Few technology segments have been as competitive recently as the desktop document scanning market. It seems like every week or so a new workgroup or departmental scanner is released — some by incumbent market share leaders in the low-volume scanning segment and others by new entrants into the space. Everyone who is anyone in the computer products industry is trying to capitalize on the distributed capture trend and the heightened demand for desktop scanning devices in the business community.
The flood of new products onto the scene has been beneficial in the sense that added competition is forcing scanning manufacturers to incorporate advanced features and technologies into their devices. Features once reserved for only sophisticated high-volume production scanners, such as ultrasonic doublefeed detection and image enhancement software bundles, are now common in workgroup and departmental devices. New features that promote ease of use, such as one-button scanning, have also emerged to address the specific needs of end users in this market segment. Competition is also putting downward pressure on low-volume scanner prices. Lower prices benefit both end users and the industry because they enable more customers to deploy more scanners to more departments within an organization.
The only downside to all this competition is the sheer number of scanning options that now exist can make selecting the proper scanner for your business needs a daunting task. Not all scanners are created equal. It is important to base your decision not on price alone or one particularly attractive feature, but how the scanner meshes with your overall business environment. Several attributes including image quality, software compatibility, footprint, paper handling, ease of use, and cost will play a role in helping you make this decision. With this in mind, it’s important that you evaluate competitive offerings carefully and don’t sell yourself short when purchasing desktop scanners for your distributed capture deployment.
WHAT ROLE WILL THE SCANNER PLAY IN YOUR IMAGING ENVIRONMENT?
“The first thing an end user needs to consider when selecting a scanner for a distributed capture implementation is how the overall system will be organized,” says Roger Markham, product marketing manager for distributed capture products at Eastman Kodak Company. “For example, will distributed scanners be used to support a centralized high-volume imaging application that already exists? Will several workgroup scanners at multiple locations feed images into a central repository? Or, might it be a hybrid of the two?” Answering these questions will help you determine the quantity and combination of workgroup and departmental scanners you will require as well as the speeds and feeds and daily duty cycles necessary from each device.
You also will want to research the software compatibility of the scanners you evaluate to ensure they will integrate effectively with your existing applications and new software you plan to install. For example, the scanner you select should have ISIS and TWAIN drivers built in, as these drivers are necessary for the scanner to interoperate with most document management software on the market. The imaging application itself will also have a strong bearing on the features you require from a scanner. For example, if your application includes forms processing or OCR (optical character recognition) technology, then you will want to ensure that the workgroup or departmental scanner you choose comes equipped with image enhancement software. This functionality ensures optimal image quality and helps optimize data recognition accuracy rates.
Regardless of how your system is set up, there are efficiencies that can be gained by purchasing scanners made by a single manufacturer. “Having scanners of the same model in multiple locations standardizes the installation process,” says Jackie Horn, director of worldwide marketing for BÖWE BELL + HOWELL. “Plus, if the manufacturer uses a common interface across all of its scanner models, it will be easier to provide your scanner operators with training and technical support.”
DON’T SACRIFICE SCANNING QUALITY FOR EASE OF USE
Distributed capture is placing scanning responsibilities in the hands of everyday business people as opposed to the specially trained dedicated scanning operators common in centralized imaging environments. This trend has made the ease of use of a document scanner a primary selling point for many businesses. Innovative features such as “one-button” or “one-touch” scanning have emerged as a result. This feature allows users to preprogram scanner settings so that the most common image flows (i.e. scan to PDF, scan to archive, scan to e-mail) can be executed with the touch of a button. One-button scanning not only reduces the learning curve for end users new to scanning, it can help increase productivity by eliminating the need for users to navigate through scanning software screens to scan and send an image. However, some manufacturers warn against being blinded by ease-of-use features alone.
“While ease of use is certainly an appealing selling point, this could also be one of the greatest dangers when considering a document scanner,” says Kevin Neal, product manager of production scanners for Fujitsu Computer Products of America, Inc. “Ease of use and usefulness to your content management system might not always go hand-in-hand. For example, what’s the point of using one button to scan your documents if the optical resolution and paper handling are poor and the hardware and software configurations are untested?”
Special consideration should be given to all of the scanner’s capabilities to ensure you don’t sacrifice the quality of the overall scanning experience in an effort to oversimplify the process. “Customers should conduct in-house evaluations of the scanners they are considering, to ensure each manufacturer’s claims are valid,” says Murray Dennis, president and CEO of Visioneer, Inc. “Many large scanning companies are migrating their product lines from production scanning to the workgroup segment and tend to dumb down the device in order to make it simpler to use, rather than converting complex operations into simple processes.”
ARE MFPs A SMART SCANNING OPTION?
The desire for simplified scanning in distributed applications has caused many businesses to leverage the scanning capabilities of digital copiers and MFP (multifunctional peripheral) devices in their imaging environments due to their familiar user interfaces. This puts yet another scanning option into play. An MFP can play a positive role in a distributed scanning environment, acting as a networked, shared capture device where multiple users can scan documents to add to an electronic workflow. However, it typically will not provide you with the range of capabilities that a dedicated scanner possesses.
“I believe that both MFPs and dedicated scanners have a place within distributed capture applications,” says Neal. “MFPs are good for ad hoc scanning and should be used to scan nonbusiness-critical documents where image quality isn’t a primary concern. Also, if a customer intends to scan more than 50 documents a day, a dedicated scanner should be considered over an MFP.”
MFPs also have other drawbacks that may limit their effectiveness as scanning devices. For example, MFPs don’t currently come equipped with image enhancement software or features like ultrasonic doublefeed detection. Imagine the potential costs involved if you missed a scanned invoice worth thousands of dollars due to a paper handling error that an ultrasonic sensor could have caught.
MAINTAIN YOUR SCANNERS TO MAXIMIZE RETURN ON INVESTMENT
Ease of maintenance, service, and support may also influence your scanner buying decision. “Businesses should select scanning devices that they can maintain themselves and should be sure to understand simple maintenance procedures,” says Horn. “For instance, many workgroup and departmental scanners are designed so that the rollers are easy to clean and replace without a service call. You can practically ensure the longevity of your scanner by taking proper care of them and having the option to replace consumable parts when needed.”
Beyond consumable replacement, you also should ensure the uptime of your scanners by purchasing an extended service contract. For mission-critical applications where scanners are dispersed among different locations, a 4-hour response or next business day on-site contract usually makes the most sense. However, for applications less vital to business operations, or in instances where multiple scanners are available to accommodate another scanner’s workload if it malfunctions, a next business day replacement contract will probably be acceptable. It really depends on your organization’s requirements, and you should investigate each manufacturer’s service and support options thoroughly.