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paperless officeby Joseph Odore, Panasonic Systems Communications Company of North America 

According to AIIM’s recent white paper, 
The State of Intelligent Information Management53 percent of organizations are “concerned that we could face serious disruption of our business model in the next two years.” A lot of this anxiety stems from the influx of productivity-enhancing technologies, like business process optimization software and big data and analytics platforms. Eighty-one percent of companies said digital transformation is central to their strategy for coping with disruption. 

These times aren’t only disruptive for your customers. As more of them undergo digital transformation, paper — and by extension, print — becomes less relevant. Dealers have to take a long look at their existing model and ask: do I sell the technology that addresses my customer’s biggest problems? 

Digital transformation starts with scanning

Dealers may or may not be able to help their customers with the heavier lifting, like deploying and administering sophisticated business software, that comes with digital transformation. But they can certainly help customers complement and add value to those software investments. When a business commits to digital transformation, the fundamental steps in their business processes don’t change – they’re just facilitated in a different medium. In other words, they’re the same business processes that you know, understand, and have been supporting with print. But instead of helping customers use paper to facilitate their workflow in the most cost-effective, efficient way possible, you’ll provide products and services geared toward converting paper-based information into digital form, so it can be integrated into digital repositories and automated workflows. 

If digital transformation is the goal, do they need an MFP? 

Scanning usage on MFPs is on the rise. Most folks use MFPs to print and copy, but more and more professionals are using MFPs to share scanned images via email and cloud services. Considering that print volumes in the office have been declining while scan usage is expected to rise, dealers have to ask: Are MFPs really the best option to solve my customers’ problems? 

From a cost and efficiency perspective, scanners might be a better option for customers that are interested in digital transformation. Typically, standalone scanners come at a much lower cost than MFPs. It’s not uncommon to see MFPs in the five-figure price range, whereas most scanners go for less than $1,500. In addition, MFPs are much more expensive to maintain. For one, MFPs are designed with many more moving parts than standalone scanners, which increases the odds of part failures. As a result, customers take on more costs for replacement parts and repair time and lost productivity associated with device downtime, while excessive service requests can cut into the dealer’s margin — and annoy customers. In addition, MFPs require a lot more replaceable consumables, which further increases the customer’s total cost of ownership and device downtime. 

If digital transformation is the goal, new digital processes will be the focus. For example, e-signature technology enables businesses to send contracts or other documents that require a signature digitally, rather than printing and mailing them. Not only does this reduce print costs, but it also reduces a multi-day process into something that can be handled in less than 10 minutes. 

In addition, if your customers’ scanning capabilities are centralized to the MFP, it may create a bottleneck in scan-intensive workflows, like accounts payable and invoice processing chores. Instead, dealers can provide their customers with as many low-cost desktop scanners as needed for each employee, so users have quick access to scanning. 

The benefits of standalone scanners

Simple and easy to use

Many of today’s document scanners offer simple and easy usage via full-color touchscreen displays. The user experience isn’t much different from what we’ve become accustomed to on our smartphones and tablets. Users can swipe and tap the screen to apply scanner settings, enter indexing information, and preview and edit scanned images before routing them directly to their final destination. In addition, the UI can be personalized on a user to user basis, so workers can quickly access all of the features, functionalities and workflows that they use the most. 

Conveniently, users can create customized job profiles to streamline and standardize frequently recurring scan jobs, and map them to a single-touch scanning button on the device’s control panel. Users can select and save scanner and image enhancement settings, define OCR zones to capture metadata automatically, and select specific routing options. In addition to reducing the amount of time users spend configuring scan jobs at the device’s control panel and the bottlenecks this may cause, standardized job profiles also decrease the number of mistakes users make when configuring scan jobs. 

Robust media handling keeps information flowing without any interruptions

In many cases, your customers have to capture information from all kinds of documents, be it ordinary office paper, long documents like EKG printouts, passports, credit cards, receipts, and so on, so they can be archived in a repository or integrated into a workflow. For example, when onboarding a new patient at a doctor’s office, a healthcare professional must capture information from medical forms plus ID and insurance cards so it can be entered into their EHR/EMR system. Instead of separating individual batches of documents, capturing each document individually and organizing them afterwards, users can capture them all at once and hand the documents back to the patient right away. 

Modern scanners also come with features to reduce user intervention, so professionals can stay focused on important tasks. For example, ultrasonic double-feed detection leverages sensors to monitor the paper path for double-feeds and automatically pauses or stops the job. Although this technology isn’t anything new, it has evolved greatly. Now users can configure sensitivity and exceptions so the scanner can ignore specific documents that would trigger a double-feed, like documents with attachments or stickers. 

Many devices also come with features to streamline batch scanning chores, so scan operators can spend more time working on customer facing or revenue generating tasks. With automated batch separation functionality, users can configure the device to separate documents based on a user-defined number of pages or when a barcode, patch code, or blank page is detected. Today’s scanners also support control sheets to automate batch processing tasks. Control sheets contain a barcode that, when scanned, instructs the scanner to change settings on the fly, so users can capture multiple batches that require different scan settings at the same time.    

Workflow

Just because your customer has transformed their paper-based processes to digital form, that doesn’t mean they’ve completely optimized their workflows. For example, if an accountant has to scan an image to a computer, apply image settings, enter invoice information into the accounting system, and then file the scanned image in the proper digital repository — all manually — how much did the customer streamline their invoice processing workflow? 

Traditionally, scanners were built to dump scanned static images onto the user’s desktop. But with today’s devices, businesses can convert hard copy documents into fully searchable, editable file types, automatically apply the optimal image enhancement settings as each image is scanned, extract key metadata and indexing information from each document, and route scanned images directly to where they’re needed next. Scanners can be connected directly to your customer’s network and offer seamless integration with many of the cloud services, business applications, information management systems, business process optimization platforms, big data and analytics solutions, email and so on. Effectively, users could share information trapped in paper form with others from all over the globe, in near real time. 

Technologies like business process optimization and big data and analytics platforms are disrupting every industry they touch. This is forcing businesses to adopt digital transformation strategies. While digital transformation doesn’t change the fundamental steps of a business process, it does change the medium in which those processes are facilitated. This means that dealers need to reevaluate their current technology portfolio and sales strategy to see if they’re congruent with all their customers’ shifting needs.

Joseph Odore
Panasonic System Communications Company of North America