You're The Missing Link
Scanner vendors got the ball rolling and independent software vendors have followed suit. Now it's up to VARs and systems integrators to close the color scanning loop.
Hawaiian shirts, Crayolas, rainbows, business documents? All right, so maybe the last one doesn't quite fit. But that hasn't stopped document scanner vendors from trying. By the end of last year, almost everyone had introduced a color production document scanner. Kodak, Fujitsu, Canon, Panasonic... the list goes on. And most experts predict that sometime in the future (nobody will say exactly when) color document scanners will completely replace bitonal models. Their reasoning is simple. If you want black-and-white images, you can just use your color scanner to output bitonal images. So, once the ever-shrinking premium for color disappears... presto, so do black-and-white scanners.
But, black-and-white scanners aren't disappearing yet, not by a long shot. According to InfoTrends Research Group, only 10% of the production document scanners sold in 2001 had color capabilities. So, what's the hold-up? The reasons given have been many: price, storage and network bandwidth concerns, and lack of color applications. And, all three of these areas are being addressed by both scanner and software vendors.
The biggest reason, however, that color scanning is not being adopted at a faster rate, is something that is a little harder to address than the technical issues cited above. That's plain ole' inertia. Most people in the document imaging industry, including VARs, are used to working with black-and-white document images and therefore continue to do so.
Don't Be A Laggard
"It's always a risk to make a change when the market is tough like it is now," says Tim Vaughan, assistant director of worldwide marketing for Kodak Document Imaging. "The tendency is to lean more heavily on what has been successful for you in the past, and for many document imaging resellers that has been bitonal applications."
However, relying too much on what you've done in the past, especially in the technology market, can be dangerous. History is littered with examples of technology companies that failed because they couldn't make the jump to the next generation. Remember Smith-Corona, Atari, or Basic 4, to name a few. And closer to home, look at how Xerox has struggled to make the jump from copiers to the digital world. Because it was so focused on its analog copiers, Xerox allowed inventions like the Ethernet and the GUI interface, which were first developed at the copier vendor's fabled Palo Alto Research Center, to walk right out the door.
Don't make the Xerox mistake. "Color document imaging is coming," says analyst Harvey Spencer of Harvey Spencer Associates. "It's time now for savvy VARs to figure out where color works best and to start making some money with it."
Most Perceived Barriers Have Been Removed
According to Vaughan, aside from inertia, there really are no good reasons for not at least looking at color scanning. "Most of the barriers to color are merely perceived," he says. "Take file size. Because they contain so much more information than black-and-white images, color images can be stored at a much lower resolution. This creates comparable image sizes. We work with one content management vendor that regularly installs systems that utilize 100 dpi color images, while the standard for bitonal images is typically 200 dpi.
"And as far as the availability of color applications, we recently surveyed several industry ISVs on what they were doing with color imaging. We asked them if they had functions like OCR, viewing, indexing, deskewing, and thresholding for color images. We received a lot more yes's than we did no's."
It's Spencer's opinion that ISVs could be doing even more with color, such as implementing color retrieval schemes. "Couldn't the images of your oldest documents be yellowed, or images of larger documents be previewed in a different color or shade?" he says, "And, for years search engines have highlighted areas of text on electronic documents that match a search query. Couldn't an imaging system be designed to do the same type of thing?"
Opportunity Is Knocking For Savvy VARs
If ISVs aren't providing this type of functionality, it presents a great opportunity for VARs who can come up with their own color applications. It's not surprising that one of Kodak's largest resellers of color production scanners, ImageRight of Atlanta, develops its own document imaging application for insurance companies.
According to Hardy Wallace, director of sales and marketing for ImageRight, 60% to 70% of the scanners sold by ImageRight have color capabilities. "Our customers deal with so many photos that when color production scanners became available, they were a natural fit," he says. "Previously we had to rig up something that was basically a video camera on a stick."
Think Outside The Box
Everyone agrees that applications where photos are intermixed with documents are a great fit for color applications. And, indeed much of Kodak's initial color success may have been driven by pent up demand in this niche. However, according to Pam Doyle, director of strategic alliances for Fujitsu Computer Products of America, the future of color lies in finding applications outside those traditionally addressed by document imaging.
"Any documents that contain handwriting benefit from the quality of images that color produces," says Doyle. "This could include contracts that are needed in e-business applications. Handwritten documents, such as doctor's notes are another possibility. Documents with watermarks or highlighted text also show up much better in color."
Doyle gave us an example of a science lab that is scanning its notebooks in color in order to put them online. "Because of the charts and handwritten notes in this application, it would not have been viable in black-and-white," she says.
Rich McAllister, product specialist for Panasonic Imaging Solutions Company, adds that color can be a gateway for resellers looking to expand into Web applications. "Because most Web sites are color, color scanning can help bridge the gap between the Internet and document imaging."
Color Scanner Is Just A Piece Of A Solution
McAllister adds that the key to making a smooth transition to color for VARs may be stepping back and taking a fresh look at each opportunity. "The first step for a VAR is finding a problem that can be addressed through document imaging," he says. "The next should be fitting a software application to that problem. After that, choose a scanner that fits the software. If your application handles color documents, choose a color scanner."
The bottom line is that color document imaging applications are at least a possibility now for most VARs and systems integrators. It's up to you to use your imagination and creativity to turn these possibilities into profits. And remember, if you don't, somebody else might.