Optical system reduces file preparation time

A combination of imaging software and an optical disk library reduced a tribunal's file preparation time by 57%.


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The implementation of an optical-storage-based imaging system helped the Commission des lésions professionnelles (CLP) of the Province of Quebec cut the time to prepare case files from 3.5 hours to 1.5 hours per case. The tribunal processes between 22,000 and 24,000 cases per year, each of which previously required manually copying and assembling a case file that averages 200 pages. In an effort to reduce this time and control storage and archival expenses, the tribunal installed an imaging system that stores the documentation for each case on optical disks that take only 5 to 30 seconds to access. The amount of labor required to create such files and the cost of leasing storage facilities have been dramatically reduced.

The CLP hears cases involving workplace health and safety, typically involving employment injuries, reductions in pay, closing of a place of employment, and disabilities.

Previous manual process

Each case requires the preparation of a case file prior to a hearing or arbitration. This procedure previously required locating the documents in file cabinets and was complicated by the fact that documents often disappeared. The documents needed to be organized and sent to clerks for copying, paginating, preparing a table of contents, and eliminating duplicates. The paperwork then had to be assembled and sent to the commissioner. The 14,000 cases in the filing cabinets several years ago took up a large amount of storage space that was expensive to maintain in the downtown Montreal area. Since that time, the case load has increased to 22,000 to 24,000 per year. The cost of microfilming each of these documents for archival purposes was also high.

Francis Lachance, director of technology for the CLP, recommended the implementation of an imaging system that would make it possible to electronically capture, store, distribute, annotate, and print documents that were previously available only in hard copy. "The advantage is that once the documents are in electronic format, they can be stored in a central repository for quick and easy access over a network or the Internet," Lachance says. "After considering a number of alternatives, we selected Unisys' e-Workflow and Imaging Cut product, which brings together imaging, workflow, document management, and computer output to laser disk [COLD] to provide an end-to-end solution."

The data-security requirements of this application rule out the use of magnetic media, which can be changed or damaged. This pointed to the use of optical disk storage, which provides a permanent storage method that eliminates the risk of documents being altered. Optical disks provide longer media life than magnetic disks and can be copied and stored off-site, providing further data-security advantages.

Unisys recommended a configuration that included six Windows NT 4.0 servers, each with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of hard disk configured at RAID level 1.

The recommended configuration also included two optical disk libraries with a total of 123 platters, each storing 12GB of documents. In addition, it featured 31 scanners, Unisys' InfoImage imaging software, and about 64 PC clients.

At the heart of the CLP's imaging system are two optical libraries based on 12-inch Write Once Read Many (WORM) technology.
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The performance of the optical storage was critical to the success of the e-Workflow and Imaging Cut system. The CLP needed a storage system that would provide fast retrieval times needed to achieve high levels of user productivity and deliver a secure archival method. Unisys recommended Plasmon's 12-inch Write Once Read Many (WORM) optical drives because they provide the data permanence and high performance required by this application. Each optical library includes four dual-head drives, providing a total of 48GB under the heads and minimizing retrieval and swap time.

"Once we made the decision to go with optical storage, we needed to find a system that provided the necessary access time, transfer rates, storage capacity, and reliability to meet the needs of the application," says Luc Lapointe, an analyst with the CLP. "We selected the Plasmon 1800 series optical libraries with 6000 series 12-inch, 12GB optical drives that were recommended by Unisys. The libraries provide 100ms average access time, and 10MBps burst and 2.9MBps sustained read transfer rates." More recently, Plasmon has introduced a 30GB optical drive that is backward-compatible with the 12GB disks.

The combination of the Unisys e-Workflow and Imaging Cut system and optical library has dramatically improved the process of producing and archiving case files. "We've reduced the time required to prepare a case file to only about 90 minutes," says Lachance. "The amount of storage space required by the organization has been reduced by approximately 80%, saving about $200,000 per year in floor space alone. The problem of lost case files has been eliminated. In addition, virtually no time is now required for maintaining files. For example, there's no longer any need to perform the file-maintenance sessions that previously required overtime shifts twice a year."

Fast user response time

"User response time has been very good," Lachance reports. "When the document is on a platter that is in a drive, it takes between 5 and 10 seconds to get it on the screen. When the jukebox has to retrieve the optical disk, it takes 15 to 30 seconds. Our jukeboxes are equipped with four drives, so if one requires maintenance, the application can easily run with only three drives."

The ability of the imaging system and optical disk storage to deliver documents on demand in a matter of seconds has dramatically increased productivity at the CLP. Time that was spent filing and retrieving paper documents is now devoted to providing better client service. In addition, security for legal documents has been improved. "The bottom line is that we have reduced our costs and improved the service we provide to our constituents," Lachance says.

Jerry Fireman is president and founder of Structured Information in Birmingham, MI, which provides freelance-writing services.

This article was originally published on January 01, 2001