My first OMR
written in 1991 for the italian nation-wide electric company
The italian electric company, "ENEL" for short, used to have several millions customers in the whole nation. Trading offices were literally submerged by tons of paper documents (contracts, work orders, certificates, corrispondence, etc.).

In 1990 ENEL decided to adopt an optical document storage and retrieval system to automatically deal with all those trading documents, and I was in charge for developing the software.

The analisys pointed out, in short, that each document in the optical storage would have been searched for by two inquiry keys: the so-called socket number and the document type.

The biggest problem to face was how to avoid, or reduce to the minimum, the data entry when scanning millions of documents of the past and those to come.

A number of solutions were invented and implemented, among which one very interesting was the following: all the documents printed in ENEL from 1991 on would have been provided with a sort of code that was intended to be optically recognized.

All the documents printed by ENEL those days were continuous module printed forms, filled by means of dot matrix needle printers. And the only way to print a sort of code was using the character "asterisk" as shown at the top of the following picture:

As you can see the asterisks are printed at the upper border of the printed form. The leftmost and the rightmost asterisks were used as positioning marks. The space between the positioning marks was ideally divided in 53 positions: the presence or the absence of an asterisk in any position would have meant respectively a binary 1 and a binary 0.

The first 47 bits out of 53 were used to represent the socket number in binary, and th next 6 bits were used to represent the document type.

Please note that the electric company just had to modify the mainframe procedures to print the line of asterisks and nothing else: there was no need to change the existing dot matrix printers (and those years they had a few thousands printers in the whole nation !).

The electric company from 1995 on started replacing the dot matrix needle printers with laser printers, and this was how the laser printed documents were looking like:

The line of asterisks was recognized in a fraction of a second just after each document was passed through the scanner. And to graphically display the recognition here is how the recognized document was presented in real time on the PC screen:

Failure to recognize the asterisks happened only when stains, staples or hand writing were interesting the recognition zone. The recognition statistics, anycase, showed 99.99% successful recognition (checksum based statistics).

Since 1991 several trading offices were equipped with the optical document management systems that made use of the Optical Mark Recognition described above. These were the districts served: Gallarate, Busto Arsizio, Varese, Nola, Latina, Bari and Brindisi. The following is the photo of the LAN servers in the biggest installation, Bari, that I completely renewed in 1999:

You can notice two LAN servers (the main server, that with the green label, and the realtime backup server, with the yellow label) and a 240 disks juke box that today contains two millions and a half images of documents, serving an area about eight thousands square kilometers wide. This system is still operative today.

Since 2001 the italian electric company has been progressively divided (destroyed) in smaller companies and sacrificed in the name of costs reduction, better service, and blah blah blah.