BitDepth 541 - September 12

Paperless society? No such thing. These companies are in the business of turning paper into digits...
Turning atoms into bits

High above racks of scanned and packaged documents, this Document Wizard employee zeroes in on an original. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Document management is one of those technology topics that make people's eyes glaze over fast. But turning storerooms full of paper into readily accessible information on the desktop is one of the key challenges facing business today and like most technology revolutions, it's drifting steadily down to smaller operations.
Being able to access legacy data is a value-added lever that even small businesses will find increasingly important and even in a digital age, far too much of that information is trapped on paper.

For Anna Maria Mora, a private psychologist who works with children, the challenge was filing cabinets full of records and documents generated over years of writing and research.
Mora turned to Document Wizard, a Laventille based company specialising in document management and conversion.
"I took some of those documents to them in boxes, and they gave it back to me on a CD. This is a fantastic idea," said Mora.

Two weeks later, Mora had a CD of files, digital pictures of each of the documents organised for ready access on her computer system.
Document Wizard began operations in 2003 as a subsidiary of Clico and cut its digital teeth managing massive datasets representing the organisation's records of hundreds of thousands of clients, each customer file containing dozens of separate documents and forms.

The company moves a lot of paper into digital formats every day and to run the dozens of computers at its offices, it employs an interesting group of young people, the majority of them women and many of them hired from the community in which Document Wizard operates.
"It's an excellent way to gain a fundamental understanding of computer technologies and workflow," says Document Wizard's Chief Operating Officer Claire Craigwell-Cateau.
Most young interns begin as an editor, organising files for scanners, but mastery of that first step is only a beginning. Several ambitious young employees have moved through the ranks and chosen document management as a career.

Document Wizard also provides an archiving service for clients, storing hundreds of boxes in a warehouse that looks forbiddingly like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
By contrast, Records One, a specialist document management company, operates with just three people and hosts none of its customer's documents. Led by Deo Maharaj, Records One is leveraged by the 15 years that Maharaj spent in the oil industry as a geologist and his understanding of the data intensive world of well data.

"Millions of dollars are spent in the energy industry to gather information," says Maharaj, "but that data hasn't always been managed well."
Much of that information, seismic sections, logs, and maps is on paper and that has traditionally drawn out the exploration workflow as the documents made their way slowly from one section to another.
"Most of our customers understand that they have a problem," says Maharaj, "they just aren't sure how to solve it."

Digitized documents can be used by several departments simultaneously, speeding up the decision-making process. Records One works on projects for Petrotrin, EOG and bpTT, with Maharaj managing the front end of the records management, Peter Shim handling the conversion from paper to images at an average rate of 500-700 documents per day and the third employee working on clerical and administrative functions.
Document management solutions for the desktop haven't been particularly successful. Visioneer is one company that's built its business model on the idea that people might want to turn paper documents into digital facsimiles. Hewlett-Packard offers consumer grade scanners that include stacking trays for scanning stacks of paper.

But these solutions haven't taken off like wildfire because it's a business in which volume makes value and there's no escaping the hard work and effort that individuals will have to invest to master what document management specialists do.

Digitized documents
There are two ways a document can be digitized; as a picture of the original or as live data that's been run through an optical recognition process.
For Document Wizard and much of the document handling business that involves optical character recognition (OCR) software which analyses the scanned document and turns it back into live text.

For Records One, it's vectorisation, as maps and charts are turned into live vector data. Deo Maharaj reports that there is essentially no demand for vectorisation of chart and map data in the energy sector.
Claire Craigwell-Cateau of Document Wizard notes that all of her major clients except for Clico request OCR services on their documents.
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