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Government Software Buyer Beware – Avoid Proprietary
It was during the 1980’s when document management software first impacted the day-to-day business of local government. The ability to convert paper and microfilm images into digital images and then access them on a computer was almost revolutionary. Maybe it was… Initially, document management software vendors created closed architecture applications that relied upon proprietary (non-standard) image file types. Today we would consider standard image file types (not including-Microsoft/Windows types) as, Group IV tif, PDF, JPEG, GIF and etc…
These early developers of document management products competed primarily against themselves for much of this government business. A vendor could produce a reliable product, distribute it heavily and charge just about whatever they wanted for annual support. Vendors locked government offices into long-term support contracts for what seemed like perpetuity.
However, many of these vendors could not or would not keep up with the rapid evolution of technology. The platforms they originally built upon and the development languages they used became obsolete. The document management world began to embrace more standard platforms and languages.
Government offices found themselves locked into early generation document management products that did not deliver as well as new technology. Support costs were high and performance, by comparison, was poor.
So here is where the really big problem came into view. As government offices were deciding to upgrade to new document management technology, they became aware that they could not use their legacy images. Why, because the legacy images were in proprietary formats. These images could only be viewed in the original, now obsolete, software. Converting the proprietary images to standard image formats could only be done by the original vendor, and you guessed it, vendors were charging outrageous fees for these services. The fees required to convert their legacy images many times made the move to new technology cost prohibitive. Eventually, all of these dinosaurs became extinct, right….
Wrong – Proprietary is back and in a big way. There are multiple vendors in the local government market today selling document conversion services bundled with proprietary software. Deals are disguised as exceptionally inexpensive conversion services bundled with the vendor’s proprietary document viewing software. We know that price is always the predominant factor in purchasing at the local government level. However, what has happened now, un-suspecting government offices find themselves in the same predicament as their predecessors 20 years ago. The upfront price to provide the document conversion services seems too good to be true – and it is. Just like in days past, when the government office needs to export their images out of this proprietary environment for other uses, the answer from their vendor is “NO, you cannot have your images”. These un-suspecting government customers are required to view their scanned images in the vendor’s software or not at all. To have use of the images in another document management system, you will need to pay to have the original documents scanned again.
How to avoid this trap?
Prior to signing any contract with a document conversion vendor, demand that you receive your images in a standard format that you can use in any system. This will deter most of the proprietary vagrants from trying to lock you and your department into an embarrassing mess.