Past Issues of Government Technology

Imaging Hits the Desktop Big Time

A new alliance between Wang and Microsoft puts imaging technology into Windows 95 and gives government another option for storing, retrieving and viewing documents

by / August 31, 1995 0
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

According to Yankee Group, imaging and workflow will become standardized operating system services rather than application-specific services, making it easier for developers to shorten application development cycle times

Moeller added that the alliance will also make it easier for users to "image-enable existing applications, allowing them to both view images and automatically route them with workflow." In other words, scanned document images can be embedded in files produced by Windows-based word processing, database, spreadsheet and e-mail applications. Existing software programs, such as Watermark, already do this. Whether this agreement hurts these firms or opens up the imaging market for them even further remains unseen

THE IMPACT To date, the majority of imaging applications in the state and local government market have been single purpose, usually implemented where the agency or department had a significant number of paper transactions occurring on a daily basis. Government managers who have experienced imaging's benefits talk about expanding its capabilities so that casual users could retrieve and view document images from their desktop

This has occurred on a limited basis, but never has there been any widespread use of imaging, where every user with a PC could access a database of images. Part of the reason has been cost. Another has been the problem of sharing images - which are large in size compared to text files - across a network

By seeding its operating systems with imaging technology, Microsoft could fertilize the government sector for serious growth in imaging applications

But it might take some time. The Shelby County, Ala., Recording Department uses a Wang imaging system to manage its land records. The system currently runs Windows on its PC client workstations. But while the department might expand the number of users, according to Sue Attaway, systems administrator, the alliance is of little significance at this time

Similarly, in San Carlos, Calif., the city is looking at imaging for records management and is planning to add Windows 95. But according to Brian Moura, assistant city manager, the fact that an imaging viewer will be available with Windows 95 does not make "Wang a more compelling choice over another imaging software program." ----------Sidebar---------- Lotus Adds Imaging to Notes Lotus Development Corp. announced in April that it would include at no extra cost an image viewer and print-to-fax driver in Notes, its popular groupware software program. The image viewer is a Windows application that allows Notes and cc:Mail (Lotus' e-mail software program) users to scan documents and display any image file, incoming fax or OLE image document created with Lotus Notes

The viewer allows users to zoom, rotate, print, fax, OCR and mail image documents to other users. The print-to-fax driver allows a fax transmission from any Windows application