Innovation can be mechanical, too

By Steve Weissman posted 01-16-2013 15:40


A couple of months ago, I wrote how important it is not to settle for automation when there is innovation to be had. Today, I'd like to take this one step further, and perhaps one step to the side, by pointing out that innovation can rear its pretty head in contexts other than software!

The trigger for this thought is the new ScanSnap iX500 from Fujitsu, which I have been evaluating for the last month or so and have found to be as totally delightful and pleasing as all of its predecessors have been. Yes, they made it faster, and yes, they made it easy to scan directly to my iPhone. But the improvement I am most intrigued by has to do with the mundane mechanical means of simply moving paper through the unit.

We have all long loved the idea of being able to stuff documents into a scanner and having their images appear on the screen – and we've been rewarded with any number of solutions to get this done. But especially on the low end, we haven't loved the frustrations associated with dealing with documents whose pages are of different thicknesses and dimensions. The devices available to us for the most part works pretty well, but when handling even a short pile of paper, we inevitably have to spend time to straighten, unjam, or otherwise fiddle with the document feeder.

Whether or not the new ScanSnap does a better job of pushing paper through the device than it has before  – and so far it looks like it does – I love the fact that the company spent time enhancing a mechanical capability that is decidedly less sexy than many of its electronic functions. The folks behind the product know that this can result in a greatly improved business process and a markedly better user experience, and that, correctly, is what drove their design decision.

The lesson to be drawn here is that innovation lurks in places where high-tech and hyperbole may not reach, you must allow your imagination to range across all aspects of your operations and infrastructure. Restrict yourself to software only, and you are likely to miss out on potentially significant opportunities to innovate.

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