Scan system helps sort paperwork
At T. Rowe Price Services, the processing and customer service agent for the mutual fund company's 1 1/2 million shareholder accounts, each day begins with an avalanche of paper -- 8,000 or more documents that must be sorted, entered into computer systems, answered.
"I'm amazed by the volume of paper, and the types of paper you get," says Mary Madick, vice president for the servicing company. "The number of things that come in on the backs of envelopes is pretty frightening."
Ms. Madick's systems group was charged with getting a better grip on this monstrous workload; the result is a million-dollar system from The Analytic Sciences Corp. that will let Price scan incoming documents and route the images to the proper employees.
The 160 workers who handle "transfer agency" functions such as account maintenance, purchases and redemptions will work on personal computers using Microsoft Windows, viewing the document image in one window and entering data in another.
Ms. Madick says that TASC, a subsidiary of Primark Corp., offers software that allows rapid prototyping and revision. Price brought several workers to TASC's Reading, Mass., headquarters and videotaped them as they tried out the new system. Any hint of a problem, such as confused looks or the inability to find function keys, and the software was fixed.
The benefits of the new approach are substantial, Ms. Madick says. "You save time in the physical movement of paper . . . and the increased control this gives you is incredible. The real power of the system is in managing work flow."
The system is managed by IBM RISC-6000 workstations, with the data going onto a Sony optical jukebox system designed to hold about five years of data, or about 1 1/2 million documents. It also will be used to store data from shareholders' statements for use by customer service operators.
But Price still can't let go of the paper. Primarily for legal reasons, the documents will still be time-stamped and packed away in cartons.
Communications firm to test access ease
Baltimore's American Personal Communications LP, which is 70 percent owned by the Washington Post Co., is taking another step toward proving that national "Personal Communications Services" are practical.
In the latest trial, APC is joining several partners, including MCI Communications Corp. of Washington, to demonstrate how PCS devices can be reached anywhere without a manual "log-in" and how different systems can work together.
PCS is the umbrella term for a new class of high-frequency voice and data communications that can be used with lightweight pocket telephones and hand-held computers. APC has already wired the Inner Harbor area and a stretch in downtown Washington for tests that began last year.
The newest experiment will take place in Washington and Dallas. It will use an all-digital technology that makes for clearer phone calls and imperceptible switching between base stations.
Antitrust threat kills merger deal
The Justice Department's plan to file an antitrust challenge has terminated the proposed merger of ChipSoft Inc. and MECA Software Inc., the two leading producers of personal tax preparation software.
It was early April when San Diego, Calif.-based ChipSoft, which makes the TurboTax line, said it would pay $58 million to acquire MECA, along with its popular Tax Cut packages. But the Justice Department quickly launched an inquiry, and the deadline for the tender offer was repeatedly extended.
Last week, the department said it intended to file a civil challenge under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, and ChipSoft canceled the deal, which was contingent on the absence of such a threat.
Anne K. Bingaman, assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division, stated, "There was strong evidence that the merger would have substantially reduced competition and caused consumers to pay higher prices for popular and useful computer software."
Green Lights plan cuts lighting costs
When it came to spending less money and energy on lighting, the folks at W. R. Grace & Co.'s Washington Research Center in Columbia had a few bright ideas.
Grace has signed on as a partner in the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Lights program, which helps businesses save energy by upgrading their lighting systems. As part of its support, the EPA provides DOS software to analyze power consumption and identify possible improvements.
Grace's researchers used the Washington center as a test bed, and wound up contributing a number of additions and refinements to the software. The company is just now finishing up a full overhaul of the lighting at the center, having upgraded 23,000 fixtures, lamps and ballasts.
Grace estimates that changes made so far in 700,000 of its 10 million square feet of facilities across the nation will save 3 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That's enough to constantly light 3,500 hundred-watt light bulbs.
The EPA now has 1,012 participants in the Green Lights program. Information on joining, and obtaining the software, is available at (202) 775-6650.