Assessing Electronic Image Technology; Will Electronic Imaging Fulfill the Dream of a Paperless Society?

By Sten, Mark | Computers in Libraries, October 1990 | Go to article overview

Assessing Electronic Image Technology; Will Electronic Imaging Fulfill the Dream of a Paperless Society?


Sten, Mark, Computers in Libraries


Assesing Electronic Image Technology

Electronic imaging is the ability to capture, sote, retrieve, display, process, distribute, and manage documents not already in digital form on a computer. It requires an optical scanner, an optical drive reader, a WORM (write once, read many) laser disc, a computer, and a monitor.

Electronic imaging came into being as a result of breakthroughs in technology associated with the invention of the laser optical disc by Phillips in 1969. During this early period there were many false starts, but companies like IBM, Plessey, and Kodak continued to participate because they saw the opportunity for more compact storage of information than magnetic tape and microfilm offered.

There were related developments in the computer field as well. For example, videodisc, an entertainment spin-off, helped make the first optical storage for computers practical. However, it wasn't until the Japanese solved the problem of optical storage systems based on bit-mapped images that present day WORM technology came into use.

Why is Imaging Important?

Information technology was supposed to eliminate paper. The paperless office, the compter library, the checkless society, and the old automated office fantasy of spotless desks have all fallen by the wayside. In fact, despite the billions we are currently spending on information systems, informatin technology barely scratches the surface of the total information flow of the organization (Figure 1). In most cases the preferred tools are still pencils, word processors, telephones, fax machines, copiers, and file folders. According to the Association for information and Image Management, paper still accounts for 95 percent of the total information flow in an organization.

Since electronic imaging came into being, there have been relatively few systems sold. According to the Wall Street Journal (April 27, 1990), as of April 1990 there wer only 500 installations in the United States, mostly in

major corporations. If these systems can save filing space, improve customer service, reduce the amount of paper by 50 percent, reduce the number of staff, increase productivity by 25 to 50 percent and give businesses a competitive edge, why haven't more systems been sold? And why are people still predicting that this technology will be a $7-12 billion business by 1993?

There are no simple answers to these questios. Like most new technologies, the level of diffusion into general practice and even consumer households is linked to many factors, some of which depend on luck or chance. This article highlights the more critical areas that must be overcome for image technology to achieve better acceptance.

Problem with Imaging

According to a technological determinist perspective, electronic imaging contains certain characteristics that will bring it to the marketplace and elicit audience acceptance. These characteristics imply substitutes for the current way that people do things, but the more change requred, the harder it is for a technology to succeed as planned. John Carey, professor at the Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia, argues that there are four reasons why people change the way they do something:

* The technology has a clear compitivie advantage.

* There is a very strong need.

* People experience a high degree of pain with the current method of doing something.

*There is coercion to require change.

The problems associated with the acceptance of electronic imaging are similar to those of any technology imposing change. However, in its current state of diffusion, imaging has additional obstacles that must be overcome in order for it to succeed. These issues are technological and design issues, a high degree of market uncertainty, lack of knowledge, high costs, and most importantly, the human issues of moving jaay from a paper-based system. …

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