Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Future of the Scanning Hardware Market

As the editor and publisher of DIR, and more recently, Americas regional manager for infoSource, I've spent a lot of time covering the document-related hardware market. When I started back in the late 1990s, high-volume scanners were the primary market drivers with vendors like Kodak and Bell + Howell leading the industry. In the 2000s, we saw the rise of "distributed scanning" and explosive growth in the workgroup ($500-$2,000) segment of the market. More recently, we've seen the emergence of the personal segment (sub-$500) of document scanners, as well as more scanning on MFPs, as the act of document scanning truly becomes democratized. Of course, being able to take a picture of a document with a mobile phone, potentially puts a document scanner in everyone's pocket.

So, where is this all going? It's our opinion that the market is too fragmented and document scanning technology needs to become more standardized for it to take the jump to the next level and truly be considered mainstream technology. Basically, we need more consistent images and image onboarding/management processes to truly cross the chasm. So, how do we get there?

The new TWAIN Direct initiative is a step in the right direction. TWAIN Direct is designed to remove traditional drivers from the scanning process and enable scanners to be found on a network, similar to other peripheral devices like printers. The scanners would have to be running some bit of code in their internal memories that would enable them to connect with TWAIN Direct scanning applications, but it should be lightweight and not require a PC to act as an intermediary like document scanner drivers do today.

This is exciting because MFPs and apps on mobile devices could conceivably run similar code that would enable them to talk to those same applications. This could reduce the variety of connections that scanning software vendors have to create and upkeep and also serve to somewhat standardize the scanning process. Once we get that far, the scanning application vendors can invest their resources in what they are going to do with the scans once they get them.

I am not saying TWAIN Direct is the only way to accomplish this, but I would like to see some sort of standardized way to capture images across document scanners, MFPs and phones. They all have their place in the scanning hardware hierarchy, but for the industry to truly thrive, it is better if it's a connected, graduated hierarchy, vs. a lot of individual scanning platforms.