Once upon a time, document imaging was one of technologys most powerful allies in the battle to change the archaic world of paper-based information. Using a scanner and optical discs capable of mass storage, imaging provided a new method for processing information without the pain of actually changing the information on the paper itself. Workers could easily view on their computers documents that were once tucked away in filing cabinets. With the addition of workflow software, business processes could be rearranged, allowing many workers to perform tasks simultaneously, while other, redundant tasks could be eliminated completely.

Today, with so much information created in different formats -- video, audio, word processing files, PDF documents and Web pages -- the scanned paper document has been reduced to a supporting role. "Although theres a lot of activity in deploying imaging to solve government business systems, much of it is embedded in larger database systems," said Terry Menta, partner with Imerge Consulting, an imaging consulting firm. Take a look at an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a customer relationship management (CRM) application or a collaborative solution using Lotus Notes and youll find document imaging somewhere in the process, though not necessarily acting as the central application.

But Menta and other imaging experts arent about to announce the death of imaging just yet. "Its evolving, not dying," explained Larry Den, vice president of information technology at Vredenburg, a Reston, Va.-based provider of electronic document management systems. The scanning, storing and retrieving of document images is just one small part of a vast new area known as content management, according to Den. "Document imaging is like the shell on an egg," he said. "Its just the thin outer shell of a vast field of content that can include data in all sorts of formats."

Those formats include audio recordings of city council meetings, video clips of environmental hearings, a wide assortment of electronic documents and interactive forms for government transactions, all of which are kept up to date through document management technology and then assigned tasks and routed to the appropriate personnel by workflow software.

Until recently, most state and local governments had little incentive to manage all this content in a coherent way. Imaging was viewed as a technology that best served a department or office by digitizing specific paper documents that had to be processed, such as land titles, tax documents or workers insurance claims. But e-government is forcing states and localities to re-examine how they process information and to look for the best solutions that will allow them to merge

disparate systems into a quasi-enterprise application. "Imaging systems used to be departmentalized in government," said Brian Mandel, principal of North American e-workflow and imaging at Unisys Corp. "Now we see a trend toward enterprise [imaging] applications where information is being exchanged between agencies for the first time."

That trend, in turn, has set off a resurgence of interest in document imaging. Whats happened, according to Mandel, is that the typical government file has grown to include electronic documents. "But the government worker also wants access to information in the file that may still reside on paper. So governments are finding they need to scan that as well. As a result, the scanning of documents is going to continue to grow."

Enterprising Plans

You dont have to look far to see signs of whats happening with imaging in the public sector. In New York, the states Disability Determination Service has launched an electronic claims processing program in conjunction with the Social Security Administration. The project will test the practicality of adjudicating disability claims across different levels of government and state boundaries. Vredenburg and Eastman Software built the system, which was launched in April.

Miami-Dade County, Fla., is planning to develop a series of imaging

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor