Can Dedicated Scanners Be Part of an MPS Offering?

If you look at print and scan trends in the office, you’ll notice that we’re scanning more and printing less. Production and office pages continue their slow decline, with black-and-white laser volumes taking the biggest hit. Meanwhile, scanning is on the rise as businesses race to digitize their paper-based business processes.

Even though print is in decline and scanning is on the rise, most businesses rely on copiers and MFPs to handle their scanning needs. Research consistently shows most businesses use a copier or MFP to handle their day to day scanning needs. But when you consider the cost and effectiveness of using copiers and MFPs to scan — especially against dedicated scanners — they don’t seem like the ideal solution.

This provides the independent dealer and direct sales channels with an excellent opportunity to include single-function scanners in MPS contracts to shift the scanning burdens off copiers and MFPs, which can help MPS providers optimize their customers’ business processes, maximize device uptime, reduce service costs and increase customers satisfaction. 

The problem with copiers and MFPs

At first glance, MFPs and copiers look like the perfect option for your business’s document digitization strategy. Most copiers and MFPs are tightly integrated into your customers existing business processes and support their own nifty document management and workflow applications. But in environments where customers are scanning large volumes of documents, MFPs and copiers might not be the wisest choice.

Here’s why.

Copiers and MFPs are designed with two things in mind: printing and copying documents. When it comes to scanning, the copier or MFP’s biggest Achilles’ heel is the document feeder. The mantra for copiers and MFPs is “scan once, print many.” In some cases, copiers and MFPs only offer a platen flatbed scanning surface, which limits users to scanning one document at a time. In other cases, the device will come with an automatic document feeder (ADF), but they can’t accommodate some media types that you’d find in most offices. Furthermore, many are unable to scan both sides of a page with a single pass, which doubles job times and subjects both the device and each scanned page to additional wear and tear. And even if customers purchase a model equipped with a single-pass duplexing ADF, it’s probably going to cost them.

Performance aside, document feeders on copiers and MFPs can be harmful to an MPS provider’s bottom line and be the source of unplanned downtime for customers. In most MPS contracts, customers pay for what they print, not what they scan. However, scanning can contribute to unexpected downtime. Often, support calls are scanner related, with most cases requiring a technician’s attention. As we all know, dispatching technicians can be quite costly — especially those operating across a large geographic area. In many cases, the cost to dispatch a tech can cancel out months of service revenues. Not to mention, replacing a document feeder can be very costly, sometimes reaching prices in the low four-figure range. And don’t forget, customers also take a big hit on productivity, since they are unable to scan until the repairs are made.      

Scanners do it better

There is no question that the paper handling capabilities on dedicated scanners are much more versatile than what you’d find on a copier or MFP. Customers can run almost any document they’d typically find in the office, including thick and thin paper, passports, hard plastic cards like an embossed card, credit card or ID, long documents such as EKGs or oil well records, and mixed media batches. Most scanners leverage double-feed detection technology — which uses sensors in the paper path to detect instances of two or more pages passing through the paper path at the same time — to reduce data loss and protect originals from being damaged. In some cases, multifeed detection settings can be configured to ignore detected errors based on their position, which is very convenient when scanning documents with labels, barcodes, attachments and so on. 

Dedicated scanners are very reliable and don’t require a lot of maintenance. Virtually every single-function scanner comes with a single-pass duplexing ADF. They’re built to handle much larger volumes — in some cases, over 100,000 pages a day — and they rarely break down. Customers can expect to scan thousands of documents before they experience a jam or misfeed, if they ever do at all.

While better reliability and paper handling capabilities are important, the biggest advantage that comes with dedicated scanning solutions is that they do so much more than recreate paper documents in digital form and send them somewhere convenient. Today’s dedicated scanners offer intelligent features and functionalities that automate as many tasks as possible in an attempt to reduce mistakes and enable workers to focus on more important matters.

Dedicated scanners often leverage automated, hardware-based image processing technology to ensure optimal image quality without requiring a human’s attention. For example, some devices can automatically crop and rotate images and remove blank pages so users don’t have to spend a lot of time sorting and organizing batches. Instead, they can drop a stack into the ADF and let the device handle the rest.

Perhaps the biggest benefit that comes from a dedicated scanning solution is how they can automate additional tasks further downstream in a business process. Let’s take invoice processing as an example. Most devices support zonal OCR technology, which can be used to read and extract information from a user-defined location on a document. That information can then be routed to where it’s needed next, like a database or business application. So, users could point OCR zones where the invoice number, total, vendor name, and other pertinent data would normally appear on an invoice, and the scanner will read, extract and route that information. In this case, a dedicated scanner does more than unclog the bottleneck at the MFP and reduce the amount of time workers spend digitizing documents — it reaches further downstream and eliminates other unproductive tasks.

Subtraction by addition

Conventional thinking would suggest that MPS contracts with scanners AND copiers or MFPs would be more expensive than one with just copiers or MFPs. And I guess on paper, yes, the number value of the first contract would be higher than the second. But, how much more? Depending on volume requirements, customers can shift scanning tasks to dedicated machines for as little as $200 a month. But with that, they’re using technology that is much more productive and efficient for the task, and reducing service costs associated with high repair costs. 

Consumer demand

In a recent report from Quocirca, the global market insight company identified improved service quality and reliability (54 percent), reduced hardware costs (52 percent), reduced consumables costs (44 percent), reduced paper usage (36 percent), improved business efficiency (36 percent), and more predictable costs (26 percent) as the top drivers of the MPS market. When you weigh the benefits that come with dedicated scanning solutions against the forces driving MPS adoption, it only makes sense that dedicated scanning solutions should be a part of your MPS offering. Think of it:

• Scanners rarely malfunction or break down, so you can provide customers with better reliability and service quality.

• For a slight increase in cost, a dedicated scanner keeps costs predictable while reducing the need to dish out a ton of cash for replacement parts and repairs.

• Dedicated scanners can automate tasks further downstream in a business process, which reduces mistakes and enables workers to spend more time on what’s important.

• Dedicated scanners come with long-lasting consumables and don’t require as much maintenance as copiers or MFPs.

Some advice before you go

I encourage every dealer to learn as much as they can about their customers’ printing and scanning habits. Specifically, compare how their print and scan usage is trending, look at service usage, identify the folks who are calling the most, and find out why they’re calling you so much. Take a look at how much time and money you spend fixing scanning-related problems on devices that were primarily designed to print and copy, even though you don’t make any money when your customers scan.   

If you notice an increase in scanning accompanied by a decrease in printing, it’s time to consider supplementing your MPS packages with dedicated scanning solutions. If you constantly dispatch techs to repair or replace document feeders, then perhaps it’s time to consider supplementing your MPS packages with dedicated scanning solutions.

Joseph Odore

Joseph Odore

is product manager for Panasonic’s document & imaging business unit.