Week of April 17, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

Thanks, Thanx? Site Offers Insights on
Software System for Tracking Documents via PC

The paperless office.

Yeah, right. Not in this lifetime, and certainly not in real estate.

That heralded Info Age delusion got shredded years ago. For example, a recent Boston Consulting Group study predicts that office paper consumption will actually double from 1996 to 2002.

Real estate is one area where the paper glut hits hard. Multiple players - sellers, buyers, owners, architects, consultants, construction engineers and a host of others - each individually leave their own long paper trails over the course of a single transaction. Multiply that by myriad properties and transactions, and you're looking at a paper monster.

True, real estate has come a long way with technology. Centralized data storage systems, for example, have enabled companies to at least know exactly what they have - the first step in even dreaming of intelligent real estate portfolio management. And with the Internet, that data is available to players sprinkled around the globe.

Still, one wonders. How much time in the real estate industry is still spent frantically searching for documentation? An awful lot, we bet. And that's what piqued our interest when we came across the site of German software firm Thax Software (www.thax.de). What's profiled on the Thax site is a software device that, in its simplest form, allows you to use your PC to find a paper file in your office -- or even in another office that's in another country. And the Thax system can even provide a laser beam to point directly to the document, plus a voiceover that describes the file's location.

The product is called Findentity. Mind you, this column is not - repeat, not -- about recommending products, and we're certainly not recommending this one.

What intrigues us here is the technology, what it can do and what it could mean for configuring your space.

Currently, vast amounts of corporate space are dedicated to storage of paper files. And many those spaces are managed with systems that are riddled with inefficiencies. If your office is like ours, for example, those paper files have accumulated over many years, placed there by a wide range of employees, many no longer with the company. Add to that the fact that 97 percent of filed office documents are never looked at again, according to industry studies. It follows, then that one of our office's occasional rueful mantras is, "Where the hell is that thing?" And we don't for a moment think we're alone in that plaintive yelp.


Transponders Guide the System

The Findentity system employs computer transponder technology, which certainly isn't new. Transponders are already used to track luggage and farm animals. What is new, though, is taking that technology into the wildly overstuffed realm of office documentation.

The system's linchpin is its transponders, which are about the size of a postage stamp. User companies must attach the transponders to each document they want to track. The individual transponders aren't pricey, generally running around US$1.50 each. If, however, you've got thousands of office documents (and you probably do), the system obviously gets expensive.

As the site's online building diagram demonstrates, user companies must pass all the transponder-equipped documents that they want to track before scan readers, which in Findentity parlance are called "Findpointers." Those readers are installed at the entranceways and/or under desks in any room that's going to be used for paper document storage. And, since missing documents often end up in non-storage areas, user companies probably also need to set up the system to work in any area in which documents could conceivably end up.

None of the particulars of individual documents have to be entered in the Findentity system. Users do, however, have to have some inkling about the kind of document for which they're looking.


Windows-Like Functionality

The technology may sound pretty daunting to some. But, as the site demonstrates, Findentity runs with a built-in intuitiveness that's much like running Windows.

In fact, the system is controlled by a program that runs on either Windows 9x or NT4.0 PCs. The Findentity system also employs an "Application Desktop Toolbar" that's much like the Windows taskbars all of us now use by second nature. And, much like Windows, the Thanx system allows you to set search criteria, with results popping up several seconds later.

From there, you narrow your search to what (hopefully) is the specific document you're seeking. At that point, the system begins flashing on the part of the building diagram where Findentity has found the desired document.

Further assistance in finding files' precise locations can be provided by ceiling-mounted lasers or voiceovers, which are optional parts of the Findentity system. A hand-held document-finder is another system option.

The Internet is also an enabler here. According to the site, users in Berlin can use the Findentity system to locate a file in a New York office.


Getting Information from Documents
Without Physically Handling Them

According to the Thanx site, the system even allows users to read out file information from files -- addresses, for example -- without anyone physically handling those documents.

The Thanx site doesn't really spell out in detail how the Findentity manages to get that information, we should add. On the other hand, the host of system experts who've reviewed this product certainly indicate that Findentity can do just that. (You can read many of the reviews on the Findentity site. Of course, they've loaded only the highly positive reviews. But our Web searches for negative reviews turned up nothing.)


System Now Hitting the Market

The Findentity system is scheduled to be on the worldwide market about the time this review is published.

The cost? The site explains, "At the moment exact prices still cannot be given." From our experience, what that usually means is that the product or service is pretty expensive.

Whether this kind of technology is what you need depends on how big a paper-finding problem you have. And keep in mind that Findentity, which drew a wave of critical raves at CeBIT 99, is sure to face a host of competitors intent on producing a faster, better and cheaper system.

So, again, we're certainly not saying this is the system for you - or for anyone, for that matter. About the only thing we know for sure is this:

When you multiply the time spent looking for paper files by the searchers' salaries, a lot of current documentation storage systems are loss leaders.

Technology, though, could significantly alter that equation, which is the big message that this site delivers.


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©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.