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1/10/2012
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Neat Scanners Gain Mobile, Cloud Power

Neat's scanner hardware, software, and cloud services, introduced at CES, give SMBs an organized way to compile expense or tax reports.

CES 2012 Preview: 16 Hot Gadgets
CES 2012 Preview: 16 Hot Gadgets
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Scanning documents and images might not sound like a trip to Disneyland, but it sure gets the job done, and when the job includes automating a few crucial processes, like creating expense, tax, and spending reports, products like NeatDesk and NeatReceipts can at least make a small and midsize business (SMB) owner smile.

This combination of hardware (scanners--both a slender mobile version and a desktop model) and software (PC and Mac) processes multiple forms of documents, performs OCR, and parses the information on the documents for use in a variety of reports, most of which can also be exported for use in other formats. What's different here is that Neat doesn't just pull in scanned information, it takes intelligent action on it.

At CES 2012, the company also announced a cloud-based version of the software (you guessed it: NeatCloud), which lets business owners share those reports quickly and easily with other users (say, an accounts payable person or an accountant), and back up the data more conveniently. NeatCloud will also feed a brand-new mobile app for the iPhone, now in alpha testing. The app (yes, it's called NeatMobile) lets users see all of the Neat files, and also take pictures of documents to be processed by NeatCloud. Thus, the mobile version of the application isn't just for consuming, but also creating the content.

[ Find out what to expect at CES. Read CES 2012: Elegant Gadgets Abound. ]

The product is really aimed at small business owners. Take business expenses as an example. Neat scans a receipt from a business outing, recognizes and parses the crucial information (data, payment method, vendor, total, and tax) and even categorizes the expense (based on who the vendor was), all into a tidy expense report (with changeable fields) that includes images of the receipts. Users can export that report into Excel or a PDF; there are selectable IRS categories that Neat pre-populates in case the expense needs to be counted for tax purposes.

The application can also consume digital information. For example, Neat includes what amounts to a print driver for Microsoft Office apps: just print an e-mail to Neat and it gets processed into the document management system alongside paper documents.

Unfortunately in some quick testing using my receipts from CES, Neat read a Starbucks receipt as $50 for the sales total and $8.19 for the tax; instead, the entire bill was $8.19. It also didn't recognize the date. For handwritten taxi receipts, Neat did recognize the transaction type as "transportation," but I had to hand-enter all the rest of the information.

There are many other uses for the Neat technology, but it only scans at 600 dpi, so users shouldn't expect to do high-quality photographic image scanning; that's not its purpose. But scanning business cards, newspaper clips, and letters (you know, the kind written before texting, tweeting, and Facebooking) is all possible. Scanned business cards can populate contact management systems; Neat CMO Kevin Garton said ties into LinkedIn and Salesforce.com are coming later.

The products are available at several retail outlets (Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, and on Apple.com). The mobile model is $200 and the desktop model is $400. The cloud offering will be subscription-based, but the company has not yet announced pricing.

InformationWeek is conducting our third annual State of Enterprise Storage survey on data management technologies and strategies. Upon completion, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an Apple 32-GB iPod Touch. Take our Enterprise Storage Survey now. Survey ends Jan. 13.

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