Getting the most out of your document capture solution – Multistream, color dropout for forms processing

Leveraging an investment in scanning hardware and software should always be a priority.  After all these are typically not cheap investments although the ROI can be outstanding if implemented properly.

In this blog I would like to share some little known, yet extremely useful, features that can dramatically improve forms processing automation and accuracy.  I am occasionally asked about these features and I believe if more people knew these were available then it would help improve efficiency in the capture process tremendously.

Multistream – Multiple versions of one captured image

The first feature I would like to explain is “Multistream”.  As the word would indicate this means that for each image captured, the scanner can output two or more versions of the image.  Why in the world would anyone want to do this you ask?  Good question and the answer is to improve Forms Processing data extraction accuracy.  Typically when people use Multistream they will output a color version of the image and a bitonal (black and white) version of the image.  The color version is stored for the purpose of retaining an electronic version of the original document.  This version of the image is for human’s to retrieve and view images.  However, the bitonal version is used for the capture technology such as OCR to process by computers.  Bitonal images are preferred for OCR because the color is unnecessary for a computer to interpret pixels and might actually decrease the level of accuracy.

As you can see in the image below the OMR (Optical Mark Recognition – checkboxes), ICR (Intelligent Character Recognition – Handwritten) and OCR (Optical Character Recognition – Machine characters) are much cleaner on the bitonal image on the left.  While the color image on the right is good for human viewing but not as good for capture and data extraction.

Dropout Color – Remove form background color

Another useful feature to use, in conjunction with, or just use in general on certain types of forms, is called “Dropout Color”.  This means that either the scanning hardware, sometimes the scanner driver or even capture application, can remove the forms background color.  In the image below the form color for the Healthcare form is a red color.  This red color is a good way to guide humans completing these forms to which area of the form to fill-in information.  However, this color is unneccasary and not needed for a computer to read this information via OCR, ICR or OMR.  Therefore, we can “dropout” the color to expose only the information on the form that we really care about.

 Forms Processing – Automatically extracting data from forms

Now, after using Multistream and/or Color Dropout, as you can see in the image below, you can now expose all the data you wish to capture in a neat manner which a computer can better understand and interpret.  The combination of using these advanced features can certainly help improve your data capture automation and accuracy levels.

Gaining value by using tools available to you

Enabling these features is quite simple so I encourage everyone to consider if these, or other features, might be available to you in your document capture solution that might help improve productivity.  These are just a few examples of using available functions to enhance process.  Within the entire capture process there are many techniques, functions or features that can be incorporated that would make capture much more efficient.

What do you think?  Are you getting the most out of your capture solution or do you think that there are possibly areas of improvement had you known about capabilities such as Multistream or Color Dropout?

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.


Fujitsu fi-5900C Mid-Volume Production Scanner

I was the proud, and extremely passionate, product marketing manager for the life cycle of the Fujitsu fi-5900C Mid-Volume Production (MVP) Scanner in the United States, Mexico and Latin America.  In the Mid-Volume Production Scanning segment Fujitsu had historically been #3 market share or often worst behind Kodak and Bell & Howell.

The truth of the matter is that I was lucky with timing, but it was also a lot of hard work, team effort and excellent execution of a plan and we eventually achieved #1 market share in MVP for the first time ever.  I proudly helped establish Fujitsu as a player, in fact, THE #1 player for years and when I left the company in 2011 we were still #1 in spite of Kodak acquiring Bell & Howell.

Below is a collection of image memories of the awesome fi-5900C which revolutionized the industry!

article_4 article_d1 5900_london_1 fi-5900C johnsondiversey Corry Publishing: BuxCo Domestic Relations for Quality Assoc. In

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.

Fujitsu fi-6010N network scanner Job Menus

This was a video that I wrote the script and narrated about the Fujitsu fi-6010N network scanner Job Menu functionality.  This was a feature that we incorporated into the device after the initial product launch based directly on customer feedback.  This was a very popular feature because it allowed for an easy level of customization on the touch screen.  The screens could be configured based on user login credentials.  This customization could be on the device itself, or it could be configured on the Central Administration Server and then pushed out to all the scanners on a network.