Archive Retrieval Comes in from the COLD

Hershey Entertainment and Resorts warms up to COLD storage and retrieval system from Metafile

Hershey Entertainment and Resorts operates a world-class amusement park, an American Hockey League team, two hotels and convention center with over 900 rooms, a campground and several other businesses in Hershey, Pa.

The company runs the Infinium ERP system, from Infinium Software (Hyannis, Mass.), on an AS/400 model S20 with V4R3 and 80GB of DASD. According to Barry Smith, manager of financial applications and AS/400 technical services, storage and retrieval of the financial reports generated by the system and archived on microfiche once presented a constant challenge.

The problem was time. “The manager or accountant had to locate the correct fiche, then use one of the two microfiche readers we had to view the report. It could take 30 minutes to find a single record. Highly skilled employees were wasting an inordinate amount of their time,” Smith says.

Smith estimates that by eliminating the need to manually retrieve reports from microfiche, each staff member saves two hours per week, or 100 hours per person per year.
Already aware of computer output to laser disk (COLD) systems, Smith began investigating product alternatives in mid-1996. The advantage they offer, he says, is the ability to archive print spool files from a host AS/400 in electronic format for fast retrieval. After careful evaluation of several products, Smith chose Metaview, from Metafile Information Systems (Rochester, Minn.).

One deciding factor was that the Metaview product creates a full text index that includes every word of every report that is stored on the system, thus enabling users to do an impromptu search on any field in any document. For example, to find an employee’s payroll record, a clerk enters a name in the search box and the system finds the record immediately.

The alternative product required a user to define in advance all the fields upon which data could be searched. The problem, according to Smith, was that Hershey has many different reports with a huge number of fields. Indexing reports on every possible field would have meant an enormous expenditure of time and storage space. Yet, if they weren’t indexed completely, manual searches might still be required if the right field hadn’t been indexed.

Another deciding factor was that the alternative product required a jukebox and laser disks; Metaview did not. Although it is a COLD system and can be used in the traditional way, Metaview allowed Smith the option of avoiding the additional hardware. “It was a requirement that we didn’t want to get involved with,” he says. Instead, documents are stored on the hard disk in a standard Windows NT server.

“It’s just a normal server you would use for anything else,” Smith says. “We use it for Microsoft Word and Excel documents. There is a file on it for all the Metaview reports. We don’t need a special device for them.” The fact that storage is on hard disk also offers users the fastest possible access speed.

Smith explains that from the NT server older Metaview documents can be copied to optical disk in order to conserve hard disk space, although Hershey hasn’t needed to do that yet. The NT server contains 20GB of available disk storage, about 3GB of which are currently used for Metaview reports.

Hershey implemented the system in January 1997. No host code changes were necessary on the AS/400. Smith specifies what reports should be archived and when and how often downloads should occur. Currently, Hershey archives payroll, accounts payable, balance sheets, profit and loss statements and cash flow reports. After setup the application runs without intervention and parameters can be changed at any time.

“The reports to be archived on Metaview go to a special queue via Client Access to an indexing machine, a PC where the Metaview software runs,” Smith says. “The indexing machine wakes up every 15 minutes and pulls down any reports that are sitting in the queue, indexes them, adds them to a master index of all reports and puts them on the NT server.”

Smith also uses the system to store scanned documents. For example, the amusement park is required to inspect its rides and keep copies of the inspection reports. When an employee inspects a ride they fill out a form indicating its condition. The forms are scanned on a Fujitsu scanner, imported to Metaview and are available from the network. Other paper forms, such as W2s, that accompany the archived financial reports are also scanned and can be viewed on screen or printed along with the report.

There are 10 regular users of the system in six locations. Smith estimates that by eliminating the need to manually retrieve reports from microfiche, each staff member saves two hours per week, or 100 hours per person per year. Document security is also improved. “It saves us from having to create tapes with reports on them, send them to a vendor for a day or two to be put on microfiche, then from having to find the right fiche and view it on a reader.”

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