The Rise Of Networked Scanning

Business Solutions, September 2008

Written by: Vicki Amendola

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 BÖWE 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.

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The opportunity of Network Scanning

Network Scanning

By Kevin Neal

fi-6000ns_scan-searchableWe live in a connected world”.  It’s a simple phrase, but it means so much.

At the present time, most of us take for granted things like cell phones, blackberries, PDA’s,  Bluetooth, pagers, etcetera.  All these communication devices are examples of being “connected” all the time;  however this wasn’t always the case.  Not all too long ago we lived within a very disconnected world in comparison to the technology currently available in 2007.  With the dramatic adoption of the Internet over the past decade, more people  than ever are connected via their home computers with a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), Cable modem or even broadband  wireless.  According to Gartner, the number of households with broadband connections will double between 2005 and 2010.  The rate of business connectivity is a great deal of the same, just on a grander scale with greater bandwidth and a higher level of service guarantees.

With this rapid growth of computers and servers connected with high speed networking, the likely next step was to connect peripherals.   One of the most prevalent examples of a connected peripheral in an office environment would be a laser printer.  There are many advantages to having a networked printer, including sharing among groups of users, because the volume of printing for each user did not dictate a dedicated printer.  Network printers are fairly common these days; however a new, emerging trend is to use network connectivity to INPUT information into computer systems via a scanner instead of OUTPUT via a printer.


Networking Scanning enters the connected world

Network Scanning is the concept of taking a scanner engineered specifically with mission critical scanning considerations.  This includes paper handling, image quality or advanced multi-feed technology, subsequently connecting them directly to a network without the need for a computer system to be physically connected to the scanner.

These advanced scanning solutions, on the other hand, should not be confused with digital copiers or multifunction devices, which most of us are familiar with. While these sorts of devices are handy for extremely low-volume  scanning requirements, the majority of these devices lack either the physical attributes or true integration desired to effectively utilize them in the connected business world.  As an example, when performing  automated forms processing with advanced data extraction techniques such as Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, good image quality and excellent paper handling provided by dedicated network scanners, could dramatically increase the automation process, thus, decrease human intervention.   This undoubtedly increases efficiency, reduces costs and improves customer service.


Concepts and Terminology of Networking Scanning

Basic  connectivity is the most rudimentary to direct network attach solutions used for a scanner.   This translates into a scanner, which can be used as a network device and the scanner appears as a local device on the network. Or, as I like to refer to it “extends network connectivity”.  This is the least expensive, yet most restrictive option.  It is ideal for ease of use and is cost effective however it is deficient on flexibility for true integration.

Biometric connectivity is the ability to attach a scanner directly to the network exactly as in the Basic connectivity scenario;  however, it incorporates much more intelligence into the scanning process.  For example, with a biometric scanning solution, users could merely walk  up to a supported scanner, position their documents in the scanner, place thumbprint on, or hover their palm over, a biometric device then initiate scanning of the documents based on pre-configured profiles, destinations and/or applications.

‘Push-Scanning’ refers to a scenario where the scanner operator walks up to a scanner, drops the documents into the automatic document feeder, or places them on the flatbed, then initiates the scanning process to send the images to the desired location on the computer network.   This could perhaps be a “watch folder” for high-volume OCR processing for example, or it could be a shared network drive of the scan operator’s personal computer.

‘Pull-Scanning’ is a term  characteristically used when a scanner  operator controls the scanner to connect to a device, scan images and transmit, or pull these images from the scanner to a certain location.   The ability to pull these images can be achieved in many different ways and one of the most common ways is to scan via a web browser.   In other words, the user would enter the name of the device and would have the ability to scan images as well as send them to the destination of their choice.

ECM Scanning.   Enterprise Content Management, or ECM, scanning takes one or more of the above Network Scanning concepts; however, it adds an additional powerful layer of functionality.   ECM scanning incorporates a network scanner directly into content management systems via software drivers and scanning software.   The document imaging industry has seen a dramatic focus on the importance of document capture, for example.   These are extremely focused software packages so as to assist in the ability to extract important business data from scanned documents.

ECM + Secure  Scanning  is the next logical step in the networked scanning connected world.  Now that the benefits of document imaging have been proven via return on investment, increased productivity or compliance reasons, more than ever mission critical business data or highly confidential information resides in a digital format and not on paper.  It’s crucial to secure this sensitive information during the entire lifecycle of the data.  From the instant the data is scanned, when it’s hosted on the network, until the time of its destruction, or the end of the retention period.


What could be the future of Network Scanning

Now that connecting persons and computer systems for personal and business uses is nearly common-place, emerging technologies are being introduced that will continue to stimulate connected systems.  One of these emerging methods being utilized by Information Technology (IT) departments is called “Service Orientated Architecture”, or (SOA).  SOA is a way to create new business applications by re-using or better utilizing current technical assets within the organization.  Connected systems played a major role in developing the SOA model with industry standards such as HTML, XML and Web Services.  In a nutshell, SOA is a way to add functionality and features to a computer networks without the disadvantage of closed or proprietary systems.

SOA plays an important role for Network Scanning in particular.   While the conceptual design of SOA may be applied in traditional scanning configurations with a dedicated computer controlling the scanners operation, there are a few important considerations making a Network Scanner quite appealing to network administrators, Chief Intelligence Officers and end users.  These  important considerations include system security, updates/patches and ease of use, just to name a few.

•  From a Network Administrators point of view, the SOA Network Scanner allows them to deploy network scanners in a controlled  method  making future firmware/software updates much easier.

 •  System Administrators could ship one integrated device, or a scanner plus a network connectivity device, directly to any location where they  would like to deploy scanning.  Once the physical hardware is received the user would simply plug the network cable into the hardware and one could, in theory, be scanning in minutes.   This eliminates the costly and time-consuming tasks such as updates operating systems with patches or installing new software when versions change.   In addition, the Network Administrator would be able to diagnose any technical issues or view usage reports easily from one intuitive interface.

CIO’s, or Chief Information Officers, must earnestly consider a Network Scanning SOA approach from the understanding of compliance, security and regulation.  A scanner attached directly to a network via SOA architecture  gives the organization the ability to provide activity reports based on the individual device for example, which could help play a major role in assisting with adherence to these corporate policies and governance.

Finally, ease of use for the scanner operator plays a chief role in that it is driving the adoption of network scanning within the SOA infrastructure.  In fact, should a corporation wish to use the Pull Scanning technique, they have the capability to assemble a system that could in effect eliminate the need for any sort of user intervention whatsoever.  Imagine the power of this total SOA/Network Scanning approach.   Let’s use a Customer Service example to illustrate a few of the benefits.

In our example, the Customer Service scanning deployment will demonstrate too many remote site locations.  Our IT department benefits from the fact that they would avoid building a computer system to act as the connectivity/scanning device; we simply ship the hardware to the remote site and they plug it into the network.  Subsequently, for Pull Scanning, all the user would be required to do is physically place the items to be scanned on the scanner itself, and someone in a completely different part of the connected world would initiate scanning; receiving all of the resulting images.


The opportunity of Network Scanning

While Network Scanning is quickly becoming the buzz among the industry, there still are certain technical deficiencies that will need to be addressed with some of these devices in order to be considered part of a true IT integration.

As the connected world continues to improve infrastructure and new, innovative ways  to communicate emerge, the industry trend towards more Network Scanning should continue.  For example, organizations most likely will move forward on plans for additional remote location “Telecommuting” of individual workers and satellite office locations.  Couple factors that include ease of use, simplified IT management of hardware and software resources as well as additional adherence to compliance and regulation standards and the future of Network Scanning seems bright.


The Opportunity of Network Scanning for resellers

A question and answer session on the topic of Network Scanning:

Q. Is network scanning currently taking any particular market “by storm” when compared to other scanning options?

A. Network scanning is being embraced and deployed in a range of vertical markets. While there seems to be a healthy balance of markets deploying network scanners, we’re noticing that the traditional markets that have invested more in scanning and enterprise content management, like Healthcare, Finance, Accounting, Legal and Transportation, are also quicker to the draw when it comes to implementing network scanning solutions. This is simply because of the network infrastructure they already have in place. However, we’re still seeing a strong adoption rate across many vertical markets to assist in business process management securely in a controlled environment and to achieve improved efficiency.

Q. What new features and functionalities (if any) are being added to network scanners that make it an appealing option?

A. Some of the key features of network scanning devices that are making them so appealing are based on the “user experience”. True adoption of a technology begins to gain momentum when the actual users of technology enjoy the experience of using a particular product. In the case of network scanners specifically, users overwhelming comment that a large touch screen display makes them comfortable with using a device. The learning-curve is minimal with a bright touch screen display which encourages either additional usage by a particular person or encourages usage by additional persons in a departmental environment because there is no training involved. The user-friendly touch screen is complimented by a full 101-keyboard for additional ease of use. Users can simply scan images then enter an e-mail address and type other information in the subject or body of the e-mail message. In addition, software integration with back-end Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Line of Business (LOB) is certainly creating additional appeal for network scanners. Now, users and IT departments have the option to either use standard functionality such as Scan to Folder, Scan to Fax, Scan to Print or Scan to E-mail, but they also have the option to Scan, Index and Store directly to an ECM repository with the properly Add-In Module installed.

Q. Why would VARs want to offer network scanners as a part of a comprehensive ECM strategy? Please explain your answer.

A. VARs can absolutely capitalize on the explosive growth of the network scanner market. As part of an ECM strategy, a network scanner is just one piece of the solution, although a very important piece. The quality of the image is vital to other complimentary technical processes directly related to the electronic document. Capture techniques such as Bar Code Recognition, Searchable PDF creation or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) accuracy are either greatly enhanced or can possibly cause additional manual correction which is directly a cause and affect specific to image quality. Value-Added Resellers in the ECM market, in particular, understand the importance of the quality of a Dedicated Use Device such as a network scanner in comparison to other network scanning peripherals available in the market. Through a thorough understanding of the quality differences between dedicated scanning devices from other multifunction devices, a VAR in the ECM space has already set themselves apart from their competitors and they can leverage this expertise into the network scanner market. There are many appealing factors for VARs to offer network scanners as a part of a comprehensive ECM strategy. First, quality network scanners are easy to deploy. With a basic understanding of network concepts which involve things as straight-forward as knowing IP addresses or host names of servers, either the VAR or even end-customer themselves can have a network scanner up and running in literally minutes. Second, quality network scanners are easy to manage, maintain and update. Software utilities such as ‘Network Scanner Admin Tools’ allow authorized persons to access the network scanner remotely to view usage, update software or even change system configurations. With a traditional desktop scanning workstation this is not easily done or would require additional software of configuration. In short, network scanners are easy to deploy, simple to use and require very little maintenance.

Q. Is network scanning more suited to any particular market? Is it excluded from any particular market?

A. Anywhere paper exists is an opportunity for network scanning – there is no particular market that cannot benefit from this technology. Network scanning helps accelerate all the traditional benefits found in scanning and ECM solutions, including enhanced business processes by eliminating lost or misplaced documents, decreased costs by enabling quick business process because of minimal human labor involvement, increased revenue for certain vertical markets such as being able to take advantage of pre-pay discounts in an invoice processing application, improved environmental consciousness by eliminating paper and thus our reliance on trees.

Q. What are the specific advantages (and disadvantages) to selling network scanners?

A. Selling network scanners provides opportunities for VARs and System Integrators to engage their customers in a discussion about their business processes. Resellers should embrace this opportunity to work closely with the end-customer to identify areas to improve their overall business operation. By thoroughly evaluating and taking inventory of the customer’s existing network infrastructure it is very possible to find either missing components such as servers and server software that may be needed to enhance the system. In addition, there is a possibility to offer the customers either consulting or professional services in order to properly implement the right solution for their specific business. Selling network scanners should not be considered a “cut and run” business proposition. VARs that understand this will be extremely successful. One of the potential disadvantages involved is if your network scanner itself is difficult to configure then the labor costs of just getting the device communicating on the network could far outweigh the potential profit involved in a particular installation. Network scanners present a wide range of functionalities and options as compared to simple stand-alone scanners, therefore understanding the capabilities involves a well-rounded understanding of network concepts and not just document scanning and capture. Having a solid understanding of document capture as a foundation will serve those who wish to embrace network scanners

Q. What are some common pitfalls VARs run into when selling/implementing network scanners?

A. I think a common misconception among VARs is that since a network scanner is a complete solution there isn’t an opportunity for add-on sales. In other words, since a network scanning device includes embedded software with scanning functionality there is no computer to sell or capture software to install or configure. While this may sound like it’s limiting the VARs ability to maximize their sales opportunity, I think just the opposite is true if you approach opportunities the right way. A network scanner is typically being deployed as part of a solution these days. Although network scanners can be used in an ad-hoc fashion, most of these devices offer advanced scanning features and intelligent functionality from years of document scanning experience and are used for daily business activities. Therefore potential add-on sales could include an on-site service contract to ensure maximum uptime. Also, as an example, if the customers’ network currently lacks a network fax server or LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) authentication server then this would require additional investments in hardware, software and configuration.

Q. What are the most recent innovations in network scanning that VARs should be aware of? (In other words, what is different in the hardware – or market – compared to 12-18 months ago?).

A. There have been some significant innovations in the network scanning market over the past 12-18 months. This includes hardware innovation as well as software innovation. For starters, as some of the traditional leading document scanner vendors are starting to enter the network scanner market, they are bringing the technology and innovation that helped establish themselves as leaders in the first place. To illustrate some of the special software differences, I’ve include the Automatic Page Rotation feature where the scanner can flip the page to the right-side up direction. This particular feature is found in intelligent network scanners and will likely be missing from other simple network peripherals. Other advanced features include automatic color detection, where the scanner intelligently knows to save a particular scanned document in a black & white format to decrease file size or in color and automatic blank page deletion and automatic deskew and cropping to handle mixed size documents efficiently. With regard to hardware, some of the more advanced network scanner devices include an Ultrasonic Double-Feed Detection sensor to detect whenever two pages might accidentally be pulled into the document feeder at the same time and stop the scanning process for immediate correction. If capturing each page accurately is of critical importance then you can imagine how important this feature can be. Also, some network scanning devices have the capability to scan plastic cards directly through the automatic document feeder. This is extremely useful in certain vertical applications such as Hospital Admissions where ideally you would want one device in a reception area to capture paper documents as well as plastic identification cards and plastic insurance cards through one device in a small physical footprint.

Q. Are there any trends about network scanning you would like to share?

A. As I’ve mentioned in a few of the above questions, these dedicated use devices are loaded with intelligent and advanced features innovated from years of document scanning experience. I suspect that this trend will continue and most likely accelerate as the adoption of network scanners becomes more mainstream. Connectivity to third-party software systems will be possible with Software Developer’s Kits (SDK’s) and ease of use and manageability of these devices is appealing.

Easy setup with the Fujitsu ScanSnap fi-6010N network scanner

This was a video script I wrote and narrated to show how simple and easy it was to literally unbox and configure the Fujitsu fi-6010N network scanner on a network.  It just took some basic networking knowledge to configure the device.  Our engineers did a great job to make it as painless as could be.  Believe me, I’ve had experience with other devices and there were not nearly as simple!

Fujitsu fi-6010N Network Scanner – Scan to E-mail video

One of the most popular uses of the Fujitsu fi-6010N or N1800 network scanners is the Scan to E-mail functionality.  Below is a video that I wrote and narrated that shows how to use this handy feature.  Enjoy!