Magazine Article | September 1, 2001

Weighing Your Scanner Options

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

The days when users settled for a scanner that came closest to meeting their needs may be coming to an end. Faced with increasingly sophisticated end users, scanner vendors are offering individualized options based on customer needs.

Integrated Solutions, September 2001

Can I get that car in red? Can I substitute onion rings for fries? Special requests are no big deal in some industries, but production scanning hasn't traditionally been one of them. According to executives from Imaging Business Machines, LLC (IBML) (Birmingham, AL) and Bell & Howell (Lincolnwood, IL), soon customers may no longer have to settle for a scanner that comes closest to meeting their needs. Both companies are part of what could be a growing trend by expanding the "options" available for their customers and adding functionality that has traditionally been handled by software.

"End users are demanding more," says Robert Sbrissa, senior VP of sales and marketing for IBML. "The industry has exhausted OCR (optical character recognition), ICR (intelligent character recognition), and key from image and has to focus on the next level. With the richer information we can now get more quickly than ever, the focus has to move from pictures to processing." Sbrissa contends that the concept of delaying processing until after a document has been scanned may one day be obsolete.

Scanners can be modified to suit the needs of the form, such as a loan application in a financial environment. "The last thing a vendor should do is ask a customer to change the form he is using," says Mandy Chubin, director of marketing worldwide for Bell & Howell. "Because it's fruitless to even try, vendors need to deliver customized scanner options." This could encompass anything from a larger document feeder to designing a way to drop out the black background added with VRS (Virtual ReScan), to modifying throughput. "A customer may not know what he wants exactly, but he knows what he doesn't like. That's why the consultative piece of an imaging solution is so important."

Look To The Long Term
The consultative expertise to offer a tailored scanning solution is a key differentiation between a true document production scanner solution and those being manufactured by scanner manufacturers in the copying space, according to Chubin. She concedes that this has put added pressure on production scanner vendors to add increasingly heightened functions and features and sweeten the value options for end users.

While there may be a place for the "throwaway technology" offered by copier manufacturers in light duty environments, Chubin advises that production scanner purchases have to be viewed as long term. With hardware lasting as long as 10 years, the cost of customizing it to your application has demonstrable ROI.

Craig Reeves, IBML's VP of solutions technology agrees that a scanner purchase should be viewed as a lasting investment. Scalable isn't a word generally associated with scanners, but the trend may be toward marketing a product that more easily adapts to a customer's changing needs. "Soon users will have the ability to always have the latest technology as software upgrade paths become part of the scanning solution."

Optional modular components that can be activated or components that can be switched out for upgraded ones in the future have also been incorporated by scanner vendors.

How Long Will This Take?
Users may hesitate about considering an individualized solution because they fear that it will take much longer to implement. Reeves and Chubin agree that this is far from being the case. "It shouldn't take months to get an imaging system," says Reeves. "It should be like installing an HP printer where a simple configuration has the system up and running in minutes."

Obviously, hardware may take a bit more time to customize as it requires the vendor to modify the manufacturing process. Nonetheless, Chubin estimates that, depending on complexity, a tailored solution could be delivered in as little as 90 to 180 days.

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