IRS takes on old-style paperwork

The Internal Revenue Service, which created electronic versions of its most popular tax forms several years ago, has signed a licensing deal for software to scan reams of paper documents into its computer databases in another move to comply with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998.

The deal, signed in late October, is a volume license agreement for OmniPage Pro 11 for use in federal tax offices around the country. The software will be used to convert millions of documents in the agency's vast paper trove into digital files that can be edited and stored.

ScanSoft Inc.'s OmniForm has played an important role in the agency's efforts to streamline internal business operations by creating electronic versions of paper forms, according to the IRS. And now OmniPage will make it possible to convert other kinds of documents and edit them as needed.

"For the first time ever, the IRS has a way to track and manage revisions and updates to forms, ensuring [that] all em.ployees are using the latest revision, while reducing printing, distribution and storage costs," said an IRS official in charge of the conversion.

Scanning documents can translate into big savings. On average, it takes 35 minutes to create a one-page document the old-fashioned way — typing it, formatting it, etc. — but only 4.5 minutes to scan it. The cost of labor is $9.81 for manual conversion vs. 75 cents for scanning, company officials said. The software can also convert Corel Corp. WordPerfect or Microsoft Corp. Word documents.

The electronic forms — available in PDF format — reside in a core repository on the IRS intranet for easy search, retrieval and e-mail distribution.

"There might be a law or policy printed on paper. Now it has changed, and the IRS wants to update it electronically," said Wayne Crandall, ScanSoft's senior vice president of sales and marketing. "In the past, they had to retype the document. Now they can call up the electronic page and edit it."

The U.S. Government Printing Office has been using OmniPage Pro since 1994 to convert thousands of old print documents into electronic format for re.printing. Among its features, OmniPage software automatically straightens all incoming images since even a 1- or 2-degree skew can affect its accuracy. It can also handle documents in 100 languages and automatically identify and check suspect words.

Although Crandall would not put a price tag on the IRS contract, OmniForm Premium 5.0 is an off-the-shelf product that the customer can install for $699. It also gets good marks from the Treasury Department, which has other ScanSoft contracts.

"It provides a better workflow and makes it easier to convert paper forms to PDF files on the Web," said William Sedesky, a technical training specialist at Treasury who is in charge of information technology services for printing and graphics.


Cutting conversion time

Total time and cost in labor to convert 500 one-page documents from paper to digital format:


Manual conversion — 292 hrs.

OmniPage Pro — 37.5 hrs.


Manual conversion — $4,905

OmniPage Pro — $375


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