Think back to the last time your car broke down. The event likely caused a fair amount of disruption in your daily routine. For most people, an automobile is a crucial piece of equipment. Without it, vital everyday tasks — such as commuting to work or taking the kids to school — can become a maddening challenge. The same feelings of distress and inconvenience can occur when the document scanner your company relies on malfunctions. Two of the most common drivers behind implementing an imaging strategy in the first place, productivity and efficiency, can grind to a near halt, and a backlog of documents can start to quickly build up. Just as an extended warranty can help to reduce the cost of repairs to your car, which can be key to getting back on the road more quickly, investigating and investing in the right service and support options for your scanning equipment can at least minimize the impact of any malfunction.
Determine Your Scanner Service Needs
Any company that scans documents, even if only on an occasional basis, should take the time to consider the service and support options that are available. These can range from an OEM's warranty to an extensive, on-site maintenance program. For some companies, such as those using inexpensive scanners or using scanners infrequently, a manufacturer's warranty or a simple break-fix plan may offer plenty of protection. Likewise, in companies with smaller scanners deployed in large quantities, it may make sense to purchase several spare units instead of a service contract. However, for companies that scan documents as part of a vital business function, such as invoice processing, or as an integrated part of a content management system, many other factors should be considered.
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"The key items to consider in purchasing a scanner service agreement include response time, coverage hours, and the type of service," says Karen Sherrill, worldwide service director at Eastman Kodak Company. "Balancing uptime versus downtime is a great measure." She goes on to express that end users need to evaluate what the cost is of having an inoperable scanner for a few hours, or even a few days, in terms of productivity. For example, if the business has only one scanner, or if it is used in a line-of-business application, getting it up and running as soon as possible will be a prime consideration. For this reason, many resellers and vendors offer options for 24/7 support. This could include telephone troubleshooting, on-site repair, or even equipment exchange depending on the scanner model in question. If speed of service is not a primary concern, however, users could opt for a service plan that includes depot repair. In this scenario, the user would ship the scanner to a specified maintenance depot for repair, and the depot would ship it back when those repairs were complete.
Preventative Maintenance avoids scanner troubles
While it is great to invest in a service contract that offers a level of support commensurate with a company's business requirements, users should also consider service options that can help keep scanning equipment from malfunctioning in the first place. Just like getting a tune-up and oil change for your car, opting for a preventative maintenance plan can ensure that a company's scanners continue to operate at peak performance. For some companies, the ability to predetermine scanner maintenance schedules can also be an important consideration when looking at a preventative maintenance plan.
"Organizations need to look at their work volumes in terms of scheduling maintenance," says Sherrill. "Doing so will help alleviate downtimes during heaviest workflow periods." Companies should ask their scanning solutions provider or vendor if they can adjust maintenance services to coincide with the beginning of a busy period, with a recheck at the end of the busy period. For example, in a tax office the heavy scanning load would likely occur in the few months preceding the tax-filing deadline. A well-planned maintenance plan would include service prior to the beginning of this period, followed by a recheck at the close of the period to be sure the equipment is still working properly.
Somewhere between service plans and preventative maintenance lies a new trend in scanner support — scanner insurance contracts. This option is great for companies that, perhaps, have the luxury of keeping spare scanners on hand in the case of a problem or for companies that use scanners more for convenience than necessity. With this option, the insurance contract will cover all the costs of maintenance, but the user will be responsible for finding an available service provider who can handle the service call. It is much like most health insurance plans, in which the user has the coverage but must find a physician on the insurance provider's approved list. While an insurance contract may be cheaper, users may sacrifice response times or options for preventative maintenance and consumables.
Investigate Provider Experience And Hidden Costs
While narrowing down the options for scanner service and support, users should also take the time to be sure they understand the full cost of the selections they are considering. "Be aware of costs outside of service contracts," says Scott Slack, VP of marketing at Cranel Imaging (Versitec). "Depending on the options you choose, these hidden costs could include everything from preventative maintenance, consumable parts, maintaining extra parts on hand, cleaning parts, rush charges, and even training." Just as it is important for users to read proposed service contracts thoroughly, Slack says it is also important to 'read the fine print' in the scanners' operation and maintenance manuals. These documents can provide detailed information regarding duty cycles, cleaning requirements, and the average life cycle of the machine's consumables.
"Choosing the right service provider is as important as choosing the right equipment," says Art DiScipio, senior VP and GM with Multi Vendor Service at Anacomp. "Purchasing a service contract from a company without adequate resources in terms of people, experience, and support or choosing one that does not offer service options to meet a company's specific needs can leave users stranded if a breakdown occurs." Look for a vendor that is willing to discuss multiple service options, and ask questions about methods to request service, especially in the case that emergency service is needed. Do they have a trouble hotline, is there an online option for ordering and tracking service, or will consumables and spare parts be available immediately?
Most importantly, users should not be afraid to ask for — and check on — references from other customers. Are those customers happy to provide feedback, and do they feel treated professionally and fairly by the provider? If not, chances are the service provider lacks the experience, resources, or manpower to do the job. Purchasing a service and support contract is often one of those situations where 'you get what you pay for' rings true, making it important to remember that the lowest cost contract is not always the best deal.