Coming in from the COLD
Now better known as enterprise reporting, an overlooked storage technology is bolstered by the Internet.
The document technology business is littered with strange acro-nyms: TIFF, OCR, ICR, PDF, CD-ROM and the great favorite, WORM. But none has prove more baffling than COLD, Computer Output to Laser Disc. Originally designed as an online storage solution for computer reports, COLD never quite caught on, according to Mason Grigsby, a partner in San Francisco-based Imerge Consulting and an expert on COLD technology.
"A lot of people don't use laser discs," he explained. "As a result, COLD gave IT professionals the impression it was a storage solution involving nonstandard storage hardware."
In recent years, however, COLD has evolved to run on magnetic and tape storage systems and has leaped onto the Internet, giving the technology a much broader appeal that works within universal standards. This has led COLD vendors to start calling the technology by a more suitable name.
"It's not COLD anymore," Grigsby said. "We call it enterprise reporting."
It's COLD/Enterprise Report Management, according to the Association for Information and Image Management International (AIIM).
Despite its reputation as a storage solution, COLD has always done much more, indexing, archiving and presenting computer output in ways meaningful to workers, from auditors to customer service representatives. But the Internet has given COLD a new dimension, especially in electronic commerce.
"Changing the name to COLD /Enterprise Report Management carries a message consistent with the direction of today's corporations toward electronic commerce," said Robert Blatt, AIIM's standards committee chairman.
The strength of COLD has always been its ability to eliminate the entire printing cycle for reports. Boxes of greenbar paper have disappeared thanks to COLD, and so have printing costs. COLD alone greatly facilitates information access for employees within an organization, Grigsby said, but the development of intranets and extranets has taken information access to a new level. Organizations are installing Web servers that can distribute computer-generated statements, invoices and other documents to customers via extranets. Servers are also distributing computer documents within the organization via intranets. As a result, Internet-based report delivery systems are growing rapidly, according to Grigsby.
An example is the small but growing field of electronic bill presentment. Banks, credit card companies and utilities are turning to Web-based COLD technology to deliver electronic bills directly to customers, through either e-mail attachments or secure Web sites. According to a study by Killen & Associates, a market research firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., the number of electronic bills distributed over the Internet could reach 8 billion by 2000. Within the next 21/2 years, the volume of electronic bills is expected make up 12 percent of the worldwide total (see "The Check Is In the E-Mail," E Commerce supplement, Government Technology, March).
Cold Storage, Hot Trend?
Grigsby and others say that customer self-service will be the next big Internet trend. Individuals and businesses will be able to review banking and credit card statements, plus invoices and bills, online. COLD/report management is perfectly poised to make that a reality.
So how does that help government customers of report management? One opportunity is in tax filings. Taxpayers are increasingly filing their taxes electronically. COLD can store the electronic tax forms and present them over the Internet to taxpayers who want to review their filed forms or who have a query or problem.
Similar customer self-service applications for utility bills or business permits could be set up with COLD. Already, the Social Security Administration has signed a $5.1 million contract with Eastman Software for its COLD, imaging and workflow products, which will give individuals Internet access to information about benefits in a document format.
Freezing the Paper Flow
For most cities, counties and states, internal report archiving and management drives the use of COLD technology. Dothan, Ala., used to run through nearly 10,000 pages of paper every month just to print out financial reports. City workers used to spend days or weeks tracking down old reports, invoices or payroll records. Once the information was found, it was impossible to make side-by-side comparisons of certain classes of data.
Report management was hard and frustrating work, recalled Tim Stewart, a systems analyst for the city's MIS department. Three years ago, the city purchased IBM's OnDemand COLD product for its AS/400. Today, all of the city's financial, payroll and municipal utility billing records are stored on an optical jukebox and are available within seconds.
Storage and printing costs have dropped dramatically, according to Stewart, but more importantly, workers can, for the first time, use the information for decision support.
"If we tried to do some of this work by hand," Stewart said, "it would be simply impossible."
The city spent approximately $137,000 for the hardware and software, which is well within the average, according to Grigsby. The cost has paid off in spades through its efficiency. "It's proven to be a great investment for the city," Stewart said.
Heightened efficiency. Better and cheaper government. That's a success story that will never grow cold.