Avoiding Proprietary Formats Like The Plague (Scanning, DM)

By Nicholas Inglis posted 04-27-2010 09:01


I’m by no means an expert on the plague, I just want to take that off the table right away. I have, however, gotten stuck because of some company’s ridiculous proprietary format. When you get stuck with a proprietary format you’ve gotten what is called “Vendor Lock In”. Vendor lock in can be great if you are the vendor, it makes it difficult to change systems, software and hardware. Thus, by default, you’ve created a customer for life. I’m going to tell you a little about some unrelated vendor lock in I’ve experienced and I’ll promise that I’m going somewhere with all of this.

I bought a video camera from a company, let’s call them Shmoshiba, as to keep the company’s real name untarnished. I was so excited when I first ordered my Shmoshiba ultra compact camcorder. I could use this camcorder for so many uses, family, business, video blogging and more.

The camcorder came in a day before it was expected, I was thrilled. I ripped apart the shipping tape like it was Christmas day. I pulled it out and slapped in the battery and started filming. I took pictures of the outdoors, I filmed a couple of quick video introductions for my company, I filmed the goings on of my family. Ecstatic, I pulled out the software and the USB cord and got ready to install the camera on my computer. That’s where everything soured.

First, I struggled with the installation of the software which was a process in itself (and I’m a bit of a geek). A half hour later I stood victorious over the software and imported the files that I had just created. The videos had a funny file format I’d never seen before, we’ll call it .doa. I googled and quickly found out that .doa was Shmoshiba’s brilliant proprietary video file format.

I went to import my .doa files into my video editing program and to my chagrin the files wouldn’t import, they weren’t recognized. I opened the proprietary software and included was a bogus video editing program where I could add nice things like pixelated text and clip art to my video. Awful. I tried to export my video from the software and it would only export as .doa. I quickly realized that I’d gotten a bad case of the vendor lock in.

Why do I tell this story? There are a lot of document management systems and scanners that behave in just the same way that my Shmoshiba camcorder does. Like my camcorder you should toss it before the damage done is too deep. Scanners saving  to proprietary formats may work great for one purpose, but later down the road what happens when you find that you’ve got to upgrade? .doa

First, what are the qualifications that you should be looking for when seeking out a high production scanner and scanner software? Obviously speed and quality count, simplex/duplex should enter your conversation. From there, what are my output options? Can I output to TIFF or PDF? Can I perform OCR and indexing with the scanner software? Where is the OCR and index data stored? How is it stored? Does the scanner software support open architecture indexing (ie. EXIF, IPTC, XMP, etc.)?

So what are some of the qualifications that you should be looking for when seeking out a document management system, either internally for your company use or as a potential reseller? Open standards. Firstly, the document management system should accept widely accepted file formats: TIFF & PDF primarily. How does the document management system store my files? Are the files changed in the process of uploading them into the document management system? Can I get my files back out in the same way I put them in? How is my OCR and index data stored, is it stored in the file or in a separate database? If file stored, is the data written using open architecture standards (again, ie. EXIF, IPTC, XMP, etc.)? If database stored, what type of database (mySQL, SQL, Oracle)?

Your last questions on the document management front is the pricing model and delivery method. First, how do I pay for this document management system? Is this a SaaS solution or am I going to pay up front? Are there other fees (reseller fees, user license fees, etc)? What is the deliver method of the document management system (web based, server setup)? I’d prefer SaaS, low reseller fees and no license fees but maybe I’m a little biased since we just released our document management system, WebVault2.0, with those same characteristics. In reality the correct answers to those last questions are going to depend upon your company’s needs.

Here are your question checklists to avoid proprietary lock in:

Scanner Document Management
What is the ppm (pages per minute)? What file formats are accepted?
Color or B&W? Where are my files stored?
Simplex/Duplex? What types of OCR/index values are accepted?
Output of file formats: Where is my OCR/index value data stored?
Output of OCR/index value formats: What type of database is used?
Where is the data stored (separate file, in file as header information)? What is the pricing model (SaaS, up front)?
  What is the delivery method (online, server)?
  Other fees (user licenses, setup, etc.)?

Armed with the answers to these questions you can avoid Scanners and Document Management Systems that lock you in and not feel the way I felt with my Shmoshiba camcorder.

#documentmanagement #Scanning #proprietary