A few years ago it seemed like everyone was talking about the concept of a paperless office — an ideal work environment where all business communications and transactions occur electronically with no exchange of physical documentation. Some experts theorized that the realization of the paperless office was close at hand and this would surely crush the document scanner industry. These so-called experts have since fallen silent. Today, we’re not much closer to making the paperless office a reality than we were 10 years ago, and we are unlikely to achieve this utopia in the foreseeable future. The reason the paperless office refuses to take shape isn’t technological. In fact, many of the technologies required for paperless communication (e.g. HTML, PDFs, EDI [electronic data interchange]) exist and have evolved significantly over the years. Instead, the barrier to adoption is more a matter of culture and aesthetics.
“Use of electronic documents and mediums will continue to grow, but the way business people consume and digest information will not change,” says Jackie Horn, director of worldwide marketing for Böwe Bell + Howell Scanners. “Many people prefer to read off paper, not a screen. Furthermore, they like the tangible nature of paper. They like to mark it up, share it, tear it, and spread it out in front of them to analyze and make comparisons.”
Because of people’s comfort level working with paper, businesses are as reliant as ever on paper-based processes. However, since paper is not the ideal means for storing, retrieving, or transmitting information, businesses are looking more toward imaging as a way to increase their effectiveness and productivity — and the document scanner industry is booming.
SCANNER ENHANCEMENTS CONTINUE IN THE WORKGROUP, PRODUCTION SEGMENTS
The majority of the growth in the document scanner industry is occurring in the workgroup/desktop segment. Scanners in this category image 10 to 25 ppm (pages per minute) and have been enhanced with functionality formerly available only in higher-volume models. Features such as color scanning, double-feed detection, hard card scanning, and auto crop and deskew are becoming standard across workgroup scanners available from most manufacturers. Plus, with a price range of $500 to $2,000 per unit, companies of all sizes and budgets are investing in these devices for distributed scanning applications. The recent explosion in the workgroup category is evidenced by a recent report by InfoTrends that predicts 80% of the scanner shipments in 2006 will come from the workgroup segment. The growth in the workgroup segment does not correlate to a decline in production scanning. Technical enhancements continue to be made to scanners that image 40 to 80+ ppm. “More advanced image processing will continue to be built into production scanning hardware, allowing the scanner to begin document processing before the image reaches the PC,” says Horn. These capabilities will accelerate the scanning processes and keep production scanners in high demand.
“Production scanning continues to be a viable segment,” says Scott Francis, director of product marketing for Fujitsu Computer Products of America. “When a business thinks of implementing a document management solution, there are three things they need to weigh: technical requirements, budget considerations, and business processes. Within those three buckets, there are a myriad of reasons why a centralized, production scanning solution still makes sense.”
The paper-intensive requirements of many businesses — particularly in vertical markets such as financial services, healthcare, government, and insurance — still demand production-level scanning capabilities. However, workgroup scanners are being used to complement production scanning solutions. “A growing option that many companies are exercising is to maintain a healthy level of both centralized and distributed scanning in their organizations,” says Roger Markham, product marketing manager for Eastman Kodak Company. “This is a particularly popular approach for businesses with large home offices as well as multiple branch locations.”
MFPs CAN COMPLEMENT, BUT CAN’T REPLACE, A DEDICATED SCANNER
Document scanning is becoming so popular that other hardware devices are getting in on the act. Today, many businesses are leveraging the scanning capabilities of existing digital copiers and MFPs in their document management solutions. Today’s MFPs can be networked and integrated with document management software packages to create a convenient option for ad hoc scanning, where employees throughout an office location need to add a few documents to an electronic workflow on a daily basis. Some manufacturers see the trend of increased scanning via MFPs as an opportunity for growth in the scanning market.
“Some vendors are working to deliver capture solutions that set new standards for ease of use for the general office market,” says Markham. “Dedicated scanning devices now exist that mimic the familiar interface of an MFP, providing a walk-up, easy-to-use device that enables workers to collaborate and share original source documents digitally within their own office network. Like an MFP, these devices require no PC or software to use, eliminating the need for end user training. However, these dedicated scanning devices will rival the MFP in terms of image quality and paper handling.”
While MFP scanning is on the rise, it has been restricted to ad hoc applications, largely due to the image quality and paper handling limitations of MFPs that Markham alluded to. These limitations keep dedicated scanners the capture device of choice for most document imaging implementations. “In business applications where you’re scanning several batches of documents, a dedicated scanner is going to be easier to use and more cost-effective because of its ability to handle documents of all shapes, sizes, and densities,” says Fujitsu’s Francis. “A dedicated scanner will also provide superior image quality to an MFP because most scanners are bundled with image enhancement software. However, MFPs will continue to complement workgroup or personal scanners for ad hoc applications because of their familiar interface and ability to perform multiple tasks. Regardless of whether scanning is performed by a dedicated scanner or an MFP, it’s good for the general business community and the document scanning industry because new customer segments are beginning to realize the benefits of digitizing their documents.”