Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 3-Section 3

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with concepts before major commitments need to be made. The less complex, more compact, software with proficient readers that can easily be attached to text files offer practical publishing opportunities not feasible with the big guns in the business.

 

When going paperless, an organization must decide what to do with the inevitable continuing flood of hardcopy documentation on paper that you both receive and generate. It is not too difficult to ensure that what you create or receive electronically goes into your current and archival digital filing system, but incoming hardcopies also need to be scanned into digitized form.

Most document management systems use some form of scanning. This can range from scanning and filing every arriving document worth keeping to selectively scanning the most relevant information and maintaining cross-linked digital and hardcopy filing systems. The documents can be scanned to create graphic files that are facsimiles of the originals, or converted as they are scanned by optical character recognition (OCR) software to transform the words and numbers on paper into a format that the computer can understand.

Conversion makes it far easier to search for and find data, but no OCR programs are 100 percent reliable, so you can never be absolutely certain that OCR converted data is completely accurate. That might not always be important in the case of text, where the occasional literal mistake can be compensated for, but it could be vital when dealing with numbers, specifications, formulae, and other critical data, or when the originals are not ideal candidates for OCR because of the typefaces, formatting, color of the paper, or other practical limitations.

To cope with this, some organizations have dual systems, with documents scanned and converted for ease of reference, and the original paper sources also scanned graphically into bitmap images to provide a backup check for accuracy when required. Such a hybrid system can cope better with graphical material, such as charts, tables,

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and diagrams. You can search through the digitized text quickly for the information that you need, then call up the bitmap graphical image of the original, complete with text and any graphics that it contained. With some software, both versions can be displayed side-by-side on the screen.

 

You might already have what you need

Even a small organization might already have familiar software in place that could form the basis for a painless move into electronic publishing on disk or over networks. Such software won't take you all the way and give you all the benefits, but as an easy interim phase, there is the potential to save a lot of time, money, and paper.

For example, integrated software packages have become far more sophisticated in recent years. One of these might be all you ever need to create sophisticated documents, complete with illustrations and search facilities. Microsoft Works (for DOS or Windows) and similar collections of word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and communications programs usually require quite modest system resources, so they work well on older hardware and particularly on portables, some of which even have these programs permanently installed in their ROM chips. Ease of use is also a prime feature of integrated software, so the learning curve is short and easy.

In a corporate environment in which such an integrated program is universally available, there might be no need to introduce new hardware or software, or provide additional training. Such an approach, in the appropriate circumstances, can prove to be a very painless first step to paperless publishing, with the prospect of significant cost savings. Management might, for example, request that monthly reports be distributed on floppies or over the network as Works files.

The later generations of full-featured word processing programs, such as WordPerfect, Ami Pro, and Microsoft Word also integrate

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advanced drawing and other functions, so one of them might be the appropriate medium to adopt if the application is available to all your target readers.

 

The workgroup concept

Borland, famous for applications such as dBASE, Paradox, and Quattro Pro, has been developing an interesting internal publishing concept called Workgroup Desktop. As explained by chairman Philippe Kahn, it builds into applications the ability to function as part of a working group, thereby incorporating a publishing capability as a natural extension of the program.

The enabling technology is called OBEX, and it either comes with recent versions of Borland programs, or you can buy a Workgroup Enabling Kit to add what are called "publish and subscribe" facilities. In this sense, publishing involves supplying a data object--a file, document, or other piece of information--to the subscribers, who are other members of the workgroup. The subscribers can use a published data object wherever they are, either with the same application or in another application.

A key element of the concept is that the publishers can retain considerable control over who has access to their information. Many organizations find it easy to install OBEX because it can be used on any standard LAN, WAN, or e-mail system. By using it, you might be able to leverage an efficient paperless publishing system out of your existing familiar applications, without going through the trauma of having to move your information into a specialized document managing or publishing system.

Borland is one of a growing number of software publishers with active user group programs, so you might well be able to find people with similar needs and problems. It is always worth checking with manufacturers and on-line services for user groups or other special-interest groups when evaluating what systems to adopt. There is nothing to beat impartial, hands-on experience, and people in these groups are usually very generous in sharing what they have learned--including the mistakes they have made.

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The degree to which you have to index and create reference facilities for your paperless system depends on the kind of data in it, how you use that data, and the software and hardware systems in place. Some applications might require more work, at least initially, than maintaining traditional paper records.

 

Advantages of automatic hypertext

Hypertext, which involves creating links between related items of information, is a basic requirement, but programs vary enormously in how they forge these links. Some are very smart at doing it automatically according to various parameters, while others leave the author with the often very demanding task of deciding what section of texts should be linked, or if a graphic should be linked to other references.

It can take a lot of effort with some software to embed these live cross-references into text. After you have finished this daunting task, your document might have lost one of the main advantages of electronic publishing: its flexibility. The hypertext structure that you have created might make it more difficult to update or revise the document.

If, for example, you make changes to information that forms part of a chain of hypertext cross-references, you might have a snowball effect of new problems that need resolving. This can be a particular difficulty with those programs that, even if they do provide efficient hypertext links, try to imitate the formatting of hard copy documents.

SmarText from Lotus is a leading example of software that can reestablish hypertext links after changes have been made to text, a major requirement for electronic publications that will be revised frequently. SmarText achieves this by being independent of the hypertext framework embedded by the author in the source file. Unless you want tight control and are prepared to devote the time

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required to do the job manually, look for automatic hypertext facilities in your authoring software.

 

Indexing can be automatic

Automatic indexing is a valuable feature also, but again, all authoring programs that do this job do not perform equally. There are many trade-offs. Some of the most sophisticated create powerful indices, but greatly increase the size of your publications--even doubling the file size.

A full-word index might also take up a lot of room and be slow to execute, particularly on an inherently slow medium like CDs or tape. Binary-tree structure indices can be very sophisticated in the way that they track through alphabetical relationships to pinpoint the word you see, but work far more slowly on many systems than the more primitive word-list type of index.

Also, as the software engineer tries to make an indexing capability smarter, there is the risk of introducing errors as well as slowing down the process. It is impossible to give generalized recommendations, because indexing and hypertext software programs keep leapfrogging each other in proficiency in this highly competitive market. It is a "horses for courses" situation; a program that performs well when the electronic publication is read from a fast hard drive might be an absolute dog when used to access a large database on a CD-ROM, or when running on a system with a comparatively slow CPU.

Good news for indexing professionals is that even an electronic publication offering full-text searching by word or phrase, or one with great hypertext links or keyword search parameters, probably still needs conceptual indexing. Even after centuries of print, the creative role of the indexer is still not properly understood, so we are still a long way from fully exploiting this skill in electronic publishing. Professional indexers might charge $40 an hour--or more--and take hundreds of hours to index a large book, so it is a task that can have significant timing and cost implications.

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Software indexing programs can result in substantial savings, but at some stage with either hardcopy or electronic texts, skilled and sensitive human judgment must be applied to ensure that the index works from the viewpoint of the reader. Authors tend to want to put too much into an index and are so close to their subject that they might not be sensitive to how a typical reader will search. Very long indices are less of a problem with electronic than with printed texts, but authors should still seek a second opinion on whether their indexes really help to guide readers to the right places quickly. If you are self-publishing for the first time, or if indexing has always been left to your print publisher, you might find the American Society of Indexers', A Guide to Indexing Software, a good $15 investment. Helpful information is available from

American Society of Indexers
1700 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20000

 

Full-word indexing

Once you get beyond the paper culture, you start to realize the flexibility in indexing and other search capabilities that are possible with electronic documents. Folio VIEWS, ZyIndex, Lotus Notes, and askSam are examples of full-text databases that do not require structures to be imposed on the data they contain. Every word is indexed, and the delays this could cause during search procedures are reduced by their efficiency, and, in some cases, data compression.

An important advantage of this kind of approach is that the information in the database tends to be far more dynamic. For example, a Folio "infobase" can develop as the changing information and the preferences of users mold it. With Acrobat, Replica, or Common Ground, or with the networked document managers, more rules need to be established up front.

Pick your software to fit the needs and style of the searching that will be conducted by your readers. A program with inherent flexibility is likely to be more forgiving if you don't identify all the needs and problems correctly up front. Look for features that make the system

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easy to customize, by, for example, varying the degree to which various users are allowed to access or modify data.

 

The ability to search adds value

Once you add efficient searching to your organization's information resources, you might find that you have created a really tangible asset that now merits publishing more widely, either internally or externally. Folio VIEWS is an example of software that enables you to exploit such opportunities. It has some neat features for building a publication on disk to publish to people within an organization or externally to a wider audience. The Publish software necessary to view the document can be distributed with your publication for no extra cost, but there is a sliding scale of royalty fees if the publication is sold commercially.

VIEWS has various controls that the "owner" of a document (the originating author or publisher in control of the information) can impose on an end-user. There is considerable flexibility, going well beyond the file-control type of security. As well as regulating access to information, the owner can impose various restrictions on what the end-user can do with that information once able to read the file.

Over 100 publishers have put more than a thousand titles onto floppies and CD-ROMs using Folio VIEWS, so it is well up there among the leaders trying to establish an electronic publishing standard. In 1994, it was adding greater cross-platform capability, so information can readily be shared throughout the DOS, Windows, Macintosh, and Unix operating environments, making it suitable for mass-market publishing if you can strike a viable royalty deal with Folio to incorporate reading and search software that meets your needs.

Its flexibility and freeform structure make Folio VIEWS particularly appealing for both book and periodical publishers who have amassed a large backlist that can be tapped for additional revenues by releasing in electronic format. The weekly newspaper for lawyers, Lawyers Weekly, did this with excellent results.

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Lawyers Weekly targets itself toward the small- and medium-sized legal practices, most of which do not have comprehensive or sophisticated research library facilities. Editorial staff were getting swamped with inquiries from readers seeking to know where in the back issues they could find reports of legal opinions and other useful information. Those inquiries added up to nearly 8,000 hours annually of expensive staff time, providing a prime motivation to put the back issues onto disk.

Within a year, five percent of the reader base was subscribing to Lawyers Weekly on Disk, which is updated quarterly on floppies and is generating significant revenue from both subscribers and advertisers. A clever touch is the way that editorial references are linked by hypertext to advertised products. This virtually eliminates the production problems that conventional print publications face in meeting advertiser demands for positioning.

An electronic advertisement can be as dynamic and mobile as editorial text, providing, of course, that the two can continue to be identified for what they are, and the linking does not become intrusive and arouse adverse reader reaction. This mobility and power have been used effectively in this case by advertisers with information services for attorneys. Just a click by the reader's mouse button can launch an animated demonstration of an on-line database or a CD-ROM title.

 

An existing e-mail internal network is often the starting point for launching an internal electronic publishing system because much of the corporate paper is already in computerized format. The next step in most cases is to computerize form-filling, and there is now a wide selection of excellent software to create electronic forms. The most appropriate one for your particular situation should blend well with your existing e-mail and database systems as the organization moves increasingly to paperless documentation.

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If you want to start with a specific, largely self-contained activity, employee handbooks and technical manuals are obvious candidates. Computerize your employee handbook, and you might turn a nightmare into a powerful internal communications tool!

 

Electronic employee handbooks overcome many problems

One of the biggest pay-offs in business electronic publishing can be computerizing the documentation used to inform employees of their obligations and benefits. It is a job that tends to get put off, takes too long to complete, and is a persistent nightmare to keep updating. Putting this single most important internal document of any company, large or small, into electronic form can be very rewarding. The ease with which it can be updated also protects management in meeting its various legal needs to inform employees.

 

Smart manuals accommodate different skills levels

The varying skills levels within an organization have long bedeviled the authors of technical manuals striving to give comprehensive information to the inexperienced, without burdening more highly skilled staff with unnecessary details of familiar procedures and principles. Electronic publishing can overcome this human resources problem in several intriguing ways, particularly by giving end-users the ability to customize a manual to fit their needs and knowledge.

That customizing process can even become largely automatic, as illustrated in the combination of computer repair manuals turned into on-line electronic documents using FrameMaker. This authoring program was made to work together with a small data management application. The controlling management program monitors each technician's use of the electronic manuals and learns to customize its responses to individual requests. The responses given are those most appropriate to the knowledge level of each technician.

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In adding such values, electronic publishing within the business environment goes much further than just saving money compared to paper. When your information goes electronic, it becomes more dynamic, and then it is possible to make it really work for you.

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