Tactical Advice

Justifying a Dedicated Scanner

Improve your office’s document management without spending a lot of money.

Never say the words "document management" out loud. Promises of a paperless office, unfulfilled even when attempted, haunt business owners. That said, everyone wants a better way to handle the piles of paper stacked everywhere. A dedicated scanner should be part of every modern office, but they are far too rare.

Every company already has a scanner or three, usually as part of an all-in-one printer. But those aren't fast enough or have good enough software to convince management of the value of scanned documents. If the all-in-one doesn't have an automatic document feeder, scanning is more trouble than it's worth. If it does have an ADF, it probably doesn't provide two-sided copying because those feeders are expensive. Because many of the papers you want to scan are two-sided, management will say no to scanning because of the time and hassle. What you really need to make a dent in your paper piles is a document scanner than scans both sides of a page at once and does it quickly.

The problem is that such a dedicated scanner costs as much as two or more all-in-one printers with a built-in scanner. Unless you see a real sheet-fed scanner in action, you won't believe how it helps. I learned this lesson in a surprising way.

Say hello to my brother-in-law, Glen, a family practice attorney. He has never bought a new car, an expensive suit or a dinner at a non-chain restaurant. Glen is not cheap, he is cheeeeeeap.

A while ago, Glen saw a Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Document Scanner I had in my office and asked what it was. I had it to review for an article, so I fed in five pages of paper, hit the button, and showed him the high-resolution scans that appeared on my computer in mere seconds. Each page was there, front and back, and the Fujitsu de-skewed, indexed and stored the scanned pages automatically.

He asked how much it was. The Fujitsu costs less than $500, typical for an entry-level double-sided document scanner. Beyond entry level, prices go into the thousands for greater speed, greater resolution, and the ability to handle pages larger than 8.5-by-11.

I expected Glen to harrumph and forget it, but he said he had to have one. I didn't believe him. A week later he called to tell me he bought one, and it had already saved him money by cutting down on the hours he paid his part-time secretary.

You may not be paying legal secretaries, but shuffling paper is expensive for anyone, and with headcounts down in most companies, useful automation really matters. Freeing up even a few hours a week will make a difference.

Start small

Start small to prove the value of your scanner. Give the scanner to one person who tracks piles of paper and is responsible for storing and later finding individual documents. Train that person how to scan, file and search for keywords (meaning, teach them to use the included software).

Prepare to find extra jobs for that person to make use of their increasing amount of free time — that will prove your point. Papers will be scanned in minutes instead of being filed for hours, and retrieved in seconds rather than minutes. You also won’t have to worry about someone putting papers in the wrong spot in a filing cabinet where they disappear forever. That doesn't happen with scanned and indexed documents. What is scanned is always available, and you can make as many copies as you need. Try that with the pile of loose paper on your desk.

Add a second person to your scan project, then maybe a third. Just don't tell anyone you're actually managing your documents, thanks to a relatively inexpensive tool that should be in every office.

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About the Author

James E. Gaskin

James E. Gaskin

James writes books, articles and jokes about technology from his Dallas-area home office. He also consults for those who don’t read his books and articles.

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