The world’s largest scanning device event ever – Dreamforce 2012

If you had to select from the list below what the world’s largest gathering of scanning technology would be, what would be your guess?

    1. The AIIM conference
    2. The ARMA conference
    3. The CES tradeshow
    4. The Macworld conference
    5. None of the above

The answer is not as obvious as most of us would have guessed such as the AIIM conference.  After all, AIIM is known as a leading organization in ‘image management’ so of course this would be the world’s largest collection of scanning devices ever.  The correct answer is “None of the above”.  I would strongly argue, and have plenty of evidence, that Salesforce.com’s recent Dreamforce 2012 conference in San Francisco was by far-and-away the largest collection of scanning technology to ever be assembled at one conference.  Specifically I’m referring to the number of camera-enabled devices at this conference and creating images from smart phones instead of document feed paper scanners.  There were 90,000 registered attendees and each attendee probably averaged two devices whether they were iPhone’s, Andriod’s, iPads, Galaxy’s or whatever.  These devices were in abundance, that’s for sure!

Therefore, conservative estimates of around 180,000 camera-enabled mobile devices plus all the devices in the vendor’s booths themselves probably puts the number of “capture” devices at around 200,000!  This is a remarkable opportunity to leverage the fact that most of the devices these days include high-quality cameras.

            

 Of course I’m not talking about large production-type scanners typically seen at the annual AIIM conference where you would capture a stack of 100 or 500 pages at a single time, for example.  I’m talking about ‘transactional’ capture where the use case is to capture one, or just a few, documents at a time.

 

Education and awareness – Old habits die hard

Even with all these devices readily available to all attendees, and all this revolutionary software on display I witnessed utter failure, not because any of these people or technologies were bad, but because people were not aware of the incredible advances in Mobile Data Capture.  Let me clearly explain what I mean by utter failure with specific examples.

 

1.  Mobile Data Capture Use Case # 1:  Business Card with recognition on device

First, I had several people hand me their business cards.  Why?  Why not just take a picture of the card and automatically put in to Salesforce as a contact?  Yes, the technology does exist!

 

2.  Mobile Data Capture Use Case # 2:  Marketing materials with recognition hosted

The next utter failure was when I was handed some marketing materials.  What typically happens with these items?  That’s right; they often get filed right into the circular file cabinet (a.k.a. trash bin) to never be found again.  Why not just snap a photo with a smart phone and have the document made into a fully Searchable PDF image and then stored in some system?  Then I can quickly, and easily, retrieve it in the future based on some keyword related to the material that I was looking for.  This functionality is not only very useful for retrieval purposes but also general organizational purposes.  For example, at a typical tradeshow you will meet many people and get introduced to new companies that you probably hadn’t known of before.  In these cases you will most likely only remember something vague about the company, person and/or product but not the actual name of the person, company or product.  Therefore, you can easily search for a term such as “consulting” to retrieve all the documents with that particular word contained in them.

 
 

3.  Mobile Capture Use Case # 3:  Batching and document collections

Then one of the last utter failures I would like to share is a personal story but it just goes to illustrate that capture from mobile devices is not top-of-mind like it should be because the technology is so new.  Like most of us returning to our offices after a business trip, we will have acquired various documents during our travels such as meal receipts, contracts or just environmental photos to save and share with our fellow colleagues.  While the types of documents themselves could be vastly different, the collection of these documents will most likely have something similar such as the location or name of the event.  In my case the similarity between these documents was ‘Dreamforce 2012’.  So what I did was whip out my handy iPhone and snapped several photos at once to create a collection of documents.  This was a very different user experience that I was used to where I would take a picture of one image, and then uploaded.  Then take a picture of a second image, then uploaded, and repeat the process until I was finished.  This was simply a horrible experience and I would delay getting this information saved electronically because I dreaded the time wasted doing this activity.  With the ability to capture many images at once, it allowed me to get these images uploaded quickly without much effort at all.  Next, since the documents were different sizes, I used the auto crop feature to automatically resize the images to the proper size.  Then, to make my stored images really smart I added ‘tags’ so that I can type a search term such as ‘biz card’ and find all the business cards stored on my phone.  I then had the option to send to a wide variety of popular cloud storage destinations, send via e-mail or even print.

 

Batch capture

Capture several items at once instead of one at a time.  Greatly saves time when gathering a collection of related images.

Enhance Image

Auto binarization, auto cropping, page rotation and other useful features to create excellent image quality.

Tags

Easily add tags, or metadata, to each image to make them searchable or better organized.  Custom tags can be added at anytime.

Batch Collections

Your smart phone can now be a simple version of a mobile document management system with the ability to save collections of images on the phone itself.

 

So the question begs, with this great capture technology literally at people’s fingertips why is it that we seem so naïve about this amazing technology?  I think there probably are several viable reasons including, but not limited, to the following:

    • Awareness that this type of technology exists in the first place.  More education is needed.
    • As a society we are on “mobile application overload” so we have a difficult time weeding through all the available applications and try and find the most useful ones.  There’s an app for that!
    • We are still in the early days of mobile application development.  Companies rush to get an application to market first, then will gradually add business productivity capability such as mobile data capture.
    • Use case scenarios need to be clearly defined and return on investment needs to definitively articulated.

 

Therefore if, as an industry, if we can provide more overall education and bring awareness to this type of technology, then the greater likelihood there is that everyone can benefit from the tremendous potential of Mobile Capture.  When we truly consider all the great possibilities of using mobile devices to contribute content, instead of just purely information consumption, then we can absolutely achieve the next major milestone in achieving the ultimate in business efficiency.

Capture: The ideal application for Cloud

Capture:  The ideal application for Cloud

As I was brainstorming on a topic to write for this blog, I was inspired by Bob Larrivee’s latest AIIM community blog entitled “It Came From The Cloud” (http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/It-Came-From-The-Cloud) where he asked some simple, yet thought-provoking questions.  So this begs the question why anyone would resist such obvious benefits of “cloud” (http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/A-cloudy-future-for-document-capture)?  I’m sure there are many legitimate concerns and issues but I would like to focus on the concern of security for the purpose of this blog post.

These days the term “cloud” as it relates to usage in corporate enterprise typically engenders strong feelings one way or the other.  Benefits such as quicker application deployment, reduced IT costs and the ability to offer a more feature-rich experience to workers is not often debated.  What is debated, and is a reasonable discussion, is the viability of “the cloud” from a security standpoint.

Security: Technology versus Trust

These concerns are well founded and should be addressed but we should definitely draw a major distinction between the technology itself and whether a provider is trusted with data.  Therefore, when we understand this distinction between technology and trust, the cloud should not be discounted as a legitimate option for enterprise simply due to fear alone from a technology perspective.

Below is a short list of various security items that should be considered when contemplating a cloud strategy.  This short list is not by any means an extensive list of security items to consider, however, please ask yourself this, for each one of these items is an individual business or a mass data center more equipped to handle capabilities?  For those who would really consider the question of whether on-premise or cloud is more secure then the conclusion to me is clear.

  • Private clouds – Dedicated servers and databases to only one organization
  • Physical access – Limit access to only those that might need to physically touch equipment
  • Data encryption – Encrypt data in motion and data at rest
  • Device authentication – Trust devices in addition to users
  • System updates and patches – Apply security updates as soon as possible
  • Secure disk wiping – Securely erase temporary data from disk drives
  • Network architecture – Databases beyond firewalls and web data on front-end servers
  • Logging – Track all activity to detect intrusions
  • Policy/Governance – Consistently review policies and procedures for improvement

Conservative cloud adoption by Enterprise

While I certainly would not expect major enterprise organizations to jump in head-first and move all their data and applications to the cloud, what does make logical sense is for them to move transactional applications (versus storage applications) to the cloud.  Specifically, moving “Capture” to the cloud makes complete sense.  Why?  Capture processes images only temporarily then stores the data wherever you’d like, including in the security-hardened ECM system.  In other words, the capture application does not store images or metadata in a database.  Capture is a processing activity, not storage and retrieval.

One other observations about Cloud for the Enterprise; I can absolutely see a trend towards building massive infrastructure now in preparation for delivering robust applications eventually.  Having attended Cloud Connect 2012 (Santa Clara)http://www.cloudconnectevent.com/santaclara/, it was remarkable to see the level of interest among major IT providers and well-known Enterprise organizations.  Without a doubt, the infrastructure is being implemented now for what will be an onslaught of cloud services in the not-too-distant future.

Major adoption by Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB’s)

In contrary to Enterprise, Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB’s) have to make a decision on how to improve efficiency with no or limited IT resources.  For SMB, the cloud offers opportunities like never seen before.  Why?  Because a shared resource makes sophisticated technology available to a greater audience.  Why?  Because costs to the vendors are decreased through mass-consumption by users and this allows vendors to make these advanced technologies available to the masses.  Also, and from a security perspective, using cloud storage and capture as a rented service from providers allows SMB organizations to focus on their businesses instead of burdened by maintaining technology.  When the choice is to not utilize any technology and continue to process paperwork manually, or to utilize cloud technology to capture, store and retrieve with a little, yet limited, risk, it’s clear that SMB’s have chosen limited risk with great efficiency improvements.

Like never seen before, SMB’s are empowered to create a mash-up of useful business applications without the high cost associated with doing-so.  Clearly there is an undeniable trend towards Cloud Storage from providers such as Box, Evernote, Catch, Google Docs, Dropbox, etc. and Cloud Capture is a logical complementary technology to further improve efficiencies and decrease operational costs.

 

Next steps: Being indecisive is inefficient

With such overwhelming evidence that adopting cloud services makes sense then the next logical question is “what now?”.  Clearly security is, and should be, a major concern for enterprise as well as SMB, but with enterprise the stakes are much greater.  SMB inherently has this element of risk/reward that drives them to make business decisions quicker.  The topic of “access vs. security” balance is often discussed within the ECM industry and the truth is that you have to find a balance of making information available to users, yet also making sure the data is protected in a responsible manner.  SMB that does not have dedicated IT resources can utilize “the cloud” to improve business efficiency at minimal costs and trust that security is taken care of by their storage provider.

There are many wonderful solutions available right now for businesses of all sizes to benefit from “the cloud”.  For example, for an organization to migrate e-mail, CRM, expense management, document management, corporate web site and an accounting system to 100% cloud today is do-able.  With known monthly operating expense costs and no IT burden.  Also, these cloud applications are not cheesy, cheap applications; these are robust, Enterprise-ready applications that are now made available to everyone which are easy to use and secure.

What do you think about “the cloud”?  Is it a fad?  Will it be embraced by Enterprise?  Is it secure?