Imaging and workflow vendor Optika Imaging Systems is a strong proponent of computer output to laser disk (COLD) information storage technology, as opposed to the older computer output to microfiche (COM). While he was in Singapore recently, Optika CEO and president Mark Ruport shared his insights on the imaging market with IDG Singapore's Leong Yin LengIDG: What's the state of the imaging market?
Ruport: Imaging as a technology has been around for 15 years, and imaging as a technology in the commercial marketplace has always had a lot of potential - we've always known it would be nice to get rid of all the paper within a business process.
But imaging used to be very expensive, very proprietary, and used to require large mainframes or Unix servers and workstations in order to implement a system.
Now, however, the technology is at a price point where it makes economic sense to address it. And the reason for people buying the technology now is that for paper-intensive industries such as financial services, insurance, health care and transportation, the paper problem is becoming so big that is has to be addressed.
IDG: Why has imaging become cheaper?
Ruport: Two reasons. The first is that the computing infrastructure that you run imaging out of is much less than it was a couple of years ago. A couple of years ago if you were to put in a production imaging system, you would probably have to buy a Unix server or put Unix workstations on your desktop. You would buy a fairly expensive proprietary optical jukebox. You probably wouldn't have a network in place that was strong enough and with enough bandwidth, so you had to put in a dedicated network.
Today, you can put up a production imaging system on your standard Windows desktop with 16Mb of memory. The network infrastructure also is much stronger in companies than it was a couple of years ago because of things like e-mail and Lotus Notes, so your infrastructure's in place.
And instead of buying expensive proprietary jukeboxes, you can put a CD tower on a network, put an NT server in, and be up-and-running.
The second reason is that companies like Optika are delivering this technology at a much lower price point, and making it much simpler to implement.
For example, all of Optika software, our clients, our servers, our APIs, our documentation, comes on a single CD with a single push-button install.
So you can bring up a production imaging system in a corporation with 100 clients and a couple of servers in a matter of hours. In the past, that would take weeks and months to be able to bring up a system like that.
IDG: How do you see the market in Asia?
Ruport: One of the differences here in Asia is that the opportunities are larger than they are in Europe and Latin America. One of the things that imaging and workflow in COLD does is it allows companies to compete more effectively by cutting costs, by providing a higher level of customer service. The companies throughout Asia are very large, so their need to be competitive is very high. I also think the management here is more aggressive in applying this technology. Once the decision to use the technology is made, customers here make a full-blown commitment to implementing the technology and applying the resources, and they get pretty fast returns.
IDG: How does COLD cut costs?
Ruport: A couple of ways. Let's say a large company is implementing an accounts payable application. So you have maybe 150 people processing all the invoices that come into the com-pany. As the company grows, it has to keep hiring more people to process its invoices.
With an imaging system, you can usually reduce the number of people, or keep the number of people flat and increase their productivity, so you can process more invoices with less people. You can get rid of all the storage space of past invoices. In a multibillion dollar company, just think of all the invoices that you get on a daily basis. It's a tremendous burden to store all that information. You're also able to catch errors more easily. For example, if an invoice comes in, and it's imaged and put in the workflow, the workflow can send anything greater than, let's say, $US10,000, to an auditor, who'll make sure that the invoice is correct.
IDG: What is the biggest problem customersface today in terms of imaging?
Ruport: Optika works with paper-intensive industries. The biggest problem these industries face today is the volume of information, their ability to handle the information cost effectively, and their ability to respond to customer enquiries with a high degree of customer satisfaction.
If they can't retrieve the information that's coming in, and they can't retrieve it at the point where it's needed to answer a customer's question, the customer is not satisfied and begins to look for alternative solutions.
IDG: What are the advantages of COLD as
compared to COM technology?
Ruport: Firstly, on a single ISO 9660 standard CD, you can store about a million pages of COLD information. With COM you will need multiple pieces of microfiche.
The second advantage is that when you take the computer output and write it to optical disk, what you're doing is building an index with a whole bunch of searchable keys. That makes information retrieval much easier.
Contrast that to COM, where you have to retrieve the microfiche, put it into the reader, and then look for what you want.
Thirdly, when you retrieve that information, it's hyperlinked to other information. So, let's say that you've found an invoice, but there is a line item here for a certain article that's in question, and you want to be able to look at the shipping record - you can hit a button and it can hyperlink to that shipping record.
You can't do that with microfiche. The net result is that COLD is much less expensive than microfilm or microfiche, it's much more usable, and because it's online, you can have hundreds of people across your organisation all have access to the information at the same time.
IDG: So are a lot of COM customers goingto COLD?
Ruport: Yes. I don't think there will be any major companies moving to COM after 1998. They're all going to be moving away. COM as a new technology will be dead within a couple of years. The COLD market is growing at around 65 per cent compounded annually. I would bet that the COM market is growing in single digits.
IDG: Is it easy for a customer to migratefrom COM to COLD?
Ruport: There is no such thing as migration from COM to COLD. COLD is replacement technology for COM. What customers will do is they will not try to go back and take all their old information and convert it.
They will take a point in time, and take all the reports that are coming off the mainframe or server and move them to COLD. So for a while, they're going to have both COM and COLD systems, and then after a while, the COM will disappear and then their information will all be in COLD.
IDG: How about the
information in COM?
Do you have to convert that?
Ruport: Usually not. Because these are tens of millions of pages, it's just not cost effective to try to convert that all to COLD. And since companies already have all these old readers, they'll always have a way of looking up their old information on COM.
IDG: Is it expensive for new customers
going from paper-based information to
Ruport: It's not expensive. COLD is probably one of the most cost-effective technologies somebody can implement. And because companies already have the reports coming off their mainframe, their accounting or manufacturing systems, all they have to do is catch the print stream coming out of those reports, index it and put it on a CD. It's very quick.
The only thing that customers have to do in order to take advantage of COLD is define the reports, and then define the information on the reports they want to be able to search. So, if it's an accounts payable they might want to search the customer name, customer number and the invoice number.
And once you define the reports, then you define your hyperlinks.
For example, if you're doing accounts payable, you might want to hyperlink to the shipping database.
Once you do that definition, then everything happens automatically. You set up the procedure so every night instead of printing, it goes to COLD, burns the CD, and then you distribute the CD.
IDG: How does the Internet impact imagingtechnology?
Ruport: We believe that the Internet is going to become more and more important to all our customers, especially when they're looking to provide information access. One of the problems with imaging is that to be able to access it you need a lot of hardware and dedicated software, and it becomes very expensive.
Well, the Internet changes all that. The Internet extends the value of the imaging repository out to people throughout the enterprise, to the customer and supplier base. For example, we're developing a system for a customer that will allow its suppliers to come in over the Internet and look at their own information.
Health care is also a great application for the Internet.
For example, if you're a patient brought into the emergency room of a hospital where you haven't been a patient before, and they need immediate access to your medical record, they can use an intranet or the Internet and have access to your medical record given certain security measures. Even individuals should be able to come in over the Internet and look at his or her own medical record.
IDG: Which are your biggest markets in
Ruport: Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. In 1995, international revenues represented 12 per cent of the company's total revenues. Last year it represented 26 per cent. So we doubled the amount of revenue coming internationally.
Asia is the largest single market outside the United States for us. So it's about 10 to 15 per cent of our total revenue.
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