Distributed Apps Open New Avenues For Scanner Sales
Low-volume production scanners are an integral part of a wave of Internet-based capture applications.
Color functionality, lower speeds, USB ports - production document scanners are starting to look a lot like consumer scanners. Does this mean resellers can also expect to see consumer-goods-like margins from their scanners? Not necessarily. It does mean, however, that VARs can start looking towards more mainstream environments for document imaging applications.
"Traditional back office document imaging is a good market, one in which we are still seeing growth," explains Victor Kan, director of product management for Fujitsu's Image Products Group (San Jose, CA). "However, for explosive growth, we need to tap into new spaces. You see vendors like FileNET, whose roots remain in document imaging, expanding into new areas like content management. VARs can expand too by taking advantage of the wider breadth of applications being offered by imaging software vendors."
Distributed Apps Offer New Forms Of ROI
Many recently released imaging applications leverage the Internet to enable users to capture documents at distributed locations. Formerly, imaging applications required end users to collect their documents at a centralized location for scanning. According to Kan, the advent of distributed scanning applications has enabled VARs both to increase their business with existing customers and add business from customers that had previously resisted imaging technology.
"We work with a trucking company, for example, that has leveraged distributed scanning to reduce the amount of time it takes to process its bills of lading," he says. "Previously these documents were mailed or faxed to the main office and then the information from them had to be key entered. We also work with a financial institution whose ROI comes from the fact that they are no longer losing customer applications during transportation of paper documents from branches to the main office."
Scanners Just As Important As Software
According to Scott Francis, Fujitsu's product line manager for its Imaging Products Group, the adoption of distributed scanning is finally occurring after a couple years of hype. "Five to 10 years ago you would have needed a WAN with private data lines, not to mention the expertise to set up that type of system," he says. "Now the Internet has replaced the need for a complex WAN. There are also software packages available for capturing documents in a distributed environment. I hate to call them shrinkwrapped, but they are a lot easier to install than the toolkit solution you would have had to develop 10 years ago."
In addition to infrastructure and software developments, there has also been a new wave of scanners released in the past couple of years to meet the requirements of distributed capture applications. "These scanners have many of the features of high-volume scanners traditionally used in centralized environments," says Francis. "However, their speed and price are aimed at distributed applications."
George Morris, product marketing manager for Canon's imaging filing systems, cautions that VARs should not discount the importance of a good scanner to the success of imaging installations. "Most people focus on document imaging software, which I'll admit is very important. However, next to the network, nothing can bring a document imaging system to its knees faster than the input device. The scanner is the interface between the users and the system. If it's not reliable or difficult to use, the installation will be a failure."
You Get What You Pay For
Morris says that many VARs who don't have imaging backgrounds are simply not used to earning margins on hardware. In their initial forays into imaging, they will often install flatbed scanners with automatic document feeders. "As soon as end users increase their volume, or add an application like scan-to-e-mail, they'll find their low-end scanners can't handle it. At that point they'll move up to low-speed production scanners. Canon sees a lot of buyers on their second or third generation of scanner," he says.
In addition to durability, one of the major differences between dedicated production document imaging scanners and consumer-oriented scanners is the level of vendor support. "If a scanner does not hold up to an end user's demands, the VAR is on the hook," says Kan. "The first person the end user calls is the VAR. If the VAR does not receive any vendor support, it puts them in a bad situation."
Dedicated document imaging scanners may have a higher list price than consumer models with similarly advertised features. However, according to Morris, this also presents VARs with the opportunity to earn higher margins. "If you package the scanner in your bid on an entire solution that includes software and services, typically your loyal customers are not going to go out and buy a scanner from somebody else. If they balk at the price, you need to stress to them the importance of that $4,000 scanner to a system that could include considerably more expensive hardware in the form of PCs and storage."Questions about this article? E-mail the author at email@example.com.