IBM Image Products Promised for March

International Business Machines Corp. said that a number of hardware and software products vital to the company's check imaging system will be available in March.

The announcement, at a conference on image technology sponsored by the Bank Administration Institute, was an attempt to reassure fidgety IBM customers who have experienced lengthy delivery delays as the computer company worked out the kinks in its complex system meant to revolutionize check processing.

IBM said that software for producing statements with check images, controlling the capture and storage of images, as well as hardware systems for image scanning and capture, will be available in March.

But the company set no date for delivery of other software for the initial processing of checks, known as proof-of-deposit. The components, which have been delayed for more than a year because of technical difficulties, are important because the devices will let banks greatly reduce check-processing costs.

Handwriting Recognition

One key piece for the proof-of-deposit function, software that eases recognition of handwritten dollar amounts on checks, will be available to banks for testing by March. In preliminary customer tests, the system has been able to read the amounts on 56% of all checks that have mostly hand-written amounts, IBM officials said.

IBM also announced new pricing terms for its image system that will reduce the overall cost by about $120,000, depending on the size of a bank's check-processing operation.

An entry-level image statement system for customers that have image-capture hardware, newer versions of IBM mainframe systems software, and data bases will now cost about $500,000. IBM said it changed pricing at customers' request.

"We have reached a major milestone," said Louise D. Nielsen, director of IBM's document and check image systems. "The entry price is much more attractive for our customers."

Cautious Attitude

Bankers waiting for IBM image products were heartened by the news, but cautious.

"It's a big deal for them," said a banker who asked not to be named and whose institution is one of the 20 in line for the system. "If they say they are going to deliver by March, I have to believe they will because they want to avoid missing deadlines like they have in the past."

The first banking company to install the image statement software was Fleet/Norstar Financial Group, Providence, R.I. Fleet is testing the software and plans to begin offering the statements to 100,000 selected checking account customers late in the first quarter of next year.

Dennis Rygwalski, senior vice president of retail systems at Fleet, said the company believes the statements will be popular with customers while reducing postage costs and generating fee income.

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