The Rise Of Networked Scanning
The adoption of networked scanning is on the rise, and document imaging VARs should prepare to cash in on the opportunity.
Converting paper documents into digital data isn't an earth-shattering phenomenon anymore. Instead, document imaging can finally claim a firm foothold as a proven strategy for VARs to use with customers struggling to improve operational efficiency and productivity, reduce administrative burdens and costs, and even achieve compliance with governmental regulations. The trend that continues to enfold the document scanner market is a migration that draws the technology from a centralized, backroom process to points much closer to document creation in distributed, or workgroup, scanning solutions.
Most analysts and research firms that cover the document imaging market agree that distributed scanning applications have become — and are predicted to remain — the dominating segment of the scanner market. Network scanners are a subcategory of this segment and, although not yet recognized as a stand-alone hardware segment, network scanning is showing significant growth year over year. A recent report from InfoTrends, a research firm that provides in-depth analysis of the document scanner market, supports the premise that network scanning is on the rise, making it fertile ground for imaging VARs. The group's U.S. Document Imaging Scanner Survey Report: 2007 illustrates a 112% increase in network scanning use over the last three years, from a starting point of 16% in 2004 to 34% in 2007.
Now Is The Time To Sell Network-Enabled Hardware
Network scanning hardware has imaging specifications nearly identical to the dedicated scanner models found in the desktop or workgroup segments. However, the trend in imaging is bringing network connectivity into the mix, with additional network-capable scanner models being released each year. These scanners reside directly on a company's network, rather than being attached to a dedicated PC. "Network scanning provides obvious advantages, such as those we've grown accustomed to with network-attached printers," says Kevin Neal, product manager at Fujitsu.
Neal's example of a networked printer highlights the ability for VARs to integrate a vital piece of productivity equipment directly into a customer's network, enabling the device to be shared and accessed by multiple individuals as part of that network. Shared devices reduce the cost of the solution, a primary sales objection, by reducing the total number of devices needed. In addition, deploying fewer devices can lead to reduced maintenance requirements and can even help to land sales in cases where conserving valuable office space is a primary concern. "While networked printing has become commonplace and has become very beneficial as an efficient output device, this connectivity is now being leveraged to input information into a company's computer systems via scanning/imaging technology," says Neal.
For some companies, high-end digital copiers and MFPs (multifunction peripherals) have provided an introduction to the basic concept of network scanning. According to a recent IDC report, 1.54 million scan-enabled MFPs shipped in 2007. The trend has not gone unnoticed by the ISVs (independent software vendors) in the document imaging arena. Many ISVs have recognized these devices as another source of capture and, as the corporate office environment embraced the MFP, these ISVs developed solutions to capitalize on the opportunity.
Satisfy Ease Of Use And Security With Networked Scanners
Despite the applicability of the MFP as a networked scanner, it still can't compete with a dedicated networked scanner in most cases where document imaging is the primary emphasis of a reseller's solution. "Frequency, complexity, and larger scanning jobs tend to drive more dedicated scanning equipment for individuals or workgroups," says John Capurso, VP of marketing at Visioneer. A dedicated network scanner eliminates the competition that can be experienced with an MFP-based solution, such as waiting for a large print job to finish before being able to scan a document to e-mail or file. In addition, despite all the advances being made on higher-end MFPs, a dedicated device can still be easier to use.
"Ease of use is a critical selling point for customers that have multiple users with different levels of technical expertise using the scanner," says Jackie Horn, director of worldwide marketing at BÃ–WE BELL + HOWELL. "VARs are leveraging user-friendly touch screens and built-in features [such as one-button scanning] to make life easier for end users to simply walk up to the scanner and scan." Many network scanners available today are incorporating much bigger touch screens than earlier models — some as large as 8 inches across — to promote ease of use. These larger screens provide a GUI (graphical user interface) on which the user can not only select scanning options, but also preview the scanned image and even enter basic indexing information.
Security is also a driving force behind the adoption of networked scanning, and it is occurring at both the device and document level. At the document creation level, network scanning is beginning to incorporate encryption capabilities to enable the creation of secure image files. For example, scanning to encrypted PDF can prevent unauthorized individuals from viewing the document. At the device level, user authentication can take many forms, including user password or even fingerprint and other biometric technologies. These options can satisfy access control by restricting device usage and can also provide audit trails by recording which authorized users have accessed the scanner and which company information was created or viewed on the device.
Networked Scanners Can Support ECM Solutions
Another trend in the network scanning market is the growing availability of SDKs (software development kits) that can be used to run customized document management systems right from the network scanner. "Although well-suited for ad hoc scanning, one-touch scan-to-job buttons on the network scanners enable VARs to establish dedicated buttons that can trigger specific workflow processes, delivering the combination of more scanning power and functionality with simpler operation," says Michael Oliva, manager of product marketing, Canon USA. "Incorporating various connectors to third-party applications, such as SharePoint or RightFax, can simplify integration and enhance interface options between the network scanners and various document management systems."
In some cases, network scanning has become a way for VARs to enhance existing document management systems or even form the nucleus of brand new ones. "VARs have the ability to bring the entire system architecture together: network scanner, connectivity, servers, ECM (enterprise content management) applications, workflow, access rights, and document life cycle," says Visioneer's Capurso. "And since every organization has different requirements, the opportunity is there to make all the components come together and function reliably." Just as with distributed capture implementations, VARs should leverage network scanning to continue pushing the point of capture even closer to the point of document creation. Doing so will help customers realize the benefits of increased ease of use, increased information security, increased productivity and efficiency, and perhaps what is at the top of most customers' minds today, reduced costs.