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REVIEW: Document Management Scanners

A few years ago, a good scanner was considered an indispensable piece of hardware for an accounting firm, due to the number of paper documents that needed to be added to electronic file cabinets and document management systems. Today, they are rapidly going the way of the typewriter - a specialized tool that may not be worth the investment given how infrequently it is used.

In response, the hardware manufacturers have turned to the creation of a new class of scanners known as workgroup, departmental or production scanners. For the purposes of most accounting firms, these new scanners offer a strong mix of one-touch scanning profiles, automatic de-skewing of papers, faster scanning speeds and fewer jams in large document runs.

For 2011, we looked at a number of scanning products, trying to cover all of the various scenarios that an accounting engagement or practice might require. And interestingly, found a few products that stand out from the pack.

Brother International DS Mobile 600

Added to the Brother product line a little over a year ago, this portable scanner fills the need of accountants on the road who need to quickly scan a client document, from a business card or receipt up to a legal-size paper.

It's a small scanner that plugs into the USB port of a laptop or Mac, and at 12 ounces is small enough to carry in a computer case or briefcase. It has color capabilities, and feeds the documents one single page at a time. The quality of the scan is often fairly low, with 200 dpi document scans the default even though technically it will scan at 600 dpi. There were some blank spots in the documents we scanned, though these are likely a function of the document and the engine that pulls the document past the scan head.

The product does exactly what it says it will, and is a serviceable unity for accountants looking for a professional-level field scanner for as little as $119. This scanner has been out for more than a year, and the user reviews are a little sketchy. While most praise it as very functional, some note as we did that it can scan with missing characters or blank spots even at 600 dpi.

This is a minor complaint at best, and can be remedied easily. It should be noted that the overwhelming majority of users rate it highly, as did we.

Canon DR-2010C imageFormula
The DR-2010C offers fast, high quality scanning at speeds of up to 20 ppm (40 ipm in color, gray scale and black and white. It is designed to handle a wide variety of documents including 11"x17" documents in folio mode and embossed plastic cards.

Overall, the DR-2010C provides a strong package for an economical price under $400. While it is not a network computer per se, it can be shared through Windows and Mac operating systems. If offers one-button functionality for common functions such as scan to fax. It comes with a Twain driver set for compatibility with document management systems, though it also comes bundled with a standard set of utilities in its own right.

User reports are all over the board, but there is a consensus on one point - the roller assemblies in the paper feed mechanism are badly designed. In some cases, users were able to contact Canon to get a replacement feed-roller assembly that fixed the problem. In others it did not. The machine is attractive in features, price and sturdiness, but it may make sense to contact Canon in advance to see if there is a updated hardware set or better solutions.

Epson WorkForce Pro GT-S50
The Epson workflow line is a very durable solution for accounting offices, with a host of strong features, an excellent design and largely favorable user reviews.

There are differences between the low end and high end of this Epson line, and we selected the S50 for its economy for smaller offices. At a higher price, the S80 offers faster document feeding and scanning and a slightly more robust scanning engine.

The Epson S50 offers speeds up to 80 ipm and a daily duty cycle of up to 1800 sheets of paper. Its 75-page document feeder is able to handle documents from rigid ID cards to documents of 8.5" by 36", scanning both sides of duplex documents. There are ups to 10 user-definable scan jobs for one-touch scanning, including scan to PDF.

It is also a Twain-compatible scanner, providing more flexibility with software for document management designed for accounting firms.

The Epson WorkForce Pro GT-S50 is a durable solution for document scanning, and while it differs some of the same misfeeds as other auto-feed scanners, it is fast and relatively economical (on sale for less than $400). It is not a network scanner per se, but will fill the needs of smaller offices and can be shared via the Windows or Mac operating systems.

Fujitsu ScanSnap
In the small office scanner universe, the undisputed market leader is Fujitsu, and specifically now the S1500 series. This scanner offers a small desktop footprint, good speed and resolution, and acceptable performance for the paper feed mechanism. But it is not the right scanner for an accounting office - there's no Twain driver, and some reported problems with the document feeder.

In truth, none of the ScanSnap line of scanners are Twain compatible, so if Fujitsu is your choice of scanner you will need to ensure that your document management software is compatible with this line.

That said, better choices from Fujitsu would be the ScanSnap fi-6010N iScanner, a fully-duplex, color supporting model with beefed up business features . It offers scan to e-mail, scan to folder, scan to network fax, scan to FTP and scan to print capabilities. It automatically adjusts for rotation, blank page deletion, color detection, deskew, and page size detection. It also offers the strong data transmission security protocols to validate authentication and manage devices, reducing risks associated with unmanaged communication within organizations.

At an average of $2,400 from online vendors, the ScanSnap fi-6010N iScanner is not inexpensive. But it does offer features that make it worth the costs, including a more durable document feeding mechanism that is less prone to jams and disruptions than lesser or cheaper scanners.

HP Scanjet N6010 Document Sheet-feed Scanner
While Fujitsu may be the current choice in low-end scanners, Hewlett Packard is the acknowledged hardware leader in office productivity - printers, scanners, all-in-one machines and all. Their mid-range document scanning solution offers all of the standard features you could ask for in a mid-range product aimed at the small to mid-range business market.

Its speed of 18 pages per minute is pretty fast, the 50-page document feeder is a good size, and it easily handles documents from a business cared to legal-sized paper. It easily converts document for filing in folders, provides Twain support for other applications (including Microsoft Office applications), and provides one-button functionality for common scanning procedures.

While it is not a network scanner, it does connect via USB, allowing the scanner to be shared. And it comes with HP software, which tends to be a tad above the average in quality.

But the user reports are wildly inconsistent. There are the usual complaints about the paper feed mechanism, which seems to be the downfall of most auto-feed scanners. I don't put much credence in the user comments beyond that, because they are relatively few in number, and complainers tend to comment where satisfied customers do not.

Kodak i1210 Plus Scanner
The Kodak i1210 Scanner is a simplex (single-side) scanner in the mid-range that boasts a 45 page-per-minute scan speed and a document feeder capable of handling 75 sheets of paper in dimensions up to 8.5 inches by 34 inches.

Resolution is a standard 600 dpi, but higher resolutions of up to 1200 dpi are possible. Ultrasound multi-feed detection is standard, and jobs can be automated to a single button for standard formats such as scan to file and scan to PDF. The device is twain compatible, but is not a network scanner and has no drivers for the McIntosh.

The Kodak i1210 Plus has all positive comments from users, which is a plus. This, combined with a mid-range price of around $650 and a very robust feature set make it a strong choice for accounting offices working on a PC platform.

Plustek SmartOffice PS406
The Plustek SmartOffice PS406 is a heavy-duty Twain-compatible scanner that boasts a whopping 40-pages-per-minute-production speed plus a patented document feed system that is supposed to eliminate - or at least reduce - the number of jams, misfeeds and misreads in bulk document scanning.

Sporting a small footprint and an input tray that can hold up to 100 documents at a time, this full duplex/color scanner offers output in searchable PDF or TIFF formats as well as the standard JPG and TIF formats. But perhaps the most impressive feature of this scanner was its handling of multiple document sizes, with deskew of scanned images, automatic page size detection, automatic page rotation and cropping. Unlike most office scanners, no time needs to be spent in sorting documents according to paper size, or re-assembling documents after scanning.

There are two versions of the PS406, both of which sit at the upper-range of scanner pricing for the small office. The PS406 is about $900, and the PS406U (which adds an ultrasound misfeed detection system to further reduce scanning errors) runs about $1,100.

Released last fall, there are virtually no user reports for performance, but the specifications on this scanner look strong enough to warrant consideration if scanning is critical to client support.

Choosing the right scanner

Choosing a scanner for the document management system of an accounting office is nothing like choosing a scanner for your home photo collection. For home use, you'll want something that can scan color photos in the 3200 to 4800 dpi resolution range, with upgraded sensors, circuitry and other hardware elements.

For the accounting office, though, it is far more important to have networking capability, a Twain-compliant driver (often necessary to integrate with the document management system and append PDF file pages to one another) and the ability to output the finished scan to email, to fax or to a folder.

That doesn't mean than resolution does not count, but since most of the documents will be black and white text, a resolution of 600 dpi should be more than sufficient. Speed is important, too, since a slow scanner can bring a project to a virtual standstill.

Pay close attention to the document feeding mechanism. Most business-class scanners have an upgraded feeding mechanism, but this is still the most likely area for user complaints and problems in workflow.

Nearly every scanner sold today comes with a free PDF reader, at least a minimal photo editing package, and an OCR conversion package to change a scanned document into something that can be edited. Pay attention to the OCR package, as this is easily the most important of the three. Finally, pay attention to the ease of use. Many of the low-end scanners are not designed to easily integrate with a filing and document management system, but appear instead designed to force you to use an online photo storage scheme.


Dave McClure

David P. McClure is a technologist and business consultant whose career has included eight years with the NASA Space Shuttle Program and assignments in marketing, environmental services, software publishing and broadband.  He founded the US Internet Industry Association, the nation's primary trade association for Internet and broadband companies.  In 2004 he was awarded a Cornerstone Award for leadership in the broadband industry.  In the same year, he was named to the Board of Directors of the Universal Service Administrative Corporation, the non-profit corporation that oversees the nation's $8 billion universal service telecommunications fund.  His areas of expertise include software management, strategic and market planning, global technology policy and technology audits.  He is the author of more than 100 white papers on business management, technology, customer service and strategic planning.

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