How Many Hours Could TWAIN Direct Save Your IT Team? That and What’s New With TWAIN, a Capture Conference Sneak Peek With Kevin Neal

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As all of us here at Infosource gear up for the Capture Conference (September 7 and 8 in Chicago, be there or be square!), I’m in the process of providing “sneak peeks” into what our sponsors (and speakers, Ralph Gammon is coming soon!).

Last week, I posted updates about what the TWAIN Working Group is up to, and embedded the video below. I’ve taken the video transcript, not everyone wants to listen to the . . . melodious voices of myself and Kevin Neal, and created this blog post. The transcript is only lightly edited.

We’re here today with Kevin Neal, CEO of P3iD, which you can see in his background there. For purposes of today, we’re talking with Kevin about TWAIN and TWAIN Direct and what TWAIN can do to advance the capture industry and make capture easier for end users as well as vendors.

Kevin is Marketing Chair and serves as a board member for TWAIN. By way of introduction, I’m Bryant Duhon, Editor of the Document Imaging Report, published by Infosource.

DIR: Let’s get started, Kevin. For folks not familiar with TWAIN just give us the elevator pitch for what it is.

Neal: It’s an honor to be with you today because we’ve got a lot of exciting updates for the TWAIN Working Group and around our TWAIN Direct project. Let’s start with the basics as you said. In the document imaging and the capture space, you have scanning devices like copy machines and document scanners and then you have the software applications. The reality is that the software applications don’t talk directly to devices; there’s a scanner driver in between. Usually it’s an ISIS driver from OpenText or a TWAIN driver.

The difference is that OpenText is a commercially available driver that the scanner manufacturers have developed for them and that allows a software application to talk to the device. Or there’s an open source version, which is a specification provided by the TWAIN working group and then developers like scanner manufacturers or software application providers can create an integration into those devices and have their software applications talk to the devices. Just like you install a printer driver for printing devices, The TWAIN Working Group provides a specification to develop a TWAIN driver that’s installed on a computer that is that interface between the device and the software application.

https://youtu.be/bmTpyoz6Y0s

DIR: So extending on that — and I can see you’re holding yourself back because you know what this next question is – so what is the value of TWAIN and TWAIN Direct for vendors to include in their scanners as well as software vendors?

Neal: You know I always have to temper my excitement to talk about TWAIN Direct. There’s a history with the TWAIN classic. There’s basically two versions of the TWAIN driver: TWAIN classic version, which I just described, which is a software application to device but it’s a compiled application that’s usually installed on a Windows PC or Linux system or a Macintosh system. So it’s an installed application and that’s worked for 25 years. Between TWG and all the contributors to the project, they have made TWAIN a very solid standard and a lot of people love it. TWAIN classic is tried and true but you install it. It typically was designed for behind the firewall, but now with cloud services and Web services and APIs, we are creating a new version of the TWAIN driver and a specification. But it’s an API instead of a specification. Because it’s an API (a Restful API) people can host the API as a cloud, so instead of creating a software application to the device, you can create a software application that integrates into a cloud server that then manages all of your different TWAIN Direct-compatible devices. So it’s drastically different to enable a rapid deployment; a rapid integration; to integrate with third-party applications and web services to integrate mobile devices and develop applications quicker.

TWAIN Direct is about a three-year-old project now and we’re very excited to have new partners and end-user organizations come in to ask questions about the TWAIN Direct project and then download the code to actually start developing an application with it. With TWAIN Direct it’s a very exciting time and we’ve got a lot of activities that I’ll share with you in these next couple of minutes here, Bryant. A very exciting time for the TWAIN Working Group.

DIR: You know what the value for vendors is; what is the value for TWAIN for end users. Judging from your answer above, I’m assuming that you’re getting into network scanning and the ability to use the cloud effectively for capture.

Neal: That’s exactly right. These megatrends of cloud capture and network attached devices is exactly where the TWAIN Direct project is focused. All of the scanners that are being developed now have network interfaces. They either have an RJ45 connector; they have wi-fi; they even are coming with 5g and 6g eventually. Every single one of them, even though they might still have a USB interface, they’re coming with a network attached so if this is a fact then there’s an  opportunity to integrate with those devices using something like TWAIN Direct. Specifically for an end user, and we hear it all the time and I heard it when I was a manufacturer [Kevin was with Fujitsu years ago], is that the end user benefits because they can go get a TWAIN-compliant device from any manufacturer that has TWAIN Direct-compatible hardware or any model. So if the model’s discontinued then they can go get a different TWAIN Direct- compatible scanner or device. 

It allows them to reduce vendor lock-in lock-in so it allows the organization the freedom to have a mixed environment; to use different models, to not have to upgrade their devices all the time. Really, the freedom of choice for vendors for model numbers to have a mixed environment to have the centralized control like we just mentioned you know if you have one cloud server the TWAIN cloud and you can manage all of your devices from one centralized location then that reduces a lot of IT burden because you don’t have to remote desktop to each computer to change the DPI on this one PC, you change it once and you push it out to the whole whole fleet of devices. So end user organizations can really benefit from TWAIN Direct.

DIR: Yeah, I think that increase of ease-of-use, not just on the end-user side, but on the IT side (especially as the IT skill shortage is growing) whatever companies can do to make that IT resources are more effective and efficient, regardless of the technology, just makes tremendous sense.

Neal: I mean you set it and forget it almost, right, because you could plug these in, because the server has all the settings. The scanners don’t maintain the settings anymore. Most of them don’t have hard drives, they just have enough memory to produce an image and send it in so they’re basically cameras.And all the workflow and the settings are on the server so you set it once and you centralize all your settings and you push it out. You push out profiles from the server to the scanner so like you said,the IT benefits are tremendous.

DIR: What’s the latest from TWAIN?

Neal: OK, we’ve done a lot of activity but we’re not doing things in a vacuum. By that I mean we conducted at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, several focus groups. We invited a bunch of different industry experts, hardware manufacturers from the document scanner industry, multi-function copy machine manufacturers, there were capture ISVs, big cloud vendors, RPA and AI people. So we invited a big collection of people to participate in the focus groups and then we did surveys. We had good talks. As a result of the focus groups, we are doing things like at the end of this year we’re tentatively going to have a developer’s day in November on 8th and 9th in Tampa. We actually are going to have people come in.

It’ll be a hybrid event so there’ll be people on site. There will also be people via Zoom like this. Our plan is to get like 20 to 30 developers that actually get hands-on with TWAIN Direct. That’s one of the activities that’s really exciting.

We’re also a proud sponsor once again of the Infosource Capture 2022 event at the beginning of September (7&8)  in chicago. We’ve been a sponsor for the past couple years. It’s always a great intimate place to really talk about what’s new and exciting in the capture industry. This year you know the TWAIN Working Group is going to be sharing some of our results from the focus groups. We’re going to be talking about our Developers’ Day that will be a month or two after the event. Then, of course, we continue to innovate on the technology side.

DIR: Let’s pick up on that innovation. You’ve been working on TWAIN Direct – that was three years ago I think I believe you said. What’s the next thing for TWG?

Neal: We are a technology group, at the end of the day that’s what we are, so we develop open source technology standards and we advocate for standards. Right now TWAIN Direct is a scanner protocol so that’s what the API is. So that’s number one so you could drive the scanning devices and number two we also have a file format, a PDF raster so you can actually create a  PDF file from the device itself. The next thing that – we probably won’t put in the specification but will be an amendment – is enterprise authentication. So if you have a cloud application you can’t log into the cloud without some kind of identity. So the ability to integrate with Active Directory or LDAP services or single sign-on through a protocol called SAML 2.0, an industry standard. Since we’re an industry standards committee we’re going to advocate for SAML 2.0 support and we’ll provide some details on how to integrate SAML 2.0 into your TWAIN Direct application.

That was a major step in that, you know, based on all the feedback that we’ve got From the focus groups and the membership is that this isn’t for consumer usage this is going to be for small businesses or enterprise businesses mostly because you know the scanning devices themselves are still $500 for even the low-end ones so this isn’t like a consumer application. IT needs enterprise authentication. That’s one thing we’ve been talking about.

We’ve also been talking about things like basically hosting TWAIN cloud API so that instead of getting the source code and downloading and setting up themselves they might be able to have a hosted environment where they just come in and they can start developing an application on day one. This takes away all the friction of getting started, so that’s a significant development. These are still kind of future things and then also improving the way that we deliver the code on Github. There’s a bunch of source code on github but you still have to do a lot of work to compile it. So you want to have more built-out sample applications that are fully functional that you could just get and then modify. You know, put your logo, change your colors, add your uniqueness to it, . . . so all the traditional value of using the cloud.

DIR: It’s kind of funny to listen to a hardcore – and obviously you’ve since run a business and are more involved in software – listen to a scanner manufacturer talk about using the cloud like an app to do driver delivery.  Twenty years ago, I think we’d have been like “nah.”

Neal: Yeah, it’s kind of the way it should be. I mean software application developers want to create their application and the workflow logic. That’s the real important thing; getting an image into the system is super important, but it’s like a trivial thing that they should have. They shouldn’t have to become a scanner expert and a driver expert. So if you’re a workflow provider, if you’re an RPA company, if you’re a big cloud company, if you’re developing a business application, right, you just want this TWAIN Direct plug-in to be able to get images into my system efficiently and securely and then I could do something with it. You know that’s what we learned from the focus groups was that “Hey, just give me something that worksI could plug in.” I don’t want to have to rebuild the wheel again. It’s just kind of senseless. It’s like give me three quarters of the wheel and I’ll build the other quarter or that as a horrible analogy.

DIR: I find it fascinating that you snuck in security again. We don’t need to go into detail, but you’re a big proponent of ensuring that that capture,  especially network capture, is secure. I’ll give you 30 seconds to talk about the importance of that and I’m going to time you!

Neal: Yeah, okay fair enough. I’ll just say a couple quick words. You’re right, cybersecurity is a big, big deal. I read articles every day about this. The authentication i just mentioned, this is about identity; knowing who it is so i know where to put your stuff. But there’s also the idea of security around IT so enterprise authentication number one. Then we’re also talking about you know block chaining scanned documents and then encrypting scanned documents and then tokenizing scanned documents so there’s all these things that you could do as a TWAIN Direct developer. There’s all kinds of special things because you have access to that device at the very beginning and at the very end of the transaction.

So if software developers look at this as an opportunity to, my gosh, if I can get the access directly to the device and I control the workflow then I can do these amazing things to secure the endpoint and the data itself. It’s an amazing opportunity, Bryant. 

DIR:  That’s a good segue into the next question, which is a general broad industry question. The capture industry continues to be a green market. How does a piece of technology like TWAIN help expand the market?

Neal: That’s a good question too. A lot of people will say, “Hey scanner driver. That’s boring,” right? It’s not strategic to my business, but I think actually the opposite. If you take a technology like TWAIN Direct plus some other technologies and solutions but if you take it at its core and you think about it, TWAIN Direct can be the centralized kind of workflow central that you can build upon. That can be so strategic to a business that you can’t believe it. As a former IT guy, first of all I want something that I could plug in, like basically a SNMP kind of control system. It controls my routers, my servers,  my switches; I can see the status of all.

Can you imagine a workflow system that can integrate with all your imaging devices and that includes document scanners, copy machines, video cameras where you’re collecting data from all kinds of sources. So if you can imagine that and I can build an application around that and put workflow on top of that then it becomes a strategy and not an expense or cumbersome.

You know, I hear it all the time. Bryant, like okay the big cloud guys want to sell 5,000 seats of Azure, but they got a beautiful Azure application and you know does all these fancy things for the business but they say, OK, I got to get an image into it. How do they solve that problem today? They scan to a desktop, then they browse and upload to a folder so the chain of custody is totally lost in that case.

That’s not an acceptable answer anymore. You have to have directly from the scanning application into your Azure application with 5,000 seats so if TWAIN Direct is part of your strategy and the Azure application developer says, “Hey, I could just put TWAIN Direct as afront-end to collect the images into my Azure application.” This allows me to sell the 5,000 Azure seats much more effectively because I have a better solution that’s secure because it’s the end point from the scanner directly into my application. It’s easy because it doesn’t have the driver conflicts. You hear about USB conflicts all the time and my scanner got disconnected.

If it just requires a network connection only there isn’t that installed driver, you know, it’s just a network connection that’s more stable. It’s more reliable. It’s effective to manage because it’s a one workflow. Long story short, if you make this part of a strategic initiative then this can revolutionize your company in the digital transformation, future of work kind of business.

That’s why I think it’s strategically important not just a “oh, it’s a cool little tool” kind of thing.

DIR: Yeah, it’s like you’re saying it’s kind of like a hidden missing piece that just makes that ability to digitally transform an organization, I hate that word but let’s use it, just makes it a little bit easier, a little bit simpler, a little bit safer, a little bit better.

Neal: If you tallied the amount of time spent on getting scanners working in the industry on a daily basis, I would say there’s billions of dollars wasted on tech support calls and “my scanner doesn’t work” and then i’ve got to upgrade the driver to windows 11 version. You know all those kinds of things are eliminated with a Restful API, TWAIN Direct kind of solution. So, yep, there’s financial benefits all over the place. Strategic benefits moving forward, connectivity and interoperability, security; so it’s the wave of the future. Bryant, as the device manufacturers are creating the network interfaces on all their devices so if they see it and they’re spending billions and billions of dollars on developing this new generation of document scanning devices, it’s clear that there’s going to have to be software platforms that support those devices. So it’s a very amazing time.

DIR: Let me sneak in a question here before I wrap up with the last one that I shared with you before we got on this call. How does someone get involved with TWAIN?

Neal: It’s very easy. Our main website is TWAIN.org. That’s the main TWAIN project. There’s a forum on there. There’s a newsletter. I highly encourage people to go get the newsletter. Sign up. It’s distributed once a quarter; really good information. Then there’s also TWAINdirect.org. That’s specifically about the TWAIN Direct project. I definitely encourage people to go there. You can get links to github, you can download all the materials. 

Then there’s also membership. You can join us as a member of the TWAIN Working Group and you can have access to early code. You can contribute to the code. You can influence the code if there’s something that you think should be there. As part of the open standard that we advocate for, you can actually influence the project. We’re a very diverse group and we encourage membership.

I also highly encourage; we’re going to do more of these kinds of focus groups in the future; join those. Those were by invite-only but we’ll have more of them in the future. Then last but not least again, Bryant, if people are interested in Developers Day, we have a flier on it. You can sponsor Developers Day as a hardware manufacturer or an ISV. You know, it’s a great opportunity for you to get in front of a bunch of developers that are creating these new kinds of innovative applications – Developers’ Day November 8 and 9. 

DIR: Let me conclude with a little bit of a personal question. We’ve known each other for a while, I don’t think I’ve ever actually asked you this, you know, back when we were both a little bit darker in the hair department. You’ve been involved with TWAIN for quite a while. You’ve been in the industry for quite a while. Why do you, and you’re always very passionate and excited about this stuff, what is it about the stuff that you love so much?

Neal: That’s a great question, Bryant. We’ve known each other for a long time. First of all, I personally like sharing information. I’m part of the AIIM group too, so I like sharing information and floating ideas; that’s just my personal interest. So I like AIIM and I like participating in projects. Back in the day I got hands-on with open-source software like Apache, Mysql, PHP. Downloading those tools and working with those tools allowed me to learn a lot about servers and hosting and programming languages and databases and all this stuff. Those open-source tools really were interesting. I was looking for the same kind of open source in our industry and document management/document imaging and TWAIN was around. So I messed around with TWAIN and I saw that a lot of people were asking for TWAIN-compatible scanners and TWAIN-compatible applications. 

But TWAIN Direct wasn’t a thing back in the day so when TWAIN Direct came around, that’s where i said, “hey, you know, I want to be part of this more sincerely and more concretely and and help drive the project. I wasn’t at the beginning of TWAIN Direct, but I do think it’s the future. I’ve been involved at hardware and software companies so I do hear that people really want this stuff and it needs to evolve. So if I could do whatever I can to advocate for it and, you know, share ideas and get this project moving faster, then I’m all for it. 

To answer your question, it’s a personal interest that helped me learn so I want to give back. But it’s also a very valuable tool. I mean, I’m an IT guy too, so i could see the benefits for IT like I described and that’s good for businesses. It’s not just me saying these things, i’ve actually lived that life. I want other people to be able to benefit and contribute back too. 

DIR: I’m always fascinated when I speak to folks like yourself because I just write about it. You’ve experienced the pain that you’re talking about so it’s good to have that first-hand perspective. Kevin, as always, great to talk to you. Thank you for the time. Thank you for your insights. And I look forward to seeing you September 7th in Chicago at the Capture Conference.

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