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Bletchley Park archives go digital

The Enigma machine

The breaking of the Enigma code was integral to helping the Allies win the war.

HP and Hyland Software have partnered to digitise the archives of Bletchley Park, the country estate famous for being the home of the codebreakers, and key to Britain's efforts to decrypt Germany's coded messages during World War II.

By intercepting Axis armies' messages, the Allies were able to determine what the enemy was planning and provided crucial assistance to the Allied war effort. It also enabled the Allies to release red herrings to the Axis powers and mobilise double agents to neutralise and frustrate many of the enemy's campaigns.

In addition, the Enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park. The Axis powers believed it was unbreakable, and as such, its breaking was integral to helping the Allies win the war. The high-level intelligence produced at Bletchley by undercover mathematicians and military operatives, codenamed Ultra, is credited with having determined many of the key outcomes of the conflict. It is also credited with shortening the war by an estimated two years, probably saving countless millions of lives in the process.

In the summer of 2010, HP kicked off a project to deploy a state-of-the-art scanning and document management solution that will enable Bletchley Park to digitally archive hundreds of thousands of the site's historic documents. These include communication transcripts, communiqu├ęs, memoranda, photographs and other material tracing and referencing some of the most significant events of World War II.

Many of these documents have not been touched for over 70 years.

HP and the Bletchley Park Trust, which owns the Estate, began the first scanning phase of the project in 2010. HP says the project will involve a wide range of technology, including scanners, multifunction printers, document management software and the IT backbone that will ensure the secure cataloguing and storage of all the information. Once in a digital format, it will be easily accessed and viewed by the public over the Web.

Dexter Harriss, HP's UK and Ireland marketing manager, Imaging and Printing, says the immense volume of the materials involved and the dozens of different formats the documents exist in, including multiple page types, sizes, qualities and material compositions, makes the digitisation process a significant challenge.

He says HP and solution partners are supplying several scanning and archiving technologies. These include a range of HP Scanjets capable of handling A3 and A4 documents, single- or double-sided, or sheet-fed technology for high-speed volume scanning. Specialised flatbed scanners for scanning very fragile documents, such as maps and books, are also part of the solution. Integrated Kofax Virtual Rescan technology performs a multipoint check on the document as it is scanned and makes automatic adjustments to enhance image quality, and ultrasonic double feed detection ensures the user is alerted and misfeeds are not processed.

Harriss says the scanning process also involves the use of HP desktops and HP's ProLiant ML330 server. HP's partner in the initiative, Hyland Software, provider of cloud-based document management software, is providing its hosted ECM solution, OnBase Online, to archive the scanned images.

James Longstaff, Hyland Software's director of sales, Europe and SA, says, through OnBase, volunteers from around the world will be able to collaborate, index, share and provide intelligence to each document that has been scanned through OnBase Online.

Staff and volunteers will examine the documents and classify them according to dates, battles, locations and the people involved. The data will then be integrated and automatically linked with other content to help tell the full story of what happened. HP says this linking of documents related to specific events has never been done before.

Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, says that, to date, 15 000 documents have been processed. He added that, once complete, the information is planned to be available on the Bletchley Park Web site and eventually on information terminals around the Park.

He says that because Bletchley Park is a non-profit organisation, it relies on visitor admissions income and private monetary contributions to keep it afloat. Having OnBase Online will allow the Trust to use its extensive records not only as a public research and learning resource, but also for essential revenue generation, increasing publicity and eventually allowing users to purchase copies of specific documents.


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