Today’s average workday is dominated by high-performance forms of communication, complex IT solutions and rapid data transfers; yet despite these technological advancements, many companies still do not utilise the benefits of the “paper-free” office. The daily battle against heaps of paper counts as one of the most inefficient and cost-intensive tasks assigned to administration departments.

Legal requirements and long-term obligations to produce key documents, like invoices, validations or calls for tender, rapidly increase the number of filing cabinets required. This costs time and money: Filing, storing and searching for information often becomes a game of patience for employees and is an underestimated cost factor for the company. The cost-effective and time-saving safeguarding and archiving of information has, however, become one of the achievements of IT, and document scanners can support these tasks in an efficient, secure and, above all, economical way.

Spoilt for choice

The search for a suitable scanner reveals a wide range of models and functions. While the options generally differ based on their software, there are also large differences in their areas of application and the functions that they therefore possess. The options available range from high-volume production scanners to fast department scanners and from network scanners to compact desk scanners. The most suitable model depends on what the scanner will be used for and on the amount of space available.

It becomes more difficult when the choice is based on necessary technical specifications. Processing speed and bandwidth, reliability, range of users and subsequent processing must all be researched in advance and clearly defined. The first point, the required processing speed, is generally based on the volumes to be scanned each day. The typical volume of paper used in an average day at the office is between 1,000 and 4,000 documents. It is important to take note of the various resolutions (dpi value) and colour modes.

The speed of the scanner head should generally be provided for DIN-A4 portrait orientation with a resolution of 200dpi, in colour. Higher dpi values improve the presentation quality of the scanning results, but also mean larger file sizes. In general, resolutions rarely exceed between 150dpi and 400dpi. If several documents need to be digitalised in a short space of time it is important to bear in mind the processing speeds; typical values for DIN A4 sheets at a resolution of 300dpi are between 20 and 30 pages per minute.

Most models available at present allow the user to retain speeds of up to 300dpi, regardless of whether the document is monochrome, grey scale or in colour. Colour scanners can sometimes result in problems concerning speed. When colour documents need to be scanned, many devices become inefficient due to the increased scanning times. The same is true for processing bandwidths. If a company needs to scan documents of varying paper thickness and quality, it is important to consider the reliability and scanning quality.

Only those scanners, which can record a mixture of documents (with different paper thicknesses, surface materials, formats, colours, etc.) within one batch, are suitable for general office use. One technical innovation is the so-called ultrasonic multi-feed detection. This has been especially developed to enable mixed batch documents to be reliably scanned and thus to guarantee continuous operating quality.

Ultrasound sensors help to reliably recognise multiple feeds or a feed of multilayered documents and to interrupt the transportation of documents so that the user has the chance to alter the scanning procedure. This function means that key pieces of information that may lie on the inside pages of several sheets, which have been fed in simultaneously, are not lost. This kind of multiple feed would be typical of documents that have been stapled together, or sticky notes and photos lying on top of the paper surface.

The type of documents to be scanned will also influence whether the scanner needs to be a flatbed scanner or if a pure document scanner will suffice. If books, bound materials or fragile documents need to be digitalised then the company will require a flatbed unit. Some document scanners can scan documents up to DIN-A3 format (newspaper cuttings, photos or journals) with the help of a folder, but this solution is really only suitable for individual cases and not for use on a daily basis.

User convenience and suitability for everyday use

The user convenience of the scanner is decisive for the often hectic daily office environment. The quality of a scanner also includes the amount of effort required by its day-to-day user to produce usable results. Functions like automatic image cropping, automatic alignment and turning the pages of the document minimise the amount of work required for perfect scanning results. In order to apply these in the best possible way, software functions to process the paper and images facilitate this process.

This allows the person in the office to concentrate on doing their main tasks whilst the documents are scanned in automatically at the touch of a button. In addition, software functions can support the selective or dynamic adjustment of the scanning settings for every document. The result: a perfect electronic image without the high costs. Many scanners are fitted with image optimisation functions as standard. These can, for example, help to scan trapeziform documents, as well as separator sheets with overlaying tabs and memos, in full.

Furthermore, many models support a function to remove punched holes when scanning individual sheets, courier service printouts and similar documents. The functions required depends on what is to be scanned on a day-to-day basis. Alongside the factors that influence the image quality, it is the amount of work needed to prepare and process the scanning work that is important. Easy access to the areas that need to be regularly cleaned should be guaranteed, as well as the problem-free exchange of expendable materials like scanning rolls.

This saves money for the technicians and helps to reduce the stress levels of employees. The usage cycles of the expendable materials should also be as long as possible to minimise the amount of interventions required.

The correct software for every purpose

Alongside the classic use of document scanners for archiving or in document management systems, scanners are also being increasingly used to support work processes and the cooperation of a team. Someone looking to buy a scanner should, therefore, ask themselves some questions, such as: How will the digitalised information be used? Does an electronic document have to be protected or signed? How will files be saved, and under what conditions?

Those who are likely to be regularly scanning business cards and transferring these to electronic databases should find out about business card applications, like CardMinder, that may be included with the scanner. Those who are regularly scanning confidential information and then sending protected files on to third parties should make sure that the scanner allows for the automatic creation of password-protected PDF files.

A key aspect of scanning and recording information is often its simple access and usage. For this reason, PDF administration programs with integrated search engines are extremely useful. In order to simplify the administration of personal files, some manufacturers offer special content management software. An additional performance-enhancing function, which proves its worth during daily usage, is the ability to simultaneously create several image files from one paper document, where the image files can feature different characteristics (e.g. resolution, colour mode, file type, static image data, file location or embedded searchable text information).

Thus, employees who predominantly work with information and knowledge-based tasks can use the scanner efficiently to support their personal role, for example to regularly scan and feed-in documents to process-leading ECM, DMS and archiving solutions.

Efficient archiving

In many cases processes and applications can be called up and initiated via the scanner’s control panel. The user can choose between numerous functions and target applications to process documents electronically. Functions like scan-to-print, scan-to-Excel, scan-to-Word or scan-to-email greatly simplify processing. Pay attention to which software is included with the scanner and which software you may have to purchase separately. The important thing is that the programs are simple to use and work in an intuitive way.

A good piece of software offers help and is not full of complex instructions. If, added to this, the scanner is fast, reliable and easy to use, then nothing will stand in the way of a successful digitalisation in your company. Never-ending piles of paper and filing cabinets filled to the brim are a thing of the past and a more paper-free office simultaneously contributes positively to the environment. The result of a digitalised office: optimised work processes, good scanning quality, fast search and processing, and a secure document archive.