Managing paper in government
In the early 1980s, paperwork in most local government offices was done the old fashioned way — manually. While some organizations had personal computers, specific and effective application software was still in the embryonic stages. As a result, computers were not put to much use.
Today, however, cities and counties have access to powerful, affordable computers and software to handle every aspect of government business.
While these tools create more efficient operation, they also contribute to the increasing amount of paper that goes hand-in-hand with government jobs. Instead of the “paperless office” that was predicted, there is more paper than ever before. Enter electronic data management (EDM).
Electronic data management is exactly what it says; taking information that exists on paper and transferring it to a computer system where it is safely stored and easily accessible. Whether documents are text, figures, photographs or graphic images, once they are in the computer, they can be manipulated. This lowers costs, reduces data entry errors, eliminates lost files, reduces space requirements and minimizes paper flow.
EDM has penetrated virtually all U.S. industries, including city and county governments. The most common EDM tools are personal computers, small scanning devices, small- to medium-sized storage systems and laser output devices which represent about 80 percent of today’s electronic data management market.
The other 20 percent is made up of niche products, primarily in engineering and large-format document management markets. However, as EDM is adopted as a way of doing business, there is an increased need to find more widespread uses for the other 20 percent.
The challenge is to affordably convert pre-existing oversized or large-format documents. This can be done through several methods, including manual re-drawing, microfilming then conversion to electronic format or direct conversion to computer. Studies indicate that direct conversion is the most cost effective alternative, and, with advances in technology, it appears that scanning is the most logical approach to conversion.
Reports, surveys, studies and memos play an integral part in government and are challenging to store and maintain. And larger documents, from area maps to blueprints, present even more problems.
With a city map, for instance, changes in the city should be reflected on the map. However, that is rarely the case. Because manually adding or deleting streets, buildings, parks and residential areas is tedious and time-consuming, many maps are outdated.
But with large format scanning, changes and updates are easy. An existing map is scanned into the computer system, and computer-aided design (CAD) software makes changes on screen and plots the new map out for mass reproduction. New maps can be produced whenever necessary.
Price is a key consideration in choosing equipment for government offices. The good news is that there is an extensive range of large format scanners available with prices ranging from less than $10,000 to more than $200,000. The scanners provide both color and black-and-white capabilities and quality/performance that covers the spectrum.
The bottom line in making an evaluation and a choice is individual need. If documents to be scanned have low detail and accuracy, a less expensive, low-end unit is the best bet. On the other hand, if an organization’s documents have fine detail and accuracy and a high-quality final product is a must, then a high-end, more expensive scanner will be required.