The reins guiding IBM's high-profile check image processing business changed hands this week.

Louise D. Nielsen, who many credit with turning International Business Machines Corp.'s promises regarding check imaging technology into reality, has been promoted from her position as the head of IBM image group to director of strategic development.

Stepping into Ms. Nielsen's big shoes is Geoffrey A. Emerson, a 15-year IBM verteran who formerly held the post of director of development and operations in Big Blue's computer-assisted design, manufacturing, and engineering business.

The news come only weeks after IBM made its most significant strides in the area of check image processing, in which digitized pictures of checks are processed instead of the paper items themselves.

Running Live at Barclays

After years of advances and setbacks in the development of its system, IBM announced in late October that one of its check image systems for the proof-of-deposit area was running live work at Barclays Bank PLC, one of the world's largest financial institutions.

The announcement was significant for two reasons, experts said.

First, the aggressive pace at which Barclays - a $250 billion-asset bank - plans to move its check work to the system is viewed by many as certification that IBM's oft-delayed proof-of-deposit imaging system is at a stage where it may begin to deliver some of the promised operational savings to banks who purchase it.

Image systems for the proof-of-deposit area are typically expected to cut check processing costs by 20% to 40% by reducing the labor associated with handling paper checks.

Barclays is currently running about 50,000 checks per day through the system. Its plans call for running 500,000 image items per day by the end of the year and 1.2 million items per day by the end of 1994.

Adhering to Schedule

Second, and more importantly, though, the Barclays announcement is important as a sign that the IBM check image group is now adhering to a more strict timetable for delivery of various components of the image system.

"It would be nai e to say that we have never been disappointed [with the development of the system] over the last three years," said David J. Cartwright, director of clearing and bullion services at Barclays in London. "And while no one's guaranteeing there won't be delays in the future, we feel the recent track record bodes well."

The recent track record to which Mr. Cartwight referred is largely credited to the work of the departing Ms. Nielsen, and the incoming Mr. Emerson indicated that he understands that Ms. Nielsen has set an example that will be hard to follow.

"I can't say enough about what [Ms. Nielsen] has done to improve this business and the customers' impressions of the business," said Mr. Emerson. "Hers will be big shoes to fill."

When asked of his initial plans for the image unit, Mr. Emerson said that visiting the banks testing the proof of deposit image system will be "priorities 1, 2 and 3. [The banks] are our life blood, and they are paying the bills here, so I want to understand first what's important to them."

Banks teting the IBM image system for proof-of-deposit include Mellon Bank Corp., Bank of Boston Corp., Royal Bank of Canada, and BankAmerica Corp. Several of these institutions are expected to begin running significant volumes of live work through their systems over the upcoming months, according to IBM executives.

The management change at IBM at will not affect the supporting cast in the image unit, Mr. Emerson said.

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