March 25th, 2008

Me 2012

Some Things Never Change

My bank recently started using a software product called "ImageNow".

Technically, the bank's been using it since before the merger in 2001. But until last year, no one at the bank had any training on it and it hadn't been set up by anyone who understood what it could do. So it was being used, but very, very badly.

ImageNow is marketed as a virtual file storage system. You scan your documents in, and then ImageNow can organize them to mimick your existing physical filing system. In theory, you can throw out your physical files and just use ImageNow for everything.

Except it's actually better than that. ImageNow doesn't just store image files; it can store and display just about any document type. It has 5 customizable property fields, plus fields for "Drawer" and "Document Type", which are mainly useful for security purposes. It basically gives you a little database of information attached to every document you put into it. One of its big selling points is that it's very easy to set it up so it "talks" to whatever database system you're already using, and it can pull the data from that program and attach it to the document you're putting into it, so you don't have to do data entry for every file.

One of my first thoughts, after training on this software, was "I want to scan my desk and put it into ImageNow". I hate digging through piles of paper looking for one piece. I want my computer to find it for me. We didn't buy ImageNow to let people organize their desks: we bought it to store the documents associated with customer accounts. But there's no reason it can't store the paper at my desk, too.

So I persuaded my boss to let me set up my own drawer, and I've been dumping this and that into it.

And the thing that struck me, as I was dumping files from my desktop into it, is that ImageNow isn't letting me do anything I couldn't have done two years ago when we replaced the department copier with a copier/scanner. I could have scanned everything then and saved it into directories and files on my computer.

Except for one thing: the directory tree architecture sucks for organizing things. Here we are, in the 21st century, and so far as I can tell every computer operating system from Windows to Macs to Linux to the Internet is still based on directory trees. What's up with that? ImageNow's system doesn't feel revolutionary or perfect, by any means. But it sure feels a lot better than C:\Toddler Bank Loans\Customer Number\Customer Name\Account Number\Document Type\Doc Date\. (Which, perhaps, is something like what ImageNow looks like on the backend that I never see. Or maybe it looks more cryptic than that and the searchable database is stored in some attached file). But in ImageNow I can, for example, do a search for name = X AND document type = Y. At the same time! It's not Google, but I've found that even Google isn't that good at, say, helping me find specific emails in Gmail. If I don't remember the right keywords it can't figure them out for me. It's kind of handy to have something prompting me to put in keywords.

I don't want to undersell ImageNow, which does more than just offer a more searchable file storage method. But I do find myself wondering "why can't my operating system's file storage work like this?" How hard would it be to make an applet that laid over Explorer and prompted me for customized key words when saving files, so that I could search for those later instead of trying to remember "What did I name this file?"