Imaging for Process Improvement: Report of the Imaging Committee

July 1995

University Imaging Committee

NameTitle
J. Gary AugustsonExecutive Director, Computer and Information Systems
Kenneth BlytheDirector, Office of Administrative Systems
Nancy M. ClineDean, University Libraries
Eric G. Ferrin Director, Library Computing Services
Thomas C. FlachSr. Applications Programmer/Analyst, Center for Academic Computing
Donn E. FrazierDeputy Controller
Michael W. HartmanManager, Information Systems & Records, Office of Human Resources
Donley K. HoggDirector, Administration Information Systems, Graduate School
George A. Moellenbrock, Jr.Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations
Betty J. RobertsAssistant Vice President, Business Services
John J. RomanoVice President, Enrollment Management and Administration
Daniel P. SaftigDirector, Annual Giving, Office of University Development
Leon Stout Librarian/University Archivist
Kenneth E. VarcoeAssistant Vice President, Commonwealth Educational System
Russell S. VaughtDirector, Center for Academic Computing
Billie S. WillitsAssistant Vice President, Human Resources

Executive Summary

In the summer of 1994, Provost Brighton appointed a University-wide Imaging Committee to review current and near-future imaging technologies to determine how they can best be applied to meet University requirements. The Committee held numerous meetings with University personnel, imaging technology experts, vendors, an external consultant, and businesses that use imaging technology extensively.

"Imaging" refers to the management of paper documents, records, forms, photos, and drawings by capturing, storing, indexing, retrieving, and distributing them electronically. Images are created by electronically photographing a document, photograph, color slide, or other material with a device that is usually called a scanner. Scanners record images digitally rather than on paper or film. The areas of imaging reviewed by the Committee included optical character recognition (OCRčcapturing data from documents for input into databases to eliminate data entry functions), document imaging (storing and accessing digital images of documents instead of paper), and future applications of these technologies. The primary focus of this Committee's efforts was document imaging which can effectively substitute for paper and offers many opportunities for improving storage of and access to information at Penn State.

The Committee believes that document imaging technology is especially valuable to Penn State because we are a geographically dispersed institution. Not only can imaging enable rapid and accurate access to information throughout the University, reduce duplicate (redundant) files and related maintenance costs, but we are strategically in a good position to leverage imaging technology with our current information technology infrastructure.

Imaging solutions require some fundamental changes in business processes to ensure successful implementation. An essential principle to successfully implementing imaging technology is interoffice cooperation and coordination. Imaged records should be shareable so that more than one area can retrieve and read them, and they should be protectable so that information is maintained in a trusted, legally accepted format. To maximize the benefits of investment, offices must reexamine their business practices as part of implementing an imaging solution, and cultural changes will have to be made in the way Penn State runs our business enterprise. These and other important implementation issues and strategies are discussed in Sections II and III.

Despite the potential advantages of imaging, it is not a solution to all problems. As we discuss in Section IV of this report, there are many instances when microfilming, even though it is an "old" technology, continues to be the best solution for document storage and access. The longevity of the data being stored, the frequency of access, the cost of updating imaging technology and maintaining content, and the amount of retrospective material are a few of the variables offices must evaluate.

Imaging offers several exceptional opportunities for improving efficiency and effectiveness of University operations, and the Committee recommends their exploration. The University can leverage its resources to support and promote the appropriate use of electronic imaging technologies by:

  1. Providing a vision of the use of this technology for the University community to embrace;
  2. Encouraging the cultural changes in attitudes toward information necessary to achieve the interoffice cooperation and coordination essential to effective use of imaging;
  3. Encouraging offices to investigate opportunities for imaging by developing partnerships with key imaging vendors, by exploring centralization of some common functions, and by ensuring appropriate sharing throughout the University through the definition of imaging standards.

I. Introduction

In the summer of 1994, Provost Brighton appointed a University-wide Imaging Committee to review current and near-future imaging technologies to determine how they could best be applied to meet University requirements. The goal of this review was to provide guidelines to offices considering imaging solutions. Over the course of the 1994-95 academic year, the Committee held numerous fact-finding meetings. Representatives from major imaging technology vendors held day-long sessions at University Park to discuss currently available technologies and offer suggestions on how they might address University problems. An external consultant spent a day with the Committee discussing imaging strategies and appropriate applications. Members of the Committee and representatives of their organizations visited businesses that use imaging technology extensively to see the technology in action and to learn from their experiences.

"Imaging" refers to the management of paper documents, records, forms, photos, and drawings by capturing, storing, indexing, retrieving, and distributing them electronically. Images are created by electronically photographing a document, photograph, color slide, or other material with a device that is usually called a scanner. Scanners record a digital image of the material that can be stored electronically rather than on paper or film.

In its earliest deliberations, the Committee decided that it would not consider leading edge applications in depth, since the University Libraries and the Office of Computer and Information Systems (C&IS) are already aggressively exploring these options. The Committee chose to focus on immediate and near-term applications of imaging technology that could improve productivity and reduce costs. The areas of imaging reviewed ranged from optical character recognition (OCRčcapturing data from documents for input into databases to eliminate data entry functions) to document imaging (storing and accessing digital images of documents instead of paper).

Imaging technology can be especially valuable to Penn State because we are a geographically distributed institution. Imaging can enable rapid and accurate access to information throughout the University, eliminating much of the duplicate information handling and administrative inefficiency currently resulting from our geographic distribution. Penn State has already made sizable investments in personal computers and networks that can be used as part of a University-wide imaging system, and we have pioneered the use of electronic forms and electronic approvals. Strategically, we are in a good position to leverage these past investments in the following areas:

The following report summarizes the findings of the Imaging Committee and its recommendations on how the University should approach the implementation of imaging technology.

II. Leadership and Guiding Principles

Repeatedly, in our meetings, we were told that the greatest benefits of imaging are realized when work processes are examined and reengineered as part of the imaging implementation. Repeatedly, we were exhorted against viewing imaging as an "add-on" solution. Clearly, a commitment to imaging will require a significant commitment to self-evaluation and change on the part of the University.

As this Committee brings forward its recommendations, we seek a commitment to leadership in the area of imaging technology. Investment in this technology is a logical direction for a multi-campus university such as Penn State, and we believe that Penn State is poised to redesign its business and support operations to enable dramatic improvements to many operational programs. The greatest challenge will be to bring forward a commitment to leadership and to instill a willingness to promote change.

The following guiding principles describe the attitudinal and behavioral changes that will be necessary for imaging to be an effective workplace tool. Not surprisingly, many of the following changes are also closely tied to Continuous Quality Improvement principles.

  1. Interoffice cooperation and coordination are essential. Many of the opportunities enabled by imaging technology come with the sharing of records between offices, thus interoffice cooperation and coordination are very important to the adoption of this technology.
  2. Records need to be shareable. Records need to be shareable to the extent that the imaged data can be retrieved and read at other pertinent work areas. This sharability, however, must be controlled by a system of security authorization that both ensures that those who need access to records can view them and that privacy is protected within the scope of relevant laws and regulations.
  3. Records need to be protectable.. That is, the information in the records must be maintained in a trusted authenticated format, acceptable for legal and accounting purposes. Quality control is vital to this concern: it must address such issues as accuracy checks on input, proper functioning of scanning devices and storage media, and the degree of information loss in compression and decompression algorithms. In addition, long-term archival accessibility of some imaged records must be considered as part of the design.
  4. Cultural changes in the way we run our business enterprise will need to occur. People will have to become less paper dependent. We will have to change our traditional parochial view of individual offices and more aggressively share information across units to benefit the University. The following are some of the key areas that must be considered in order to effectively apply imaging technology.

III. Implementation Issues and Strategies

In addition to these guiding principles, there are a number of specific implementation issues and strategies to consider. The following issues and strategies were considered critical factors for success by the successful imaging technology users the Committee met with.

IV. Determining the Fit Between Problems and Imaging Solutions

Despite the potential advantages imaging offers, it is not a panacea. When units are evaluating potential applications, care must be taken to ensure that imaging solutions are only recommended when they are appropriate. Users need to carefully review the purpose of an application before adopting imaging. In many instances, users need to capture data components from within a document, rather than simply "taking a picture" of it.

Even when the best solution is to "capture a picture" of a document, imaging is not always the best answer. Microfilming, although an old technology, may still provide the best solution in certain situations. Microfilm is ideal for storing copies of vital records when they are infrequently accessed or when access is needed at only the site where the microfilm is stored. Microfilm is also a good solution for preserving deteriorating paper materials because it lasts a long time with little or no maintenance, other than a proper storage environment. Imaging, on the other hand, is better suited to frequent access from multiple sites. Microfilm is not networkable, so access from multiple campuses or multiple offices requires duplicate sets of microfilm.

The following key considerations should be reviewed before selecting imaging over microfilming:

In many cases, a hybrid solution, utilizing the strengths of both image technology and microfilm, is the best solution. For example, technology is available to create both an image and microfilm simultaneously where short-term, rapid, and shared access is justified and long-term information retention is also required.

V. Initiating an Imaging Environment

Imaging offers tremendous opportunities for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of many individual units, programs, departments, and offices. There are also several areas of exceptional opportunity that span the breadth of the University that the Committee feels should be explored. Below are the Committee's recommendation on how the Administration should support and promote the appropriate use of imaging technologies at Penn State.

Recommendation 1. As a first step in moving the University forward in the use of imaging technology, the Committee recommends that the University openly encourage offices to explore potential imaging applications. Visible support and encouragement from the University administration are essential to encourage offices to move forward in Penn State's risk-averse environment. This encouragement should include central funding support for modest prototype demonstration projects. These small, prototype projects should be selected from discrete and well-contained applications, but at the same time should offer the opportunity for expansion if the projects prove successful. Offices should avoid attacking the largest problem they have, or one that could compromise the mission of the organization if it proved troublesome.

Recommendation 2. The University needs to explore the potential value of centralizing some imaging functions rather than distributing all functions to individual offices. Our meetings with successful implementers of imaging technology showed that some economies of scale could be realized by handling some imaging functions centrally. In fact, the Committee found that some applications (e.g., imaging and transmission of a significant proportion of traditional mail traffic) could only be achieved with a central infrastructure investment. The concept of "centralization" is a functional one, rather than a physical one, and does not necessarily imply the creation of a large central enterprise.

Recommendation 3. The University should encourage the sharing of imaging infrastructure investments across unit boundaries. Many offices may not have the resources to independently support investments in imaging.

Recommendation 4. Efforts need to be made to develop University-wide alliances with key imaging vendors. Our experience with other information technology projects has demonstrated that developing alliances with key vendors has resulted in advancing more quickly and more cost-effectively. To achieve this, it will be necessary to coordinate imaging alliance activities at a University-wide level. The Committee recommends that the focal point for coordinating with imaging vendors be the Office of Computer and Information Systems in conjunction with the Office of University Development.

Recommendation 5. The University needs to establish technical standards to ensure that imaged information can be easily shared throughout the institution. Adopting standards for University imaging systems will be a critical element of success.

Recommendation 6. To facilitate the recommendations listed above, the Committee recommends that the Provost empower the Committee to continue its work to:

  1. Serve as a continuing University resource for information on imaging systems and applications.
  2. Explore the benefits of centralizing some imaging services.
  3. Adopt and disseminate information on University imaging standards.
  4. Continue to explore new opportunities for imaging as technology advances.

Recommendation 7. The Committee recommends that the Provost disseminate the Committee's report throughout the University and use it for guidance in setting imaging policies and funding imaging applications.

VI. Conclusion

The Committee feels very strongly that, over the long term, the potential benefits to Penn State of investing in imaging technology are immense. The most immediate benefit of an aggressive program for the appropriate application of imaging technology would be a significant improvement in the University's productivity. This will require a serious and sustained effort by organizations to re-engineer their business processes, an effort that will require focused support from the University administration. We need to make the effort because, over the next several years, imaging technologies will be key to the University's success in areas ranging from learning technologies to digital libraries to global competitiveness.

Appendix I

Expanded Definition of Imaging

"Imaging" refers to the management of paper documents, records, forms, photos, and drawings by capturing, storing, indexing, retrieving, and distributing them electronically. Images are an exact, digitized replica of an original document. Images are superior to paper documents because they can be searched, transmitted, coherently linked together, and manipulated using information technology. In particular, images can be stored in one location and readily accessed by multiple users working at different locations.

To create an image, a document, photograph, color slide or other material is photographed electronically with a device that is usually called a scanner. Scanners resemble a standard photocopier or camera except that they produce an electronic or digital image of the material rather than a paper or film image. Scanners vary according to the material that they can scan, the speed at which they scan, and the quality of the resulting images.

In their simplest form, electronic images can be stored exactly as they were scanned. For many applications, scanning is all that is necessary. However, images can also be processed or enhanced to make them more readable. This is useful for archival work where the quality of the original paper images may have faded or be defective in some other way, making them difficult to read. Photos of historical value can be captured for digital use and can often be "enhanced," providing users with better copies than the deteriorating originals. Finally, images can also be compressed so that they consume less storage space on the final storage medium (e.g., computer disk). Currently, however, images cannot reliably be manipulated in the same way that normal text or numeric data can be manipulated by a computer (see 2. below).

To focus our study, the Committee divided imaging technologies into the three general categories below. Of these, Document Imaging is our primary concern.

  1. Academic and Advanced Imaging. This category comprises the use of imaging for instruction, restoration, and research. Experience gained in this area often can be used in document imaging.
  2. Optical Character Recognition. Using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, it is possible to "read" the contents of a document as it is being scanned and convert the content into a standard computer format so that it can be manipulated just as if it had been typed in manually. OCR works well with typewritten material or material that has been printed on a laser printer, but the majority of the documents most organizations need to image and capture data from are not of that quality. Handwritten text provides an even more significant challenge. At the current state of technology, the error rate is usually too high for effective application of OCR in most situations.
  3. Document Imaging. Document imaging, which substitutes for paper in storing and accessing information, offers many opportunities for improving access to information. A comprehensive, topical "file folder" can be created by grouping images in digital form together with other information such as computer text, spreadsheets, graphics, and even audio and video. This accurate and complete record can be easily and quickly accessed from anywhere on a network. For example, the backup documents for a travel payment could be stored in image form, along with the accounting record used to produce payments to travel agencies and the traveler, all in one location. The Controller's Office and the other administrative offices involved could efficiently access this information as needed without requiring it to be duplicated in each office and filed in multiple locations.