MFPs and Process Automation…the Perfect Marriage

Anthony Macciola

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Keywords: MFP, distributed capture

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So what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about business process automation (BPA)? I’ll bet that it’s not a multi function peripheral (MFP)! Why do you think that is?  When you think about it, many business processes are document driven and are initiated in the field as an ad-hoc transaction. Historically, people have used fax as a way to initiate a transaction, but we all know the image quality limitations that come along with fax.

However, there is another, somewhat obvious element to consider.   Many of today’s organizations have network attached MFPs deployed in the field, so why not allow a knowledge worker to initiate a business processes by capturing the document that drives the process? In other terms, why not leverage your fleet of enterprise MFPs to be the front office interface for your field based knowledge workers and your back office BPA infrastructure. It’s the perfect marriage and an optimal and effective use of your overall IT infrastructure (doing more with less, so to speak).

That’s why any enterprise capture platform must have an MFP component that provides the ability to centrally discover, manage and monitor a distributed fleet of MFPs.

However, there is one slight catch.  Most MFPs don’t produce the same quality of image output that users have come to expect from production scanners. Or, at a minimum, most MFPs lack the ability to capture mixed document sets and product reliable and predictable image quality. For that reason, many enterprise customers will typically use production scanners rather than leverage their existing MFP fleet.

Traditionally, the image processing/perfection provided in most (if not all) MFPs is geared toward providing aesthetically pleasing print output as opposed to process-ready output (process-ready being a document that is conducive to downstream document classification and metadata extraction, both of which are key precursors to any business process automation framework). When you look at the most common use of MFPs in the capture world, it’s traditionally been based around collaboration. This includes scan to fax and scan to email, where the knowledge worker receiving the document is likely to print it as well. In this case, everything works fine. However, things start to get a bit sketchy when one uses the MFP for archiving the content or initiating a business process.

This discussion sounds very similar to the mobile phone capture subject we discussed earlier.   In concept, the potential problems share some similarities.  For example, how does one simply and reliably produce process-ready documents?  This is an issue that Kofax VirtualReScan (VRS) has solved in the production scanner market. Turns out the same problem needs to be addressed in the MFP market (as stated by a couple of leading industry analysts). By solving this issue, an MFP could be a viable alternative to a production scanner, especially in a distributed, transaction oriented business process automation environment.

As I mentioned when we discussed mobile devices, the MFP platforms haven’t evolved to the point where we can get access to raw CCD output at the level we need and currently get from production scanners, but we’re seeing significant forward progress and interest as various MFP providers realize the upside and opportunity to differentiate themselves and effectively compete in the BPA market. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw new generations of MFPs brought to market that had VRS embedded and were able to produce process-ready documents straight out of the device itself.

Such an evolution would be a win-win all around as MFP vendors would now be able to position their devices as distributed business process kiosks (much higher value than a shared output device) and customers would be able to consolidate their overall IT infrastructure, saving money while increasing overall efficiency.

This is definitely something to watch and plan for as the business process automation and management markets become more pervasive and dominate the overall buying behaviors of global organizations.

As a leader in the document capture market, we’re committed to making this happen and evolving the world of document capture to the next level.


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