Document Scanners, MFPs, and Mobile Phones

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Mobile capture is a hot topic. A couple years ago, Harvey Spencer Associates projected a 50% CAGR for the mobile capture software market through 2015 – at which time it would reach $1.5 billion. Last time, I talked with Harvey, he wasn’t backing off that figure. Capture market leader Kofax, whose Transform conference I am currently attending in San Diego, has also been bullish on capture opportunities – and probably with good reason. If you remember, it was by far the hottest topic at last year’s event. And I’m looking forward to the breakout session on “Creative Uses of Mobile Capture.”

But this column is not being written to argue whether or not mobile capture will take off, let’s just assume it does – even with some help from oddball products like the Scandock. The question is will it cut down on the sales of document scanners? I think the answer is no, as most people will consider any mobile capture being done as additive to the batch scanning that is done with document scanners. After all, not many people are going to do batch scanning with a smartphone, which is typically what you do with a document scanner. Of course, I guess mobile capture could potentially reduce the size of the batches that need to be scanned.

However, it’s my opinion that MFPs are the hardware that is in real danger with the continuing penetration of smartphones and tablets. Tablets especially are great devices for viewing documents – meaning you don’t have to print the docs – which directly impacts the MFP space (and potentially hurts the document scanning space as well but less directly- because there still has to be governance built around any business documents viewed with anything, which is why multi-channel capture becomes so important to ISVs and VARs going forward).

What prompted this post was a conversation I had last week with someone who was doing ad hoc scanning on their MFP and couldn’t figure out why MFPs just weren’t going to replace document scanners. I tried to explain that this was a conversation we’d been having for years…but he was not convinced. And that got me thinking about smartphones and why they wouldn’t replace scanners either…but MFPs.

Let me just draw one picture for you. In today’s computing market, people want to do more with less. You want 100 apps on your smartphone, not 100 computing devices. And for the past 10 years, document scanners have done nothing but pack more functionality into a smaller footprint. Document scanners are sleeker, simpler to use, and higher quality than they ever were before. Can the same really be said about MFPs? I don’t know the MFP market as well, but I’ve certainly seen a few devices in recent years that looked a lot like Frankenstein’s monster due to their having so many add-ons and moving parts and pieces.

The bottom line are living in an increasingly digital world, and document scanners have always been about promoting that digitization. In contrast MFPs are still pushing printing as the primary driver. And, although they do a great job at printing, it’s a dying market. Lexmark has come to this realization and that is why it has invested so heavily in software – led by its investment in long-time imaging leader Perceptive Software.

No, MFPs will never replace dedicated document scanners – but smartphones/tablets could replace MFPs.

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