Kodak aims for total recall

Roger Trapp reports on plans to house all forms of commercial data

In recent years businesses have made tremendous investments in the development of systems for storing and managing data. But last week Kodak, the photographic company, announced an initiative that it hopes will have huge repercussions.

The reason is that the vast majority of the expenditure in this area so far has been on what is called "structured data". This is information held in the various fields of a database and will generally be the pieces of information an organisation regards as essential for carrying out its business. For a mortgage lender it might include details of a mortgage seeker's application and for a marketer it might be information on certain customers.

However, research suggests that this typically amounts to only about 10 per cent of the total information available to an organisation. The "unstructured data", which is generally not stored in the most secure fashion, includes such material as letters, reports and the like created on computer and held as computer files, and typed or handwritten forms received by the organisation and stored in a variety of forms, perhaps as photographs and audio recordings.

What Kodak announced at the Information Management Congress in Paris is a system designed to store in a secure, electronic yet easily accessible manner, all this material that hitherto has not been deemed important enough to include in "data warehouses".

The "document warehouse" offers organisations the opportunity to retrieve desired documents, whether in the form of microfilm, CD, hard disk, optical disk or any other medium, and convert them into a standard form so that they can be accessed over the computer networks with the minimum of effort and worry.

Bjorn Stenslie, business manager with Kodak's Business Imaging Systems, believes that this is an important departure because it provides detail. For example, it may enable a credit department to make decisions in certain cases when it could benefit from being able to browse through a range of sources.

To ease the collection of this material, Kodak, which has extensive experience of document scanning and storage, says its equipment, developed in association with Wang, the computer company, transfers digital images to microfilm. Consequently, an organisation can scan documents on to hard disks for the period in which they need constant access to them and then put them on to less expensive microfilm for low-cost and long-term archiving.

The use of an analogue medium, such as microfilm, is important because Kodak, which is extending its photographic expertise into copying and related areas, is confident that it is less likely to become obsolescent than digital systems, which fall away as computer systems develop.

Organisations that decided some years ago to scan all their documents on to a digital format that has since been superseded are now telling the company that they regret not having chosen the film approach, it says.

Document warehousing, like data warehousing, is a service that is likely to be adopted by organisations for whom access to a wide range of key documents is central. But Kodak is optimistic that the business case is strong enough to encourage other firms to sign up.

In an effort to make the gains even greater, Kodak, in association with Wang, is planning to introduce a number of services specific to individual industries. Insurance claims, credit card and government form processing are among the first applications.

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