Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Production vs. Distributed vs. Workgroup Scanning --- Aren’t they all the same?

When it comes to scanning documents the vendors have chosen the terms Production, Workgroup and Ad Hoc to describe the scanning process and ultimately to define the customers.

While I think these terms have had a place and a purpose it seems that the they have become outdated. These old terms are just not very descriptive of the needs and capabilities of the document scanning process or of the capabilities of modern scanners.

Scanners keep getting cheaper (meaning less expensive) and the built-in image processing abilities continue to get more and more powerful. This combined with the advances in distributed computing capabilities (aka Cloud Computing) makes scanning (aka Document Capture) a powerful ally of the business process.

The Cloud Effect
Cloud Computing will allow scanning and the accompanying “cloud based” image processing and storage capabilities to become much more widely adopted and entrenched in business processes.

Scanning is Scanning, right?

For the most part customers don’t know what these terms mean. And they don’t need to. Customers just want to put their paper based assets to work.  Scanning / Document Capture at higher volumes does require specialized skills and people. However, at lower volumes and lower levels of processing needs Scanning for the Masses is going to be the new reality. A new set of terminology should be applied to help get people scanning.

For those customers that don’t know what the value of their paper is … all it takes is one lawsuit to show the cost of a lost document.

I’m not planning on going into a detailed description here. The chart and table below show very simple examples of where Production, Workgroup and Ad Hoc scanning fit in


Scanning Type

Image Processing Needs




  • Highly Automated
  • Advanced Forms (IDR)

High Volume
Automated Tasks e.g.
Mail Room operations



  • Mid-Range
  • Barcode
  • DB Lookup

Purchase Orders


Ad Hoc

Minimal – OCR



As mentioned most users don’t know what goes on before, during and often after the scanning process … and this is OK. The scanning process can be complex and there are specialists to help insure the process is designed properly. There will be a growing need for a new type of “production” scanning.

The New “Production” Scanning

Scan with whatever scanner you want, wherever you want, and whenever you want. Advances in scanner technologies keep bringing prices down and capabilities up. Using cloud based solutions the images can be sent to remote sites for processing. Depending upon how the solution is setup the image and applicable data may be returned to the original scanning location … or the data may be sent onto the next step in a process.

New types of solutions will become common. Mobile Scanning as discussed by fellow AIIM Capture Expert Chris Riley will become pervasive. And an excellent follow-on post by another fellow AIIM Capture Expert Joe Budelli.

Solutions that take advantage of Mobile Scanning and Cloud Computing will become pervasive. For example,

  • Receipts for Expense Reports
  • Shipping Manifests (for trucking firms)
  • Capturing hand written notes for later use and/or real-time sharing (think Evernote enabled by your mobile phone)

The new world of scanning is a game changer. Or I should say … Can be a Game Changer. If the industry will adapt and/or adopt a new way of thinking about the industry and the ultimate purpose a scanner and cloud based scanning solutions can serve.

The scanner both levels and becomes part of the Playing Field

When it comes to scanning the terms Production, Workgroup and Ad Hoc have been useful for generally describing the process. However, they are not applicable on the broad scale. The concept of “production" scanning is being superseded by the ubiquity of access of both better scanners and better software for doing advanced image processing.

Are these the right words?

A more modern use of terms would be to discuss the workloads and the value to the organization as a whole. I will discuss workloads and value in a follow on post. I’m up for collaborating on this idea. If you are game … ping me.

What do you think?

  • Are these terms useful to describe customer scenarios?
  • Should we retire the terms Production, Workgroup and Ad Hoc?
  • What should they be replaced with?

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