Sept 95 Level of Government: State, local Function: Imaging Jurisdictions: San Carlos, Calif.; Shelby County, Ala

Vendors: Microsoft Corp.; Wang Laboratories Inc.; Lotus Development Corp.; Watermark; By Tod Newcombe Contributing Editor Document imaging, considered by many as an innovative technology that fits naturally into the needs of paper-choked government agencies, hasn't quite made it yet. Its overall cost and complexity has slowed down its use, resulting in only a modest number of working applications throughout state and local government

But that situation may begin to change, thanks in part to the recent alliance between Microsoft Corp. and Wang Laboratories Inc. The deal makes Wang's imaging technology a standard feature in Microsoft's Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems. "This deal will introduce government workers to imaging in a more pervasive fashion than was ever possible," said Paul Moeller, vice president of marketing for Wang

Moeller predicts that, as government agencies adapt Windows 95, they will spawn a series of small, "personal" imaging applications, which will later evolve into networked applications and eventually incorporate workflow to automate the routing of document images among workers. The latter benefit stems from the fact that Wang also will work with Microsoft to accelerate the deployment of workflow automation software as a mainstream application

Moeller's prediction may come true. Document imaging in government tends to start as a single application, but workers quickly find other uses for the technology. That creative drive, born from the need to reduce the amount of paper used for so many government tasks, may move forward more quickly because, as Moeller puts it, "government workers now will have a common piece of imaging technology on their desktop." THE DEAL Announced on April 12, and closed May 30, the deal allowed Microsoft to purchase $90 million of Wang preferred stock. In return, Wang resolved its lawsuit filed against Microsoft concerning the ownership of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), a core feature in Windows. OLE allows workers to exchange pieces of data, such as text, graphics or images, from one application to another

Microsoft will bundle Wang's imaging viewer and certain controls for OLE in Windows 95 and its network operating system known as NT. The image viewer will include "annotate, fax, print, scan, thumbnail and view functions for TIFF and other graphic file formats," according to a report from GartnerGroup, a market research firm. Wang's imaging software will not appear in the initial shipment of Windows 95. Moeller said that Wang shipped its software to Microsoft in August and expects the imaging software to appear in Windows 95 and NT by the end of the year

Microsoft and Wang also will work together to develop and deploy workflow automation software. Specifically, the two firms will cooperate in the definition of work management application programming interfaces (APIs) to enable applications to use workflow management. APIs are formats and languages used by one software program to communicate with another

Wang will also develop Windows NT versions of its imaging and workflow server products to complement Microsoft's BackOffice, a family of server-based applications run on top of the Windows NT Server network operating system

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT? Beyond the potential benefits to Wang and Microsoft, the alliance has ramifications for imaging in general and government in particular. First, as Scott McCready, an analyst with International Data Corp., put it, "the development means that bit-mapped or scanned images of a piece of paper will be able to be displayed within Windows 95 courtesy of Wang's imaging technology." With tens of millions of computer users expected to use Windows 95 in the next year or two, imaging will be available on millions of desktops, vastly expanding the imaging market

Second, by incorporating imaging capabilities into Windows 95, Microsoft is making it easier to develop and deploy imaging and workflow applications