With a dedicated document scanner like the new Canon imageFORMULA ScanFront 300, there is some hope of getting away from paper-but paper has advantages, too.The newly released Canon imageFORMULA ScanFront 300 and 300P can scan 30 pages per minute in monochrome or color, at 600 dots per inch. The resolution is plenty for reliable OCR, and the throughput is much faster than you'd typically get with a low-cost MFP, as such units are usually geared to fax speeds (i.e., several per minute.) But the price is nearly ten times more than an MFP-the 300 costs $1,995 and the 300P costs $2,295 as it has a fingerprint reader for security purposes. Both include OCR.
The ScanFront is not a flat-bed machine, so you can't lay books on it for copying (without de-binding them, anyway.) However, copying books is probably not a big office activity (outside academia.)
It has a large touch-screen for selecting options. These include scan-to-folder (for document management), scan-to-e-mail, scan-to-USB drive to send the files straight to a memory device, scan-to-fax, scan-to-print, and scan-to-FTP (for transmitting files too big for e-mail.)
The reason an SMB might be interested in a dedicated document scanner is that it could let you operate without paper files. You scan everything in, and thereupon the images of the pages are immediately accessible to everyone on the network. With a proper filing system, no time needs to be spent searching for things-the computer does the work for you.
However, the documents were on paper to begin with, so you've done nothing for the environment. Of course, they were probably sent to you by third parties (customers, suppliers, etc.) over whom you have no control. By scanning the documents you avoid having to copy them for internal distribution, so you can thereafter indeed help the environment.
Meanwhile, you have turned each sheet into a file of about 500K bytes (we'll say, for the sake of argument.) A four-drawer filing cabinet should be able to hold about 16,000 sheets of paper. Scanned, those sheets of paper would fit into 8 gigabytes. At 30 pages per minute, it would take the new Canon nearly nine hours to scan them all. That's a manageable project.
Meanwhile, a desk-side SMB office file server (which has about the same footprint as a filing cabinet) with a capacity of one terabyte should store the equivalent of 125 file cabinets, dramatically cutting office floor space requirements and associated rental costs, plus utilities. It would take about half a person-year to do the scanning.
But there is one big drawback-you can walk away from the paper filing cabinets, and come back in five years, and they will still be there. Aside from the dust, the documents will be unchanged from the moment they were filed, assuming the building has not burned down in the meantime. With computer files that have been left to themselves, a lot of things can happen in five years-and most of them are very, very bad.
As ever, there is no free lunch.