Imagine this scenario: You’re at a casual lunch meeting with a friend, swapping new-business ideas back and forth, until your pal really hits on something. This new concept could be the direction your company has been seeking for months. To make sure you don’t forget a single detail, you scribble down everything on the only paper available—four hot-pink cocktail napkins.

When you get back to the office, you set the makeshift notepad on your desk. Within seconds—without lifting a finger—those great ideas are transferred from the napkins to a digital document on your computer desktop. You e-mail the brilliant strategies to your business partners, and within days your new concept takes flight.

Truth or fiction?

That exact scene—with the emerging Digital Desk technology—is still several years from being played out in most offices. The big element of truth, though, is that every South Sound executive desires to do business in a near frictionless manner—developing new business and sharing information as quickly as the light bulb comes on over his or her head.

While many different technologies have helped businesses move closer to that frictionless utopia, there is one often-overlooked tool that could take companies to a significantly higher state of being: high-resolution—network-connected scanning.

Long the stepchild peripheral of the computer revolution, new advanced scanning technology helps businesses bridge the gap between the overflowing file cabinets of a hard-copy environment and the seamless world of digital communication.

If the modern office is ever going to leave less of a paper trail, we’ll need scanners to get us there, and not just traditional scanners but equipment that truly makes the most of today’s advanced digital technology.

Scanner Misperceptions

Until now, few businesses have invested in general-purpose scanning services or equipment, and even fewer have gone on to make such capabilities network accessible. Last year, according to InfoTrends Research Group Inc., only 4.6 million scanners were installed in North America. The majority of those were sub-$1,000 mass-market models for general desktop use—mostly graphic design. The remaining 100,000 were mainly for specialty applications that require high resolution for publishing or high speeds for document imaging.

In some ways, you can’t blame businesses for their low interest in scanning. Development of workgroup-level technology has been stifled by three factors:

l Scanning hardware has long been difficult to integrate into networks. Most scanners were designed to stand alone, connected to a single PC, not an entire network. More manufacturers have moved beyond such limitations as network processing power and storage capacity have grown to meet the demands of scanning applications and their memory-intensive files.

l Scanners have rarely been easy to use. They often require a trained operator—whether that’s a data center employee or graphic designer.

l Many organizations view scanning as a specialty capability benefiting only the graphic arts or records management departments.

The New Generation

Like every other business application, push-button ease of use is required to make scanning a standard part of a company’s technology mix. The other key element is network connectivity that permits scanned images to be routed and processed with minimal human interaction.

With new technology, scanning is as easy as copying.

How it’s done

Scanning hardware connects directly to many digital copiers. They offer image quality at resolutions of 600 dots per inch (dpi) and high speeds ranging from 20 to 30 pages per minute (ppm). Both measurements are superior to the average desktop laser printer.

The scanning process—once a lengthy series of minor adjustments and setting changes—now is almost as easy as photocopying. Office workers place documents in the automatic document feeder and select the scan setting. They choose one of the pre-defined templates that specify file format for the captured document or scanned image.

Finally, three distribution options are available: delivery to the client PC, storage on a network server or routing to multiple recipients through e-mail. From that point on, all it takes is a push of the start-button to get the job rolling.

In most cases, templates can come completely pre-set or they can be custom configured by a company’s network systems administrator.

The flexibility of new software allows organizations to create templates that make the scanning process as automatic as possible—no matter if companies are inputting hard-copy information for human resources forms, photographs for placement on Web sites, or even legal case information that must be done in pleading-paper format.

Value of Digital Documents

Scanning technology helps staff pick up the pace on projects, and develop easily accessible document archives.

Network software capabilities permit files to be indexed for storage in text-searchable electronic document repositories. Emerging technologies will allow scan-to-Web capabilities. Users can post documents on the Web by simply selecting a template and pushing a button.

Author Robert Strayton is VP and general manager of Xerox of the Pacific Northwest.