Is the Age of the Smart Network Scanner Finally Here?

Fujitsu N1800 Network Scanner

I don't normally get excited about scanners, but after seeing a demo earlier this week of one of the current generation of network devices, I sense the whiff of a revolution in the business scanning market.  The device in question was the Fujitsu N1800, and yes I know it's been around for over a year, but as I said scanners aren't normally my thing, so I've not been paying close attention (until now).

In one sense the latest network scanners are only an evolution of what has gone before, but just like MP3 players were around long before the iPod, I can't help feeling that a threshold of usability and functionality has been crossed that has the potential to greatly expand the market.

The N1800 brings together a number of crucial features:

  • a touch screen with a big enough size and resolution to provide a good UI, in particular for keyboard entry without needing micro-fingers, and to review scans before submitting
  • a small enough footprint to realistically sit in the corner of the office, at a bank teller's station, on a nurse's desk, etc.
  • embedded Windows CE, which makes customising the device accessible and fast for .NET programmers
  • full support for remote administration and 'push' of apps to the scanner.

Put all these together, and I think you've got the basis for the first time for truly viable and cost-effective solutions around ad-hoc business documents in the office, new account opening in the branch, medical notes in the ward, and much more.

Of course the missing piece is the 'smart' part, and that's where software vendors such as Focal Point can help.  We've developed self-learning classification technology that is powerful and robust enough to truly work in a 'fit and forget' mode.  In a network scanner environment, the scenario looks like this:

  • office worker, bank teller, nurse etc. signs in and scans one or more documents
  • initially, they are presented with a simple menu of options which determines which business system and/or process the document(s) will be submitted to
  • in the background, a central classification server is watching and learning from the choices that the network users are making
  • once sufficiently confident (which may be after no more than a handful of documents, particularly for types with fairly consistent content), the system will first auto-suggest, and then completely automate the selection of the document type and its subsequent routing
  • alternatively, the system could work in a QA mode, where users continue to manually select the type, but are queried if their selection differs from what they or other users have chosen for similar documents in the past, thereby helping to prevent mis-routed documents.

The power of this combination of device and software is that it makes on-the-job scanning accessible to regular workers with the minimum possible impact on their routine, enabling them to keep their full focus on their office work, customers, patients etc. 

Of course we need to see how all this theory translates into practice.  Here at Focal Point, we'll be getting our hands on a N1800 shortly, courtesy of the nice folks at Fujitsu (thanks Brian) and making a direct integration of our software with the scanner in order to conduct some 'real world' testing of the entire system in action.  Watch this space, and we'll let you know how it goes!

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