Not so long ago, some commentators were predicting that office scanners and scanning were going to go the way of the dinosaurs -- or at least of the fax machines, relegated to a dusty corner and rarely used.
However, the massive weight of regulatory compliance now bearing down on all types and sizes of business has given a new lease of life to scanning technology, especially if networkable and integrated into document management and workflow solutions.
Tracey Fielden, head of office marketing at Canon, said the market for its standalone scanners is expanding faster than ever.
"We do everything from desktop paper scanners, which are sheet-fed, right up to application-centric ones, such as volume production scanners or cheque scanners," she said.
Canon sits below the specialist leader Fujitsu -- which has half the market -- but is seeing growing sales, particularly in the low-volume or departmental categories.
"The departmental area of growth is coming from networkable scanners, that talk to the network," said Fielden. "I think that Fujitsu has only just launched a network scanner that competes with ours."
Scanning was often a laborious, principally manual job delegated to one person. A small work-group scanner can share one network and remove that personís workload, processing jobs from the whole work-group.
"The driver is document management, so that people have access to scanners to convert paper documents to electronic files," said Fielden.
Standalone scanners have more features than multi-function devices (MFDs) and can produce better images, often faster or in larger volumes of thousands of pages, automatically. A lot of organisations that use MFDs will buy dedicated scanners as well, said Fielden.
"There will be departmental, standalone scanners dotted around the office."
Peter Trapmore, EMEA sales director at Xerox scanners/Visioneer, agreed, adding that sales of Xerox-branded scanners from Visioneer are growing at a rate of about 30 per cent a year across Europe, including in the UK.
But the technology too has become more appealing. "What has happened is that speeds have gone up and prices have come down. And the scanners have got smaller and smaller," said Trapmore.
Smaller scanners now are document feeders rather than sporting the traditional flat-bed format -- making them easier to use.
"But until the last couple of years, with the drive for compliance, they were not going back to their records to create digital copies of everything," he said.
Hywel Thomas, sales manager at Surrey consultancy and SharePoint reseller BrightStarr, said the future of scanning is tied in with what seems to be an ever-expanding need for improved document management.
"Our customers are asking us for the ability to print and scan documents," said Thomas. "They have mountains of paper."
Alan McLeish, senior product marketing manager at Oki Printing Solutions, which does not sell standalone scanners, said demand was definitely growing for its range of MFDs, which all incorporate scan functions.
Most offer scan to PDF, JPEG, TIFF, FTP, email or to a Windows folder archive on the network. Some offer Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), so users can access their company address book.
"Customers [previously] were asking for scanning functionality but did not necessarily know what they wanted to use it for," said McLeish. "It was not until we added scan-to-email functionality that it started to really take off."
Another useful product is EFI SendMe, an application that allows interfacing between the MFD and a number of different types of scanning utility, including full integration with document management systems.
"If logged on, you can scan to a folder, FTP, email, or to another printer but you can also integrate it with document management," said McLeish.
"For example, with SharePoint, you can view documents on the MFD, de-speckle, de-skew and add meter data, tell SharePoint where they have to go and so on."
Users can ask the MFD to add an OCR layer to the document and then send it to SharePoint. Other applications with which Oki machines are compatible include RightFax.
Compliance and security around document processing is becoming critical for all types of business.
"One of the things that companies like about SharePoint is that you cannot access it unless you are fully authorised," said McLeish.
"That is becoming important with the current need to make sure that the person who enters a document into a system is authorised. So we believe that the scanning functionality will be used more and more by customers."
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