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.


Hey you, yeah you – get into my Cloud

Just a quick visual on the emerging Cloud Computing market to create some discussion. Thoughts? Comments?

A quick visual on the emerging Cloud Computing market to create some discussion.  Any thoughts, commentary or discussion on this topic are welcome.
Click image to view full size diagram.
Click image to view full size diagram.


Financial Fiasco

I would like to preface this entry with a few points:

# 1) I had a feeling this day would come even though I’ve been trying to avoid it like the plague. What is this you might ask yourself? Well, it’s an all-out rant on my blog about the current fiasco transpiring in our financial markets and how “we” managed to get ourselves into this situation. I am sorry to say, or maybe not sorry to say, this will not be that all-out rant. Just sort of a rant. 🙂

# 2) It’s not that I’m afraid to address the issues revolving around our financial markets; in fact just this opposite. However, circumstances dictate that I can no longer bite my tongue. I had hoped to develop a well thought-out, professionally constructed blog post to address this topic. Now I feel that I must at least establish the foundation for future possible posts, as I do find it extremely relevant to all of our daily lives whether we believe it or not.

# 3) Again, I don’t want this to be a rant on how I genuinely detest those few individuals who have perpetuated this historic financial catastrophe. I’m sure there will be plenty of ranting in forthcoming posts on this topic. I’ll defer to future posts to elaborate on how I feel about the “who”, “how”, “when” and “why” regarding government bailouts, historically low interest rates, astronomically high foreclosure rates, 401k’s wiped out and pending inflation.

Referencing Paragraph #1: I used the term “we” in the first paragraph of this post to indicate something important especially, right now, on February 25, 2009 as I write this blog post. For others reading this sometime in the future it may be very different but I can assure you that, on this day, the Consumer Confidence Index is extremely low. The general uncertainty of the future is prevalent amongst most citizens in the United States, and likely around the world. I can’t imagine that there is one person that this economic downturn has not adversely affected within the past year or so, or might affect sometime in the near future. Regardless of your particular opinion of how we got here, “we” are in this together to work through the tough times. This is the “we” to which I refer. While I realize that we must be realistic concerning the possibilities and be honest about the future, we must also see the preverbal “light at the end of the tunnel”. In other words, times are tough and the short-term outlook for a quick economic turnaround is dismal in spite of the government pumping billions of dollars into the system. However, we must realize that like most things, this typically is part of a long-term economic up and down cycle and while many of us enjoyed the good times not so long ago, we must also endure the difficult times.

Reference Paragraph #2: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am by no means an expert on this topic (like that wasn’t already evident). I will, however, claim lots of miscellaneous and/or useless knowledge of the various factors that have contributed to the burst of this economic bubble. I also must admit that this knowledge came to me as a few, fortunate coincidences. First, my wife used to work for a brokerage firm where we established our first stock trading account. Although we had minimal funds to invest, it did peak my interest in business. I enjoyed losing my money slowly in the crooked, er… ummm, I mean highly-orchestrated Wall Street schemes. I absolutely feel that not everyone on Wall Street is a crook and I’m sure there are many honest people at work there but, the few bad apples have ruined this barrel, at least in the short-term. Crooks at Enron, MCI, Beazer Homes, Countrywide Funding, etc., have made a mockery of our law enforcement agencies; exploited loopholes in our legal system by using them to their advantage and generally disgraced our Nation with their selfish behavior.

Secondly, it just so happens that a project I was doing at work roughly a year ago, involved research of current events affecting the “Lending” vertical market for my company’s particular technology. While this was sobering information to learn and digest, I did identify at few major factors that might help drive adoption of our technology so I paid close attention to developments in these areas:

1) Subprime Lending
2) Proposed “Photo Identification Security Act”
3) Patriot Act
4) Sarbanes-Oxley

As you can see from the list above, Subprime Lending was top of mind for me at the time. I was paying close attention to the mortgage market like I never imagined that I would before. Long story short, these were two significant events, which lit the fire of emotion in me to speak out on this topic, and why I wish to be outspoken and discuss it with others.

Reference Paragraph #3: Ok, hopefully in Paragraph #1 I’ve established that “we” are in this regardless of political affiliation or other differences. We can do a lot to help ourselves and if everyone makes that extra effort to contribute then hopefully it’s less painful for our friends, neighbors and family. It won’t be easy but we must try. In Paragraph #2 I hoped I articulated why I am personally passionate about this topic and the reasons behind it. Now I would like give my humble opinion of what should happen to those who are found guilty of causing this misery to us: Fry ‘em!

Can I be anymore clear? I am absolutely disgusted, pissed off, mad, angry and a zillion other adjectives to describe “how to feel about rich jerk-offs getting richer at the expense and the misery of others”. I want to see them prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law – and then some! Martha Stewart got six months? These guys ought to be put away forever! Bernie Madoff and his crew need to be making highway street signs for eternity! I feel so awful for those who suffer because of these self-centered SOB’s.

Sorry, I’m done. What caused this temporary rant? Do you care? Am I wrong? Do you agree? Please drop me a quick note on my blog and let me know how you feel.

By-The-Way. What do you think prompted me to lift my self-imposed moratorium on not posting on the financial crisis topic? This post: (and it seems like daily news anymore)

Money managers accused of $550 million fraud

As a side note: I was looking for a royalty-free image of domino’s falling to depict my point visually I came across a blog which includes financial and historical information. This blog elaborates on how the housing industry may be responsible for America’s financial distress. “Where There Is Ruin III: Housing Dominoes Fall

Thanks again for your attention,