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If Network Scanning Is So Simple; Why Can It Be So Hard?

Network scanning is a simple concept, but harder to execute in reality. Image: black background with Blue lines and points of light

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Network scanning is simple in concept, but don’t dismiss the underlying technology complexity.

Nothing is ever simple. The premise of productivity in the IDP industry (going back to when it was just called capture, scanning, and/or document imaging) is a simple concept: take paper, remove the information you want from it (just the data fields from a form to the entire document), and then move that information into a process.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to get content into your various systems, this short overview of the three different flavors of network scanning. From an automation perspective, even as capturing a document has gotten easier and easier for the end user, back-end complexity remains.

Joseph Odore, Global Portfolio Marketing Manager for Document Capture Solutions, for Kodak Alaris provides a thorough overview of three different flavors of network scanning in this Two Question Tuesday. Joseph is also Board Chair for The TWAIN Working Group.

Here are the two questions:

  1. In our prediction issue, you predicted that network scanning would grow this year, partially based on the TWAIN Direct standard’s creation. Is it? And what’s holding it back from growing faster? [For those interested in a deeper dive into TWAIN Direct,
  2. We’ve both been in this industry for . . . a while let’s say. For a mature industry, IDP still feels new in some ways – for example TWAIN Direct that we just discussed really does simplify network capture. Are you seeing an increased recognition among new/potential customers around the basic concept that you aren’t digitally transforming anything unless you capture your documents, born digital or on paper?

In our prediction issue from this January, you predicted that network scanning would grow this year partially based on between direct standards creation. I know Kodak Alaris also has network direct scanning. So is it and if not what’s holding it back from growing faster?

I definitely think that network scanning is growing. There’s a couple of different segments within network scanning that really differentiate itself and its applications, right? You’ve got your lower cost kind of more simplistic network scanning solutions, which are not as intelligent but have network capabilities of just getting your documents from the scanner to a final destination at that point.

There could be other applications that do a folder watch ingested documents and go from there and then you’ve got your more intelligent products which are typically driven by software that may directly drive the scanner or directly drive the interface between the hardware and the application which allows you to do intelligent functionality.

So look at Kodak Alaris here, right? We have our Infuse solution, which is a scanning terminal, right? It’s powerful, but the scanner itself does not operate until it’s connected to a management platform, at which time that management platform connects to an application or multiple applications, or it can even do other basic functionality like direct scans to email, SharePoint, etc. So from there you have some intelligent functionality. You can actually scan a document type in there, say an invoice and let’s say there is a an invoice number missing. The system is intelligent enough where feedback could be “hey, I’ve received your document but the invoice number is missing so I can’t process it. Please rescan it.” Or if you’re scanning in a legal document and it always looks for a signature, the signature is missing. It can actually tell you “hey, signature is missing.”

In terms of how TWAIN Direct operates kind of similar to that, but it’s more open to other products out there that are available. And then you’ve got your more traditional network scanning solution which really has all the processing power on board the device. And from there you can have the software integration done on board versus a connection over the network. So really if you look at it, you separate between three different classes of network scanning.

The most popular somewhere in the middle there like the Infuse platform or that you know that semi intelligent that uses a device management application to run it similar to how TWAIN Direct operates, right. So TWAIN Direct, you have to have the connection to a server and then you have your software connected to the TWAIN direct interface over the cloud. So your documents coming in or being ingested or coming through the authentication system and then through the application where it continues its process there depending on how you build that.

Indirect platform, there’s, you know, intelligence that happens behind the scenes, whereas Infuse has more of the intelligence on the interface of the scanner itself. So two similar but different types of applications and technologies and how they operate. And at the same time, it really all depends on the customer’s needs, right? You know, if a customer doesn’t really need some of that feedback or real time information coming back on those documents they don’t necessarily have to use it, but they have that option to do it as well.

And that’s where I see that growing because documents today are really becoming more mobile, right. Nobody’s unless you’re in a back-office situation, most documents you’re getting a few pages long and you need to do something with that document and then pull the information off of it. So you know the scanning industry has definitely changed in terms of how documents are being ingested, right? It’s more transactional. Of course, there’s still applications where there’s tons of paper and you’ve got to put all that stuff in batches.

But when you look at HR, accounts payable, right, you’re dealing with a couple of different documents. If you’re onboarding anew hire, you’ve got a specific set of documents and you can have workflows on the control panel, right? That direct. OK. I have a healthcare form that I’m completing, right? Or I have an identification form or identification that I’m scanning and that’s gonna be put into a certain portion of the repository, the CRM, or the back-office ERP system that’s driving the HR system. You’ve got all these different components and it really just depends on how you customize it.

When you think about some of your more traditional back end, you know or high-powered network scanning solutions similar to our scan station, you know that has more of the processing power on board. It requires the scanner to do a lot of the heavy lifting and then it outputs the document to where it needs to go. Whereas you know InFuse or TWAIN direct, right. Those technologies are all about taking paper and doing on board image cleanup and processing, which most scanners have today.

Some do it better than others. Kodak does a really good job with our Perfect Page where it actually will do a lot of the image enhancement on board the scanner before it sends it off, where some scanners don’t have that and will rely on a capture solution somewhere integrated into the line of business process.

In addition, right, we can also do things like connect our scanner to, you know, our info input solution product, right? And that allows it to do some of the more advanced cleanup and then the intelligent document processing technologies that we have in there, right. We can extract, classify, and use third-party AI engines to do handwriting recognition and so forth. So there’s a lot of different things we can do and that’s a nice thing, right? We can, we can have that integration and we can have those documents go in there and go directly into the workflow, which is really what people need, right?

They want automation. And that’s really where network scanning has its biggest strength is because people don’t wanna sit there, have a scanner at their desk, put their paper in, scan it via their TWAIN or their ISIS driver or whatever they’re using. And then all of a sudden they gotta look at it. And then they’re gonna put it through capture software and then they’re gonna put it through their application, right? Where network scanning really eliminates a lot of those processes.    

If you take one network scanner, you centralize it even in a small work group, right? You’ve got your jobs laid out on the device that you’re connected to, You take the documents in, you put it in, scanner does all the major cleanup. Then it goes directly into the application, and at that point it could do the extraction and all the other stuff. And it’s automated, right? With intelligent document processing solutions, right? You’ve got, you know, a document classification, right? So you know if you’re putting in an invoice.

The system will know, OK, I got an invoice. If I’m doing a resume, it’s gonna know what’s a resume and at that point it’s gonna do what it’s supposed to do once it recognizes that document type and finish its remaining data extraction and classification processes. You know, it could be as simple as certain output, the searchable PDF, or it could be an extraction of that data into another system which is gonna take that information and make it available to other systems.

It’s funny as you’re as you were talking, I was just thinking it’s like it’s always amazing how complicated the specifics of actually getting a solution to work are in this industry. It’s such a simple concept, take a piece of paper, scan it, move it around, but all the all the back-end bits and pieces make it make it a little bit harder than that.

You were just talking about transformation which is a good lead in for our second question.

So you know, we’ve been in the industry for a while. It’s a mature industry, but it also feels new in some ways. You’ve got AI and we just, you know we’re talking about the variations of network scanning which can help simplify capture as you were just discussing. So from your point of view as a marketing guy, are you starting to see an increased recognition among new and potential customers around the basic concept that your aren’t digitally transforming anything unless you digitize/ingest born digital documents?

I’ve seen over the years a big shift in how customers are perceiving what their needs are when it comes to scanning? Everybody is familiar with, hey, I’m gonna take paper, I’m gonna put it in the scanner, I’m gonna put it in the MFP, and then I’m gonna scan it to my desktop or I’m gonna dump it in a folder.

And for some, that’s the extent of their document management solution. But when you think about real businesses that have a lot of information, they want automation. What hasn’t changed is the hardware concept? It’s all a piece of hardware that takes a paper and extracts the image off of that paper and then makes it digital. And then there’s software that does more with it; OCR or whatnot.

But what people really want is to add an automation component. They want to be able to quickly do things. Before it was very manual and nothing illustrious about putting paper in, scanning it with my driver, looking at my doc, right? That whole manual process. But today people don’t have time for that. And what makesthis whole process great is that most people don’t need to learn how to do that so much, right? As long as they can put paper in the scanner and hit scan (or within their application and hit scan); it’s done. It’s seamless, for the most part. Network scanning makes that even simpler? It’s all about just paper. And once you hit that scan button, it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do without you looking at documents, right? Because the technology’s gotten so good, the image quality’s gotten so good across the board that you know, you could trust it. Some products are better than others, but at the end of the day the concepts, the same paper in and it data’s going somewhere, and that’s where there’s a lot of benefits to it. And the software really is what makes this whole process seamless. It’s the automatic classification of documents. Years ago. Scan paper in, you look at it in your desktop and you go, OK, that’s an invoice and it’s gonna go to this folder or it’s gonna go to this application, right?

If you think about what software does today, you can have, let’s say in a healthcare organization, an invoice processing portion of the system. You can have your medical records. And when you scan those documents, you don’t have to look at those documents to decide what they are. The software will determine what they are and then say, OK, this is an invoice, this is going to billing or accounts payable. Oh, this is a medical record. This is going to the medical records application. You don’t have to do that. You’ve eliminated that step.

OCR technology continues to evolve. The concept hasn’t changed. The accuracy just gets better, right. And now with all these third-party engines, right, handwriting recognition, you know, five years ago handwriting recognition was not very good and it’s still evolving. But I tell you what those Google AI and  the Azure AI and all that stuff, I mean they do an incredible job at handwriting recognition. It’s impressive on what they can do And having those capabilities really makes that whole process so much easier because at the end of the day do you want to pay your high expense employees to look at paper and process it or do you want them to work with that information and do what they need to do with in the organization?

That’s what network scanning does. That automation eliminates the extra steps on the PC. In a lot of environments, they’re not even using a laptop, right. They might be walking around with a tablet.

You don’t wanna bog your tablet processing power down doing these manual processes. When you get into your tablet or your other device, you want it to be a finished product or the information from there. Let the back-end systems do all that stuff.

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