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A Look at Scanning Essentials

Howard BrownMulti-function devices that can scan in color are great. But a tip to firms that use them: do yourself a favor and turn off the color when you scan. That's the advice of Howard Brown, chief technology officer of Doc-it, a document management software company, as he covered a number of tips regarding the topic of best practices in scanning documents.

Producing color images is probably not the most serious problem among scanning issues. But firms that don't change the settings end up with much larger document files than they need.

"We didn’t run into this a year or two ago," says Brown who sees the problem as a training issue. "People don’t want to change settings," he says. The color images require more time for scanning and larger files are also slower to open. Unless a firm wants a financial statement with color to send to a client, most documents should be scanned in black-and-white and stored as a searchable PDF.

A more familiar, and more serious problem, is how much to scan, particularly whether firms should scan material already in file rooms after they buy document management systems. While a minority of firms scan all documents, Brown says the process is labor-intensive, involving the need to separate documents, remove staples and have a uniform file naming system. Most firms are better shipping older files off site for storage.

Selection of scanners is another common question since the performance of the scanner determines the kind of image that will be sitting on the firms' hard drives. And questions about model, price, speed and features all come into play.

"For production-level scanners, we would not recommend buying anything below 40 ppm," says Brown. However, he generally recommends not buying a scanner that prints at faster than 50 ppm for in many cases the optical character recognition software can't keep up with the faster speed.

The cost of a good production scanner will range between $2,000 and $4,000. A very large firm might want to step up to higher range that requires speeds of 60 ppm. Multi-function devices that offer both copying and scanning, can also be a good buy. "I think those are good quality scanners with excellent sheet feeder and they are probably cheaper [than dedicated scanners]," he says.

There is another consideration for those scanning in black and white, and that is the ability of the device to recognize and reproduce the full gray-scale. Brown says many can't handle the full range. He recommends the Cofax VRS, which he says adjusts the contrast of the image on the fly. Many scanners, he notes, might have difficulty with a black and white form that has data areas in gray. However, he adds many of the photocopier-based scanners have enhancements for recognizing the range of grays.

Brown also has preferences for portable scanners. He notes the popular Fujitsu ScanSnap line is not Twain-compatible, which means the standard PDFs produced by this model are not searchable. However, the devices have an OCR option that will produce a searchable PDF. He says that Xerox and Canon also have good mobile scanners.

Bob Scott
Bob Scott has provided information to the tax and accounting community since 1991, first as technology editor of Accounting Today, and from 1997 through 2009 as editor of its sister publication, Accounting Technology. He is known throughout the industry for his depth of knowledge and for his high journalistic standards.  Scott has made frequent appearances as a speaker, moderator and panelist and events serving tax and accounting professionals. He  has a strong background in computer journalism as an editor with two former trade publications, Computer+Software News and MIS Week and spent several years with weekly and daily newspapers in Morris County New Jersey prior to that.  A graduate of Indiana University with a degree in journalism, Bob is a native of Madison, Ind
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