Slaying the Paper Tigers

Slaying the Paper Tigers


ederal imaging and storage systems used to be exclusively comprised of customized, proprietary products that were not only expensive but incapable of operating with other systems. Those solutions generally were reserved for high-end, stand-alone applications. But the government's push toward purchasing commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) products, combined with the adoption of several imaging standards and the popularity of key technologies, has moved imaging into the information technology mainstream.

The Internet and internal intranets have made a cornucopia of information readily available. Data from agency repositories can be quickly obtained and disseminated via the Web or client-server networks. The problem is getting that information into the repositories in the first place. That is where electronic imaging comes in.

Imaging systems can quickly scan all types of documents and convert them to electronic formats so they can be read by computers. Such systems not only lower operating costs and boost productivity, but reduce dependency on paper and eliminate the possibility of documents becoming lost or damaged. Once images are processed, they can be sorted and cross-referenced in a way that paper cannot. Electronic documents can be located in a fraction of the time required by paper filing systems, and the data can be accessed by more than one person at a time. Best of all, images from an entire warehouse of papers can be stored on a few optical disks or magnetic-tape reels.

Agencies are using imaging products to do everything from process personnel files and financial records to sort mail, store archives, license exports and document scientific research. Defense Department imaging systems conduct telemedicine operations, track supply shipments and store more than 17 million pages of Gulf War documents. And the FBI now can electronically match fingerprints from a database of 40 million sets, thus reducing the average search time from several months to several hours.

The biggest development in the federal imaging market is the $100 million ImageWorld procurement in which the National Institutes of Health awarded contracts to 20 vendors. The procurement, announced in August, is one of the largest government imaging deals ever. It is also one of the most revolutionary because of its emphasis on commercial products. The task-order contracts offer a wide variety of off-the-shelf products to handle data conversion, document management and storage.

ImageWorld differs from previous federal imaging contracts in that it provides an opportunity to obtain complete solutions, instead of piecemeal applications that then have to be woven together. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity vehicle offers one-stop shopping for NIH research organizations and all other federal agencies.

ImageWorld and other large contracts will help the federal imaging market grow at a compound annual rate of 15 percent, from $970 million this year to $2 billion by 2001, according to market researcher Input Inc. in Vienna, Va. Driving the market will be government downsizing schemes and business-process reengineering initiatives.

New imaging systems from companies such as BTG, Electronic Data Systems, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Unisys and Wang, will feature faster access times, improved character recognition, better compression ratios and cheaper storage. Specialized applications handled by back-office workers will be replaced by broad, agencywide imaging projects using COTS products purchased through GSA schedules or contracts such as ImageWorld.

Although imaging products are on their way to becoming commodity items, they still remain fairly difficult to install. For that reason, agencies will continue to depend on professional integrators to help them design and build the more complex systems. This buyer's guide also provides help in the form of insight into the latest trends in scanners, monitors, compression technology, search and retrieval software, workflow programs and other products designed to help agencies slay those paper tigers once and for all.

Top Federal Imaging Deals of Fiscal 1996

Almost $1 billion will be spent this year on government imaging projects. Following is a list of some of the largest deals that have been or will be awarded this year. On some of the contracts, imaging is just one of several information technology components.

Agency Contract Estimated Value
DOT Information Technology Omnibus Procurement $1,134
Justice Information Technology Support Services 152
DoD OSD Office Automation Service 115
FBI Automated Fingerprint Identification System 109
HHS NIH Image World 100
FAA Electronic Document Management System 20
NASA Information, Imagery, Media & Public Affairs
Support Services
Army Rocky Mountain Information Handling 9
NASA Photographic Image Support 3
Source: Federal Sources Inc.

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