the strips the image he wishes to see and the entire document is then retrieved. InterSite currently is in beta testing, according to a company spokesman.
For agencies where the spoken word is still important, such as courts or legislatures, or where typing reports can still be a time-consuming chore, such as law enforcement agencies, EDS (Plano, Texas), the outsourcing giant, demonstrated a voice recognition system that is able to convert voice into ASCII text at normal conversation speeds.
Using state-of-the-art recognition software, the system overcomes problems with past technologies, which required users to talk slowly or use only a limited vocabulary of words, and turns voice-to-text conversions into a relatively simple task. EDS will provide the technology on a service-only basis to customers.
In the area of workflow, vendors introduced new products at the high- and low-end of the market. Action Technologies Inc. (Alameda, Calif.), demonstrated Action Workflow Enterprise, aimed at large applications that have grown beyond the confines of traditional departmental workflow systems.
At the low end, FileNet (Costa Mesa, Calif.), announced the availability of Ensemble, a workflow tool for automating routine and ad hoc business tasks and processes. Designed to run atop an electronic mail system, such as Microsoft's new Exchange or Novell's GroupWise, Ensemble uses a highly graphical and easy-to-use interface to design a workflow routine for routing information or images in an office. The software costs $295.
As imaging and document management become more pervasive in the workplace, one of the technology's choke points has been the lack of standards for sharing information and images easily across systems supplied by different vendors. In a major step toward solving that problem, the Document Management Alliance has developed a proof of concept for document search and retrieval based on open industry standards. The Alliance -- which was formed at last year's conference and consists of more than 90 users and vendors -- demonstrated document search and retrieval interoperability between several vendor products during the conference. The release of the specification is expected this fall.
One of the purposes of big shows such as AIIM is to catch a glimpse of the future. Where is imaging headed, and how are we going to get there? Today, smart industry forecasters qualify their predictions as being good for a limited time, beyond which anything is possible. Look at the Internet. In 1995, users and vendors were just beginning to discuss its usefulness. Today, the situation has changed entirely.
In one AIIM session, six visionaries from AIIM's Emerging Technologies Advisory Group discussed the impact of developing technologies on document management. They broke down imaging and document management into five processes -- capture, storage, distribution, retrieval and presentation -- and then discussed the cycle of acceptance for emerging technologies.
Not surprisingly, the Web was already categorized as a widely adopted technology for distributing documents. However, the advisory group cautioned that using the Web is not quite as cheap and easy to use as some vendors would have you believe. They pointed to the need for document libraries or repositories to help manage distribution of electronic documents across the Web. The group did predict that desktop imaging vendors will be transformed by the capabilities of the Web, with browsers such as Netscape becoming key presentation tools for documents.
Other emerging technologies to track include the interoperability standards being developed by the Document Management Alliance; new compression algorithms; storage systems, such as high-density CD-ROM products; compound documents, which covers creating and assembling long, complex documents; high-speed networks; and intelligent agents, which are filtering systems for retrieving and presenting electronic documents.
In his session entitled "Future Shock," Robert Aquino from Minolta Corp. explained that in the near future accessing information will no longer depend on separate applications, such as an imaging system or a database, but on work processes or actions. These processes can be highly structured or ad hoc. Either way, they will eliminate the need for switching applications to find and use information.
For example, when a caseworker is processing an unemployment claim, the action of retrieving the claim automatically triggers the retrieval of other documents relevant to the claim -- employment and tax records or lists of employment opportunities -- without the caseworker having to switch from an imaging system to a word processing system or a database.
The enabling technologies for process-driven information systems include: distributed computing, improved operating systems, better connectivity, more advanced information repositories and object-oriented technology.