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Flexible working in the cloud: how mobile scanning can empower the 21st century enterprise

Trends like the cloud, BYOD, and flexible working mean that the UK's enterprise landscape is rapidly changing. Organisations are at once keen to embrace recent evolutions and wary of radically departing from the status quo. It's a fine line to be walked by the 21st century business and one that requires a balanced perspective to negotiate. Enter Tim Brosnihan, marketing manager of document scanning solutions at Canon Europe & UK, to tell us some of the ways that modern organisations can leverage technology for the greater good of employee and bottom line alike.

Why would organisations want employees to scan on-the-go? Is there a real business demand for mobile scanning?

Employees are spending less and less time at their desks. In fact, almost 13 per cent of the UK workforce today is based predominantly at home offices according to the Office of National Statistics. But whether visiting clients, working in remote branches or from home, the common need is for technologies that enable them to work efficiently outside of the traditional office.

For example, employees that work remotely need to be able to process documents on the move, because sending them back to the head office to do this would cause a massive time delay and negate the advantage of flexibility and immediacy a mobile worker has. Being able to scan paper-based information like contracts or sales orders on the go, and sharing these documents to the cloud or other business workflows, is key to a mobile worker's productivity.

Why would employees need a mobile scanner if they can use their camera smartphones instead?

Camera smartphones quickly reach their limits when it comes to being able to capture multiple documents quickly, and with sufficient image quality required for further data extraction processing, such as OCR. With your phone, you can only capture one side of a document at once, and getting the best image results might be difficult, as smartphone cameras are prone to light interference and image distortion. Often, manual adjustments are needed which can cost valuable business time and won't guarantee that the image quality will be good enough for accurate onward processing into business workflows.

With a dedicated mobile scanner, however, mobile workers can quickly scan both sides of several documents in one operation, as these devices come with dual-image sensors and an automatic document feeder. They scan with a consistent bright LED light source, automatically recognise the page size and deskew the documents if necessary, which leads to high-quality scans and significant time saving. Our Office Insights Report found that almost half of end-users agree that producing good-looking, high quality documents is a key factor for the success of their organisation – something that smartphone scanning apps simply can't deliver.

Do you see any changes in office technology resulting from the demand for mobile and flexible working?

Our Office Insights research found that one in three end-users would not be able to do their job without traditional office equipment such as printers, scanners or copiers. The demand for mobile working won't replace traditional devices anytime soon, but prompts employees and organisations to add additional devices, such as smartphones or tablets, to the office technology mix. For example, an overwhelming 96 per cent of respondents in the study even feel that they couldn't do their job without their own smartphone!

At the same time, desk-bound technology is also being upgraded to cater to the needs of employees working more flexibly with smartphones, tablets or laptops. We are seeing an increasing amount of printers and scanners that come with Wi-Fi and dedicated mobile printing or scanning apps. Not surprising, if you take into consideration that more than two-thirds state that Wi-Fi enabled printers or scanners had a positive impact on their productivity.

How can the cloud help support mobile workers?

One of the most powerful benefits the cloud can bring to mobile workers is to help them become more agile by connecting outside processes to on premise content management systems. Mobile workers have been able to access documents stored in the cloud for some time, but equipped with mobile scanners and high-speed mobile Internet they are now also able to feed new documents into business workflows when they are out of the office engaging with customers.

Just imagine a sales representative who has just signed a new contract at their customer's office. Traditionally, the sales rep had to return to the office to scan the contract and process it internally. There could have been a delay of hours or even days in processing the contract - leaving the customer waiting for the product to arrive or the service to begin, and the organisation unable to profit on the new business win.

With the help of the cloud, the same sales rep can check and validate the contract instantly. If any information is missing or incorrect, they can even clarify the situation with the customer on-site, meaning customers won't experience unnecessary follow-up calls after the meeting took place.

How has the cloud changed the way organisations process documents?

Traditionally, it has been difficult for organisations operating from multiple locations around the country or even globally to connect remote branches and workers with each other and to the central system, but the cloud tears down these silos and creates one entity that is always connected and always informed.

The cloud allows employees working in a branch office, remotely from home or on-the-go, to feed information into business processes directly at the point of customer contact or data creation. This streamlines business workflows significantly and provides people with immediate access to information where necessary. There is no need to transport paper-based information from the branch into the head office anymore, where the physical document is then being 'centralised' to a main digital repository before it can be processed further – meaning that organisations can deliver their services much faster to customers.

How can organisations deal with the explosion of paper-based and digital information?

Every organisation processes a staggering amount of electronic and paper-based information each day, and creating a more connected office is a good starting point to fast-track information workflows. However, our Office Insights Report found that when purchasing office technology, many decision makers are too focused on the basics – upfront price, running costs and reliability – rather than how this technology can support daily tasks.

Employees welcome connected technology that helps them automate office workflows and free up valuable time, which is why 68 per cent of respondents find automatic capturing and processing of scanned documents valuable, while 46 per cent said the same about automatically sending scanned documents to the cloud.

Organisations just need to choose the connected technology that is most relevant to their employees' needs. This could be a Wi-Fi scanner that allows employees to scan directly to their mobile devices, a portable scanner that enables them to process documents on-the-go, or a network scanner that connects directly onto their network. What's important is that these scanning technologies are connected to each other and the company's central system, offering employees a consistent and efficient document management experience.

What is the role of document management hardware within a business environment increasingly dominated by services?

We are seeing that organisations, from small businesses to large enterprises, are increasingly investing in services which help them manage their document processes.

Customised solutions provide them with a great opportunity to solve real-life business problems and increase their productivity and efficiency.

Yet, each service builds on hardware. If you want to add paper-based information into a business workflow, then you need to use a scanner first to digitise the document before you process it. That's why document imaging hardware will always be a must-have for any organisation that deals with paper-based information, which is why we are committed to creating innovative document capture devices in the future.

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.