IRS center pilots imaging system

The Internal Revenue Service is using new imaging software to instantly store and retrieve complex files that involve negotiations and settlements with taxpayers who are unable to pay their debts in full.

The new technology, being piloted at the IRS service center in Austin, Texas, is designed to reduce the volumes of paperwork typically generated at the center by digitizing the files using software developed by Eastman Software Inc. and Kofax Image Products.

The software runs on the Record and Image Processing System (RIPS), an existing IRS system that uses 12 scanners and six automated disk libraries to digitize documents.

Jim Kennedy, chief of information systems at the Austin service center, said about 1,000 documents from a program known as the "Offer in Compromise" have been digitized on RIPS. The Offer in Compromise is a service program the IRS provides to taxpayers who have problems paying their tax debt. The program allows taxpayers with moderate to severe debts to set up an installment payment plan.

"Early estimates indicate that the first phase of the implementation will do away with 55 linear feet of five-drawer lateral storage," Kennedy said. "The case workers can better respond to taxpayers. There's not a lot of pending action because the question or issue can be answered right away."

Jeff McCormick, customer support manager at Eastman Software, said the new software allows the IRS to take a backlog of case files, scan the documents into the RIPS system and produce a database to store the documents.

Essentially, the software allows RIPS to convert paper documents into electronic records, McCormick said. Each electronic document is indexed as part of the taxpayer's complete case, thus providing the IRS case managers with access to an entire taxpayer's file, McCormick said.

"Previously, it would have taken the IRS two to three weeks to make a request for a file," McCormick said. "Now that everything is online, the IRS can pull up a taxpayer's file in real time."

The Austin service center, which is designated as the Center of Excellence for Records Management, decided on the imaging software because, unlike many competing products, it is able to run on RIPS, which was developed by Eastman Software's parent company, Eastman Kodak Co., Kennedy said.

"We were able to implement [the new software] very quickly because we used our existing IT infrastructure and vendor products that could readily leverage that structure," he said.

In trying the new software, Kennedy wanted to explore how imaging technology could be used to reduce paper storage requirements. He also wanted to make more taxpayer correspondence available to IRS case managers so they can better serve customers.

Kennedy said if the pilot proves to be a success, there is a strong possibility that it could expand to the other service centers. "We built the system so it is easily migrated to other service centers," he said.

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