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Government Arms Up With ... Scanners?

While scanners are rapidly becoming as ubiquitous as fax machines and copiers, agencies are using this basic technology not only to rid government offices of cumbersome stacks of paper but also to improve a slew of business operations.

While scanners are rapidly becoming as ubiquitous as fax machines and copiers, agencies are using this basic technology not only to rid government offices of cumbersome stacks of paper but also to improve a slew of business operations.

Without question, scanners are now central to most government records archiving and retrieval efforts--a reality that's prompted agencies to make steady but significant investments in scanning technology. Government VARs have proved instrumental in swift scanner adoption rates, since integrators have helped many agencies weave scanning devices into antiterrorism and other mission-critical efforts, and administrative applications.

Why government shies away from multifunction devices.

For the most part, solid government scanning sales are tied to agencies' general need to provide federal, state and local employees with access to imaged documents. Just as important is access for citizens and the business constituents these agencies serve.

Meanwhile, scanner sales have also gotten a boost from the constant demand for documents to satisfy major regulatory requirements that swirl around statutes, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley financial accountability law.

The bottom line is that scanners are changing the way agencies work, and VARs are a crucial part of that shift.

"The use of scanners is ultimately about process improvement and integration with other technologies, such as workflow and document or records management," says Michael Maziarka, a director at market-research firm InfoTrends in Weymouth, Mass. "There's now a real opportunity for resellers to help government agencies use scanners to extend existing systems."

Government solution providers aiming to help customers capitalize on scanner-centric applications don't need to look far for instances of how the technology has brought about pragmatic change for federal, state or local entities.

For instance, the Business and Regulation and Enforcement (BRE) unit of the Mississippi Secretary of State's office uses scanning solutions from Hewlett-Packard to help sniff out fraud and ensure compliance with state laws.

On the highest level, BRE can now quickly gather reams of documents from a specific Mississippi business undergoing a financial review, save those documents as PDFs or TIFFs and, if necessary, share that information with other states involved in multistate examinations or enforcement cases.

"There are many times when a company will bring in a large box of documents to our office, and during the course of an hour-long meeting, one of us can run to the scanner and image everything," says Michael Huggs, BRE senior securities analyst.

Once saddled with a box of documents hauled into BRE offices, Mississippi state examiners now rely on the scanning capabilities of HP's LaserJet 9050mfp, a flatbed scanner, to convert documents or images into electronic files and place those imaged documents into a variety of applications, such as Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, Exchange and IBM's Lotus Notes.

To improve document gathering in the field and make audits flow more smoothly for both BRE and local businesses, state auditors tote HP Scanjet 8290 flatbed scanners off-site. "We can save the documents on our laptops or tablet PCs and take them back to the office," Huggs says. "Our examinees are much happier now that we're not using half of their paper supply."

While BRE has tapped scanning technology to stop the collection of volumes of paper, the City of Philadelphia Streets Department uses scanners to capture irreplaceable historic documents.

"Many of the city's old documents were being sold off, and it was important to scan and archive the documents to be sure that all of the information was captured as accurately as possible without damaging the originals," says John Gallo, a product manager for the Wide Format Printing Division of Oce North America.

To scan and preserve the historic documents, Philadelphia also relied on an MFP, the Oce TDS450 monochrome scanner, which was bundled with Oce Image Logic software. The device analyzed and refined the original, archaic images and allowed Philadelphia users to capture even minute details that can be obscured in faint or folded areas common to older documents, Gallo adds.

In addition, many local officials and other government customers heavily use scanners in Geographic Information System, or GIS, applications, says Michelle Sheldon, Oce product manager. "The most common applications we see include the scanning of older, hard-copy documents, like city plans, sewer maps and large construction projects from the past," she says. "Scanning can be a substitute for copying, but the majority of government scanning we see is for the creation of a digital archive."

NEXT: How the war in Iraq has helped scanner sales.

On the federal front, the war in Iraq has proved a springboard for scanning sales, according to executives at Visioneer, a vendor in Pleasanton, Calif. The Department of Defense desperately needed scanning capabilities to make images of soldiers' personal documents.

"When new troops are being deployed to Iraq, their ID numbers, military backgrounds, Social Security numbers and other information are being captured and stored for planning and logistical purposes," says Bill Kouzi, senior vice president of sales at Visioneer.

The vendor has targeted a line of scanners expressly at the government market. Featured on the GSA Schedule, Visioneer's Patriot line starts on the low end with the Patriot 430, which costs about $600 and is designed for agencies that need scanners in multiple locations. The Patriot 780, priced at about $5,000, is bundled with software, including Kofax's VirtualReScan, or VRS, which lets Visioneer scanners interface with major document-management applications from vendors such as DocuShare, Documentum and Ascent.

Interagency efforts also are driving government scanner purchasing, says Mark Neff, worldwide director of channel sales at Böwe Bell + Howell Scanners in Wheeling, Ill. "Many government agencies implement document scanning to share information with other agencies more quickly," he says. "Take a federal investigation where one agency might have to share evidence with another. Agencies can simply search for and e-mail PDFs of scanned documents."

Böwe Bell + Howell offers several scanner lines, including its Spectrum XF scanners that recognize optical character readers and bar codes. But Neff stresses that the company and its government VARs encourage agencies to get past the speeds and feeds of products and focus on an appropriate solution for their needs.

"Government customers are beginning to realize the value of conducting scanner 'shootouts' before making buying decisions, especially for large system installations," Neff says. "Testing different types of scanners on-site can lead to better-informed buying decisions."

Increasingly, security features are playing a role in federal decision-making when it comes to buying scanning products, says Kevin Neal, product manager for production scanners at Fujitsu Computer Products of America. "Adherence to security policies seems to be of paramount interest," he says. To appeal to the security-conscious agency, Fujitsu has outfitted some of its scanners with the vendor's Palm Vein biometric authentication device.

National security-related laws and other legislation are also boosting scanner sales and creating opportunities for government solution providers that work with major scanning vendors. Neal cites as examples provisions of the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act, which aims to strengthen the security of personal ID cards. Even the new requirement that American travelers show passports when traveling to Canada or Mexico has spiked scanner-related activity.

Often, it's Fujitsu's VARs that take the lead in molding scanning solutions to meet government customer needs, Neal adds. "VARs focusing on local government agencies have become extremely proficient at becoming even more 'verticalized' within departments," he says. "Some have tailored their applications to local court systems to allow officials to streamline paper-intensive processes, such as handling parking tickets."

While Fujitsu resellers may take the lead on government-tailored applications, the vendor keeps one eye on requirements when designing scanners and other technology. For instance, Fujitsu engineered its fi-5120C and fi-5900C scanners to comply with the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to make IT accessible to people with disabilities.

Indeed, the scanner vendors and partners that prove most responsive to government needs will make the most inroads. "Customers in government are beginning to understand the value of scanning and imaging purchases and the importance of having those aligned with the agency's broader architecture," Neff says.

But just knowing how scanners fit into an agency application is only half the battle. Most agree that it's up to solution providers to show agencies how scanning applications can reshape paper-intensive operations.

NEXT: Why government shies away from multifunction devices.

Why Government Shies Away From Multifunction Devices

Scanning equipment today comes in three flavors: standalone machines, portable devices and MFPs

While multifunction devices, or MFPs, are becoming popular in the private sector and are creeping into more government offices, agencies, for the most part, still shy away from these all-in-one products, according to Michael Maziarka, a director at InfoTrends, a market-research firm based in Weymouth, Mass. "Dedicated imaging needs to continue to require standalone scanners," he says.

Main article: Government Arms Up With ... Scanners?

Along with the hefty workloads that standalone scanners handle, these devices also appeal to agencies because the equipment can easily scan more than just paper documents.

"Some of the new regulations call for scanning various forms of identification, such as plastic driver's licenses and other hard materials, including employee identification cards and passports," says Kevin Neal, product manager for production scanners at Fujitsu Computer Products of America, Sunnyvale, Calif.

Often, agencies will balk at MFP purchases because these machines essentially duplicate the equipment that's already in place, says Mark Neff, worldwide director of channel sales at Bowe Bell + Howell Scanners. "Multipurpose devices have generated some interest recently, but in most instances, departments already own standalone fax and copy machines," he says. "If the customer is in the market for a scanning device, a dedicated scanner can better fulfill those needs."

Although government buying trends reflect an overall agency preference for standalone devices, decisions often boil down to the specifics of the agency and application, says David Haining, product marketing manager for HP Commercial Scanners.

"The applications our customers use vary by size and need," Haining says. For instance, schools and municipalities will opt for MFPs or portables loaded with software designed specifically for smaller organizations. Likewise, larger government departments might eye standalone scanners outfitted with database software, such as Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, Documentum and FileNet, he adds.

Dedicated scanners appeal especially to the larger agency perusing scanning options and looking to fundamentally change business processes to make operations less reliant on paper. Usually, that tall order calls for a dedicated device, Maziarka says.

"Multifunction devices are designed more to meet ad hoc office scanning needs. In other words, multifunction devices are purchased more for copying and printing needs, with users periodically turning to them for imaging needs," he says. "From what I've seen most often, the MFPs' imaging capabilities are used to reduce faxing rather than for dedicated imaging needs."

Ridding offices of extraneous faxes, however, is not a priority for most government agencies. Rather, departments want to use scanners as basic tools for initiating change and fulfilling important mandates.

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