More Work For Less

Some companies find that digital cameras allow them to save money by eliminating the middleman. Take Niemand Industries, a Marion, Ala., food-packaging company with $40 million in annual revenue. Niemand was looking for a way to avoid paying $40 to $80 an hour to graphics shops to handle the job of creating prototype labels for packages. It found a solution in the $800 Canon PowerShot DCS digital camera.

The camera lets Niemand do the prototype packaging design of food labels for grocery and food-company chains in-house. Images ranging from plates of spaghetti to taco dinners are snapped with the camera and fed into Macintosh systems, where they're manipulated with Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Then they're printed out and pasted onto one or more containers the company manufactures, for presentation to the client.

"On a limited budget, we can now develop a presentation-quality prototype for our customers," says John Baugh, technical services manager at Niemand Industries. Instead of paying $200 to $300 to a professional graphics house for a prototype, it costs $10 to $15 per prototype, he says.

Baugh says he's had only one problem since the company began using the Canon camera in 1997- having enough RAM on the computer to handle image sizes. For Niemand's prototype projects, Baugh has had to upgrade one of its Mac systems to 128 Mbytes of RAM.

Within the next year, Baugh hopes to expand the use of digital imaging by creating an online catalog of Niemand's products for its Web sites. It will switch to a Sony Mavica FD91, which costs less than $1,000, for the project; Baugh says the company is making the switch because the Sony camera offers superior graphics and 14x zoom capabilities.

Better Communications

Other companies say digital cameras are the best way to eliminate paper trails and enhance communications among employees. Hawthorne Savings, a Los Angeles bank with more than $1 billion in assets, has seen its loan business to construction companies grow by 80% in the last year-with about 400 outstanding loans. As that business grew, the bank needed to find a more efficient way to capture and archive images charting the progress of the homes those construction companies were building.

The answer was to purchase seven Kodak DC 260 digital cameras last March. The cameras have helped the company eliminate the task of developing photographs of construction in progress and circulating a report with the pictures to the managers who need to approve that phase of construction and to the disbursement officer, who finalizes payment for anywhere between 50 to 100 vendors-who handle carpeting, roofing, and windows-per home.

Now construction inspectors, who take the photographs, store the images on a 24-Mbyte CompactFlash Card in the JPEG format. Software embedded in the camera-IntelliPix from Digitella Inc.-automatically archives downloaded images to a directory on a Windows NT server.

The images are accessible on Hawthorne's intranet, says Webmaster Chris Guerrant, so hard copies of reports no longer have to be circulated. The use of digital cameras has cut down on the time it takes to get photographs of the site to the appropriate managers and officers from several days to less than a day.

Guerrant says construction loans are "monitored with more intensity" than other loans because the borrower's collateral is the property itself. If construction doesn't go smoothly, "we're stuck with a property that's not marketable because of some structural problems," Guerrant says. By introducing digital cameras into the process, he says, the link between the reviewing managers and the work going on in the field has improved.

Getting Started

For IT managers considering digital cameras for their companies, analysts and vendors advise making sure the infrastructure is set up to handle image files, which tend to be larger than other types of electronic documents. How will users store and catalog the photos? If the company will generate a lot of images, which images will be kept and for how long? How much space will be needed to archive the images?

"IT needs to think through the whole process from capture to storage to cataloging and management," says analyst Michelle Lampmann at InfoTrends. Rewritable CD-ROM or external storage systems, such as Zip drives, may need to be ordered to manage the load.

"People always underestimate storage," says Peter Davies, director of marketing programs for digital and applied imaging at Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester, N.Y. "Think about storage media that expands because you always need more than what you think."

Davies says IT managers considering digital-imaging initiatives "probably have to think about a pretty short-time return on their investment" because the market is moving quickly. The typical product life cycle is 15 to 18 months. Says Davies, "The products will change, but try to build standards [in your company] so the fundamental technology works."

Copyright � 1999 CMP Media Inc. [Julekha Dash]