Analysis: Copiers, Servers and Services Spread the Word on Imaging

A round-up of the imaging and forms processing/recognition technologies on display at AIIM Expo.
AIIM Expo is one of the few shows where terms like "capture," "distributed imaging" and "OCR" seldom evoke responses such as "huh" or "whazzat?" At least a third of AIIM attendees are there specifically to see imaging or forms processing/recognition technologies, and imaging vendors tend to make their biggest announcements of the year at the show.

The big trend in recent years has been the emergence of digital copiers as the fastest growing point of capture in document imaging. Multifunction copiers are accessible to everyone, and scan-to-e-mail, scan-to-file and scan-to-management features have been democratizing document imaging.

Xerox, a multifunction scanning evangelist for many years, today introduced an upgrade of its FreeFlow SmartSend imaging solution. To make copier-based scanning even easier, Xerox added a "Scan to Home" feature in SmartSend 2.0 that lets users send images directly to their desktop with a touch of a button. The link is set up automatically once the user logs on with a pin, project code or standard domain login, and administrators can quickly set up default settings to send the images to desktops, e-mail clients or network drives. The upgrade also introduces back-end integrations for Documentum, Hummingbird, Interwoven Worksite, Microsoft SharePoint 2003 and Open Text Livelink, adding to the Xerox DocuShare, Lotus Notes and earlier generation SharePoint links previously available.

Among conventional capture vendors, Kofax is showing off Ascent Capture 7.5, which I covered in detail earlier this month. Archrival Captiva, which was acquired by EMC late last year, today introduced InputAccel for EOBs, a capture solution for explanation-of-benefit forms. Like invoices--the focus of many variable document solutions--EOBs are highly variable documents, but they tend to be even more difficult to automate because they're loaded with line-item details and typically span multiple pages.

Datacap today introduced a number of enhancements as part of the 6.5 upgrade of its Taskmaster capture suite. The most significant is the delivery of the RuleRunner capture rules engine as an independent Web service. Invoking RuleRunner as a Web service, users can apply capture- and data-validation rules in TaskMaster or in third-party environments including FileNet Capture and Kofax Ascent Capture. The advantage is that rules can be quickly changed without coding and without changing the underlying workflows. Decisioning capabilities can also be delivered services-style to offshore partners or service providers while preserving central administrative control over the underlying rules.

As workgroup scanners and multifunction machines democratize scanning, more users will need to be able to make use of document images. That's the theory behind the Abbyy Recognition Server, a server-based solution for delivering OCR and full-text PDF conversion functions over a network or in service-oriented environments. The server-based approach lets administrators set up preconfigured document processing and conversion workflows that ensure consistent processing. The software also takes advantage of dual-core and multithreaded servers, facilitating lights-out operation and freeing up desktop processing power so knowledge-workers can remain productive. The server is priced at about $10,000 for the first CPU and $7,500 for each additional CPU.

Despite the progress of multifunction-based scanning in recent years, professional-grade scanners are still the workhorses of document imaging. Continuing the better-faster-cheaper trend in hardware, scanners of every class are getting more capable and less expensive than ever. In fact, you can throw out the workgroup-departmental-production categories of old and readjust your attitudes about throughput and functionality. Ultrasonic multifeed detection and state-of-the-art image processing (a la Kofax VRS and Kodak Perfect Page) are now a given down into the workgroup range.

Notable category-bending scanners introduced today include Kodak's i1200 and i1300, which deliver departmental and low-volume production performance, respectively, at workgroup and departmental prices starting at around $800. Fujitsu's fi-5900C redefines performance in the production category, scanning 100 pages per minute (200 images per minute duplex) at 200 dpi or 300 dpi at a paltry list price of $22,995. You can pretty much take fast, reliable and affordable scanning as a given these days.