The First Information Management System

Authored by Paul Gorman, Account Executive, ImageSoft 

While preparing a demonstration for a prospective client, I was researching the history of paper.  Dealing with paper and the effects it has on our ability to share information in modern business environments, such as in my experiences with government and especially Departments of Transportation, has consumed my career for the past 15 years.  The inability to convey or manage complex business information without reams of the stuff has perplexed some of the best IT minds of my generation. 

When I first left undergraduate school, paper was ubiquitous. We thought, “of course business data consumed paper,” and that it was just the natural order of things.  I would print monthly reports that would be used for only that month and then casually discarded.  It was only in the 1990s, as society began leveraging the Internet to automate transactions, that paper became a problem. 

Paper had been THE tool of businesses for generations.  We had database systems and spreadsheets, but only to print data and reports – no one considered using them in lieu of paper. Looking back, paper was our only information management system. 

Paper was invented in 202 BCE by Cai Lun (that’s him on the right) who can be forgiven for creating the problems we deal with today. After all, no creator of an information management system expects that the system will be used for the next 2,000 years without an upgrade.  Seriously, we have to acknowledge that paper is the most successful information technology platform ever created – Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are not even close. 

As I had mentioned, I worked for a number of DOTs over the years. During my time with each one, the conversation would come up that “we could quit using paper any time we wanted.” And every time, we fooled ourselves – it simply was not true.  Early technology attempts to replace paper failed.  Some, microfiche and microfilm, were used as a substitute for archival implementations of paper.  These attempts, however, are creating new problems as the media is no longer supported and some types are degenerating as time passes.  Some, like relational database systems, tried to replace the informational storage, but became silos with partial information and, again, created another information problem.  And then shared directory structures were used, but only until we could no longer remember what file name had what documents/data.  Many document management solutions often disappeared, failed or were never updated.  Histories of some companies are going to show paperless initiatives every 5 – 7 years as technology platforms either failed to deliver or ceased to exist.  Having to buy and implement a new paperless technology every seven years is a drain on IT resources and frustrates staff and the corporation. After each failure, staff had to go back to using paper, unless they were surreptitiously using it right along. 

I started working with OnBase early in the 2000s and wow – what a revelation! This is a paperless product that was created in 1992 and continues to develop and be used today.  With a continuous upgrade path back to the earliest releases, OnBase is perhaps the only technology product that a company could have purchased in the ‘90s and still be supported on today’s latest release. To date, the software replicates and replaces every useful paper-based activity.  

File folders? Check. Sticky notes? Check. Paperclips? Check. Staplers? Check. Signatures? Check. 

Check Lists? um…check! 

Once paper had been digitalized, OnBase took it a step further and replaced inter-office envelopes with workflow processes. This latest release of OnBase may have finally ended the 2,000+ years run for Cai Lun but, honestly, he has nothing to complain about.  No one else has ever invented a technology platform that, without significant upgrade, has been successful in its first release.   

Paper version 1.0 is now officially a legacy system. 

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