Thursday, May 30, 2013

Selecting a new computer system

It was eleven years ago this month that a group of five registers of deeds who had been using the Wang computer system working in conjunction with the Secretary of State's office selected the ACS computer system as a replacement. This registry was the first to install that new system, going active with it on July 1, 2002. Eleven years is an eternity in the computer world so it really is time to begin thinking about what comes next. That doesn't mean that anything is imminent and the current system works just fine for our current methods of operation. It's a bit like the Air Force's fleet of B-52 strategic bombers, all of which were built long before the pilots that fly them today were born but which have been continuously updated and improved and so continue to perform their missions today. Still, there are things our system could do better. One simple improvement would be to link plan images to documents using the same "marginal reference" function that we use to link related documents together. Because of the programming architecture of our current system, that's not possible to do. Another function I believe would be of great benefit would be to supplement the current index with the same type of "word search" technology utilized by Google Books. If you're not familiar with that application, log into (or create) a Google account and select "books" from the menu of Google options. Google has already scanned most of the world's books and makes full text of out-of-copyright books freely available on the Google Books website. To see how it works, type "Benjamin Butler" and click "search" and a list of hundreds of books that contain the name of the Civil War general from Lowell will appear. Click on the link to the book and not only will the full text of the book display on your screen, it will be opened to the page containing your search term. Imagine applying that capability to all document images here at the registry of deeds. Again, it would not replace the current index in its traditional uses, but it would be a great supplementary search to find documents containing street or human names (such as a corner street named in the description or the notary or surveyor involved) that don't make it into the index. There are many other features that would be desirable in a new system. From time to time in the coming months I'll write about other possible options. It is better to consider this stuff in well in advance rather than waiting until a formal search process commences. As we see from our current story, once we buy a system it will be with us for a long time.

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