There was a time when scanners were exclusively standalone devices used in dedicated locations in a business — and while this is still the case for specialized areas, input now takes place in many areas thanks to the MFP.

The MFP’s scanning capability is the beginning of an automated workflow, and is typically the only action that a human needs to engage in as part of the digital automation process. Scanning is the most efficient way to convert hard copy documents to digital form. However, in a basic workflow, simply scanning an image to your computer would still require additional manual processing. Scanners need to be accompanied by a little bit of intelligence to be an optimal on-ramp to your digital investments. 

This is where software comes to lend a helping hand.

Historically, users would have to scan documents to their desktop, adjust the image and then manually move the image to its intended destination. Next, they would need to execute any additional indexing, conversion and processing tasks before they were done. 

Today’s scanners come with integrated image enhancement technology to optimize image quality automatically, reducing processing errors and the need for rescans. Users can leverage applications with the MFP to scan, index, process, share, and route documents to their final destination in their preferred format. In many cases, customized scan profiles can be configured and embedded on the device down to the individual user, so workers can tackle scan jobs simply with the touch of a button. 

Many solutions support embedded applications that connect the device with a specific program. Sometimes that connection is bilateral, and they vary in how deep a user can drill down into a repository from the MFP. Embedded applications afford users the ability to easily customize scans to be saved to a particular folder that can be accessed by multiple users, or to a discrete location on the network. Some connectors do more than others. For instance, some connectors can use indexing information to determine where the document should be routed, or can trigger other workflows based on input.  

Scanners are key to digitizing information stored on paper using optical character recognition (OCR). OCR is responsible for making sense of that information by capturing the hard copy content digitally and transforming it into fully searchable, editable documents. OCR solutions offer the flexibility to capture either the entire document or select document parts, such as an invoice amount or contact information. These OCR solutions also have the ability to search for and read barcodes and specific character strings, and identify the type of document file. Some developers have made their OCR SDKs available for purchase, making it easy for businesses to integrate this technology into scanning workflows directly at the point of capture and to develop custom applications to improve business processes. 

Business processes are developed to integrate and improve human interaction. Therefore, it is critical to accurately capture and organize the information to enable people to collaborate on projects, such as creating contracts, proposals, forms and other important business documents. Many MFPs come equipped with PDF editors so users can scan, edit, annotate, and comment on documents with others, regardless of whether they are in a different location. Some even allow your business to use digital signatures to streamline approval processes without having to sacrifice security.

In a purely paperless world, scanners would be completely useless. But paper has critical benefits and will be around for many years to come, meaning MFPs and scanners will remain office mainstays for the foreseeable future. We are now seeing powerful, intelligent software built to optimize productivity and efficiency being developed around this equipment — at the same time delivering reduced costs and maintaining a secure environment. Implementing a document management system and enhancing your digital workflows is key for business efficiency. Today you can achieve those objectives not only with standalone scanners, but equally with highly functional inkjet or laser MFP devices. 

Larry Trevarthen
Larry Trevarthen

is Director of Business Imaging at Epson America, and leads the marketing of Epson’s WorkForce products into North America, including the revolutionary new 100-page-a-minute WorkForce Enterprise WF-C20590 printer. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience.