Capture Goes Mobile

By Anthony Macciola posted 09-03-2010 15:13


So what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of mobile capture? Some service companies might tell you it invokes images of a truck pulling up to your organization and several people bringing boxes of documents out to the truck to scan them. Others might say mobile capture is a small strobe scanner that you can put in your briefcase which is powered by your notebook computer’s USB port. It seems everyone has their own perspective.

The joke around my office is that this subject is my personal pet project. It’s really not. Not anymore than other areas of research and technology development that we’re currently investigating.

To me, mobile capture is using the piece of technology that you have strapped to your hip or, for those of you reading this that tend to be more compulsive than others, the thing you have strapped to your ear.

The next major wave in document capture will be the pervasive adoption of mobile phones for document capture. If you’re plugged into the buzz about this topic, you’re no doubt thinking this guy isn’t much of a CTO. He’s promoting this as the next wave and there are several small companies already doing this.  You’d be right, at least regarding the existence of a couple of small companies already playing around in this area. To better understand how and when this is going to explode, we need to figure out where we’re at and what’s needed for this to gain critical mass as opposed to the novelty it is today.

There are probably no more than five companies today that have made an attempt to break in to the mobile capture frontier. Some of these companies focus on capturing specific things (usually small specific things) like business cards and checks (checks for auto-deposits). The solutions are fine but the applications aren’t what you would call “mainstream”, so those providers tend to struggle from a growth and profitability standpoint.

Others provide solutions for capturing documents with the promise of providing you with a readable PDF document. However, if you read the user forums for these providers, you will find a very common theme: that it’s a cool idea, but not reliable (problematic to use and get consistent, predictable results) and overly cumbersome to use on an ad-hoc basis. In general, these providers tend to struggle as well (from the standpoint of sustained growth and profitability).

So, what’s the change condition that will result in mobile capture becoming a viable mechanism for capturing documents? To answer that question, you need to better understand the mainstream reasons that people leverage capture: 1) for archiving electronic copies of paper documents for retention and recall purposes, 2) for the purposes of distributing paper content electronically, and 3) for the purposes of capturing documents related to business transactions and where the information contained within the paper document is material and needed in order to execute a business process.

For the first two scenarios, capturing a legible document is crucial. You might think that would be easy, but for years this was a challenge on desktop scanners (least of all a camera phone!). For the third scenario, you’d think you would like a nice, legible document but what you really want is a document that is conducive to data extraction which, depending on the document, might not result in a visually appealing rendering.

The scanner market experienced this challenge leading up to the early 90s. In the mid-90s, Kofax introduced VirtualReScan (VRS) which over time dramatically simplified the process of capturing high quality images and completely automated the user experience relative to scanning a piece of paper and consistently producing high fidelity image output with minimal to no human intervention. Put another way, we dramatically simplified the scanning experience and made scanning work the way most people intuitively thought it should work: hit the green scan button and everything else is automatic. There were a number of technological breakthroughs that occurred as part of the introduction of VRS and throughout its maturation to today.

In order for mobile capture to blossom and achieve its full potential from an adoption standpoint, someone is going to have to master the user experience and make it as simple as point and click, with the results being predictable, high fidelity (process ready) documents that can be used for archiving and/or distributing documents or for extracting the content contained in the documents for the purposes of enabling a business process.

Unfortunately, mobile phone camera software access has not yet matured to the point where providers can implement the user experience needed for wider adoption. The hardware is more than capable of capturing content at the required resolution but the ability to fully control the camera (in both video and camera mode) while at the same time fully integrating the needed automated image perfection technology needed to create the ideal user experience is not really there.

That being said, things are progressing and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m guessing that you’ll see great strides made in this segment of the market from a technology standpoint over the next 12-18 months.

Next time, we’ll talk a little bit about data/document classification.

#distributedcapture #ScanningandCapture #smartphones #OCR #mobile