of page scanners helps small businesses combat paper overload
by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #324 January 9, 1996 High Tech Office column
One of the
bits of received
wisdom of the past high-tech decade or so is that "digital is good."
Data saved in digital form can be manipulated in a variety of ways,
is easily stored, and instantly retrieved. Digitized text, for example,
can be transmitted around the world cheaply as e-mail, then enhanced
with digital fonts and graphics to produce an attractive (and still
digital) electronic document.
to using those same tools to produce ever-growing mountains of paper
documents, more and more often outputting these digital documents
through use of printers and fax machines. The result is that a huge
amount of office work consists of managing paper--filing correspondence
and reports, and trying to locate them again later.
have made a start at converting their huge backlog of paper documents
to digital form: VanCity, for instance, committed itself a
few years ago to switching over to optical storage, greatly reducing
the space needed to store what used to be rooms full of files by using
storage medium that should last for centuries.
Up to now,
have been impractical for small businesses: the cost of the hardware
needed to scan paper documents has simply been too high to justify.
Over the past year or so, however, a new generation of page scanners
looking something like an overgrown roll of Saran Wrap, along with
software aimed at small offices, has made it increasingly practical
for offices to try to tame the paper monster at a cost of $500 or
such as the WinFax Scanner, from Ontario's Delrina (about
look at documents a page at a time. To scan pages from a book, you'd
have to photocopy them first. You can scan a page, as a graphic, into
any Windows document that supports the popular TWAIN scanning standard.
lets you combine
it with your computer's printer as a stand-in for a photocopier.
more useful, printing to a computer's fax modem lets you send the
document as a fax, thereby getting around the major drawback of fax
modems, which is that they can only send pages that are already
All hardware of this generation is designed to easily plug into your
PC's parallel or serial ports, making for easy setup and installation.
addition, the various
hardware products all come with one or another piece of optical
recognition (OCR) software. While scanners, like fax machines, look
at your printed page as a picture, OCR tries to read the text on the
page, converting it from a digitized graphic to digital text. This
results in a tremendous saving in storage space: a picture of a page
might take 400 kilobytes of space, but a text file of the text on
the page might require only eight kb or so.
digital text can be used directly in the word processor or
program of your choice, letting you edit, cut and paste, or manipulate
the text as you would with any other document on computer.
software isn't perfect--it
will sometimes confuse letter combinations such as "rn" for "m,"
if the original is something like blurry newsprint. Despite these
limitations, it can be surprisingly accurate. The software can be
set to produce a document for your choice of word processor, and even
to load the page right into your word processor, allowing a fast
to catch most errors.
software builds on these page scanners and OCR software to become
part of a small business solution. Document-management software enables
users to attach key words to documents, or even to index the text,
allowing easy filing and searching. Typically, this software can work
with graphics such as scanned pages or faxes, as well as with
files. In some cases, these products are bundled directly with page
scanners such as UMax's PageOffice or Visioneer
VX. In other cases, such as Caere's PageKeeper (about $200),
they are sold as a separate product.
a way to combat paper overload may find this new generation of hardware
and software an affordable and increasingly attractive solution. Coming
up: peeks at new ways to create and use electronic documents, and
to create your own office-wide Web.