(Started July 25, 2013; Updated August 4, 2013)
Being a small business owner as well as a connoisseur of efficiency producing technologies, I have always wanted to go paperless, but, in the past, two things prevented me from taking the leap:
- Too many frustrating experiences with scanners
- Too many experiences with digital files being saved in places no one can find
Theoretically, two things have changed that mitigate these issues. First, extremely high quality, user-friendly and affordable document scanners are now available from a variety of companies and stores. Second, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, which makes the text in scanned documents searchable, has improved significantly. By utilizing this software, I can find documents that I’ve scanned, even if they aren’t in the proper folder. I can simply search my computer (using Window’s Instant Search or Mac’s Spotlight) for text that I remember being in the document, and the file will miraculously appear.
I ordered the Fujitsu ScanSnap IX500 yesterday, and after reading about the features, watching some demo videos and reading reviews, I’m excited. My only concerns are that I might receive a defective product (which apparently happens periodically according to the reviews) or run into an issue related to the “ultrasonic sensor” that I’ve read about. I’ll update this article with my final verdict next week, after I’ve had a chance to use it.
For now, I’ll identify the decision making process that I used to select this product. I first conducted some searches for high speed document scanners with OCR capabilities and discovered that Fujitsu’s ScanSnap, Epson’s WorkForce and Neat’s NeatDesk are three of the most popular options. ScanSnap had by far the best reviews of any of the products, but a friend of mine recommended NeatDesk, so I decided to focus on those two options. NeatDesk was described in a number of reviews as selling a good document management software product with a scanner as an add-on. The reviewers felt that the hardware wasn’t as functional as the competition. Furthermore, after comparing the features of the included ScanSnap software (not to be confused with the Fujitsu’s “Rack-2Filer” software, which sounds painful) and NeatDesk, I actually prefer ScanSnap’s. It is compatible with numerous third party services (like Dropbox, Evernote and SugarSync) and it can be configured to simply utilize standard folders rather than a proprietary software package or service. Because I use both Macs and PCs, I place a premium on flexibility.
Regarding premiums, the ScanSnap IX500 ($420 on Amazon) is a little more expensive than NeatDesk ($350 for the PC version or $365 for the Mac version on Amazon), but not enough to seriously influence my decision. Considering the amount of time I expect to spend using this new device, I would easily pay an extra $100 for a more user-friendly machine.
The reviews for ScanSnap IX500 indicate all different types and levels of users. Some people have been using previous models of ScanSnap for years. Others, like me, are new to the paperless initiative. Virtually every review I read (both professional and consumer) were positive… except for people that seemed to have defective products. And even they said that when the product worked, it was outstanding. I’m just crossing my fingers, hoping that I don’t wind up with a lemon. Worst case scenario, if I have any trouble, I’ll have it replaced.
I’ll update this post with my first reactions once I receive the ScanSnap. I’ve also noticed that few people have published useful tips online for setting up a new paperless organization system, so I’ll be creating those as well.
August 4 Update
I received my ScanSnap IX500 from Amazon two days after placing my order (I’m an Amazon Prime addict), and the first thing I noticed was how small it is. I didn’t look at the dimensions when I bought the scanner, but it is much smaller than I expected- roughly half the size of a standard printer/ scanner combo. I’m very happy about this size, because it means it doesn’t take up much room on my desk. Once I took the scanner out of the box, I set it next to my Windows 7 desktop, followed the instructions, and installed the software. It comes with a complete version of Adobe Acrobat X (for Windows only), which is definitely a nice addition. I had a small issue regarding the connectivity between the computer and the scanner, but all I had to do was restart the computer and the problem resolved itself. I also installed the scanner on my Macbook Pro (2009) and had no problems, but I do wish the complementary Adobe software was Mac compatible. I even set up the scanner to work with the ScanSnap iPhone app, which couldn’t have been any easier. I set the whole thing up in about 30 minutes, and I was ready to start getting rid of paper.
Because being able to search for files not only by their name, but also by the text in the document is veryimportant to me, I immediately tested the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the ScanSnap. By default, the software is set to NOT convert the file to a searchable PDF, so you have to click the radio button next to “Convert to Searchable PDF” in the ScanSnap Manager under the “File Option” tab. I also selected “All pages” under the OCR options, to make sure that all the text is searchable. After adjusting those settings, I scanned a document, saved it in a folder, then searched using the standard Windows search bar for a word in the document, and voila, the correct document was found! I tried the same process on the Mac with the same result. Being quite pleased, I began to set up my organizational plan.
After thinking through the organization process for my files, I decided to create one Dropbox folder for my personal files and a similar folder on the server at my office for company files. I like the convenience of having all my personal files synchronized through Dropbox across my computers and devices as well as the ability to share that file with my wife and her devices. I also have my server backed up by iDrive, so I can access those files remotely through browser and mobile apps as well. Rather than immediately creating folders for all the files I thought I might save in these new digital file cabinets, I’ve decided to add as I go. I have spreadsheets listing all the folder names for my files (one spreadsheet for personal and one for business), so I’ve decided to use the exact same names for my digital files, when creating a digital folder to replace the paper one. So far, this has been effective. I’ve created ten business and nine personal file folders. I intend to go back and scan papers that are currently filed (in fact I look forward to it), but that is going to take some time, and I have other work that is more important. Instead, I’m simply starting to scan everything new as it comes in. After each document is successfully scanned (make sure it is successfully scanned, because every once in a while, the OCR doesn’t work on the first try- it will give you a notification, if this happens), I put it in a box to be shredded (I’ll be investing in a new shredder soon- my current one stopped working).
Figuring out what the file naming conventions should be has been a little tricky. Some people like to name everything with the date first using the numeric year-month-day format (year needs to be first, in order for this to be effective when sorting by file name). I’m not sold on that, because I find it harder to read a file list, if there are numbers at the beginning of all of them. Instead, I name the document something intuitive, then put the date after. I also make sure that when saving identical documents that are either different versions or from different times, I use the exact same name, before putting the date, so if I sort by name, all these documents will group together in date order. Fortuantely, the OCR feature of the ScanSnap gives you some room for error here, so if your naming convention turns out to be confusing, you can always search for a word that you know is on the document (assuming it’s typed and not hand written- OCR doesn’t work well with handwritten words).
One issue I haven’t solved yet is a good, cross platform way to tag documents. This would be useful for my recipes folder, because I prefer naming things with the name of the recipe, but I’d like to tag them with keywords like “chicken” or “appetizer,” so I can easily search for types of recipes. A lot of my recipes are handwritten, so OCR can’t help me here, unless I type everything up- which basically defeats the convenience of the scanner.
I’ll be rolling out this system to a lot more files over the next couple of weeks, so I’ll update this article when I have time.
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