Troubled Imaging Project At IBM Gets a New Chief

International Business Machines Corp. has replaced the head of its troubled project to develop an image system for bank check operations.

Louise Nielsen was named director last week of document and check image systems for IBM's financial services industry group. Ms. Nielsen replaced Leighton Charmichael, who is on special assignment, according to an IBM spokesman.

IBM said management changes in large, long-term development projects are not unsual. But bankers close to the project say Mr. Charmichael was replaced because the company was unhappy with the way the project had been handled: It hit snags that delayed delivery of key components to banks by almost a year.

Early Tipoff for Customers

Bankers close to the project said IBM informed them of the management change earlier this month. They added that several managers in the project have been replaced.

"IBM replaced everyone under Leighton a few months ago," said a banker who asked not to be named. "They gave all the development responsibility to a new manager who was really running the show. It was obvious that Leighton was on his way out."

Calls to Mr. Charmichael in Charlotte, N.C., were forwarded to a company spokesman in White Plains, N.Y., who said he will serve as a special assistant on image technology to Thomas Hudson, division vice president of the banking group at IBM.

Focus on Outsourcing

Mr. Charmichael will work on a number of projects, including those concerning "outsourcing," a term that is used when a bank turns to an outside company for processing of checks or data.

IBM has delivered much of the hardware for its high-speed check imaging system to several of the 20 banks that are participating in an early installation program.

But the software for processing the check images and recognizing the handwritten dollar amounts on checks - a critical element of the system - has hit technical snags.

Progress Is Termed Slow

"We are testing the software, but it's not a release that you could run in production, and it doesn't have all the features it needs," said a banker close to the project. "It's moving, but slowly."

A production version of the software will probably be released in the first quarter of next year, the source said.

Ms. Nielsen, an 18-year IBM veteran, most recently served as director of high-performance computing. In the early and mid-1980s she worked on various large computer systems projects for IBM, including recovery systems for high-volume transaction processing computers for banks.

Before that, Ms. Nielsen managed a group within IBM that developed code for low-end check processing systems and was a staff consultant for banks.

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