How Scanners Benefit Your Accounting & Bookkeeping Practices

Many accountants are finally finished with the rounds of staff vacation that follow tax season, so it’s time to get back to business, which means focusing on their annual technology upgrades.

One of the more often overlooked areas is the firm’s need for a high quality, double-sided, sheet-fed, TWAIN-compliant scanner. The hardware is frequently the weakest link when firms implement imaging technologies. In fact, even the smallest firm can literally waste tens of thousands of dollars of billable time clearing jams, changing settings and attempting to make a cheap device do things it wasn’t designed to accomplish. The frustration of working with the wrong device also decreases morale and reduces the willingness of users to adopt even the best technology initiative.

There is a world of difference between a cheap, no-name generic scanner and a top quality TWAIN-compliant document scanner from a hardware company such as Fujitsu, the company Intuit recommends its customers consider as their scanner-of-choice. Features you should be looking for on your next office-based scanner for a small workgroup (1-5 users) include:

  • Duplex Scanning – Simultaneous scanning of the front and back paper in a single pass, with support for scanning cards up to 1.4mm thick for items like credit cards, health insurance cards and business cards.
  • Automated Document Feeder – Pages should not have to be fed into the scanner by hand, and the automated document feeder (ADF) should have a paper tray that holds at least 50 pages of original documents.
  • Speed – The scanner should image documents with a consistent throughput of 30 pages per minute (60 images per minute for two-sided paper on a duplex scanner) at 300 dpi (dots per inch).
  • Resolution – Although most of the documents you scan only need to be imaged at 300 dpi or less, some OCR applications perform best when the image is captured at a native optical resolution of 600 dpi. While many scanners can use software to simulate this level of quality, few scanners are designed to produce flawless document images at this resolution on a consistent basis.
  • JamResistance – Most of us have worked in an office with a copying machine that had a poorly designed or ineffectively maintained automated document feeder (ADF). Scanners engineered for use in document management applications use components and technologies with names such as “ultrasonic double-feed detection sensor” to ensure that you don’t miss any pages in your large stack of dry reading.
  • Standards Compliant – Drivers should be available for TWAIN, ISIS and WIA interfaces, as well as for Windows and Mac OS operating systems. These interfaces support integration with almost any hardware and software configuration.
  • Image Enhancement – Hardware and software image enhancement solutions such as Kofax VRS Pro are included with a scanner device at no extra charge. These applications include automated routines to straighten and square crooked images, skip blank pages, remove shaded backgrounds, and enhance the crispness of text with no user intervention.
  • Duty Cycle – The device should be rated to scan at least as many pages as it will scan on a typical busy day. The Fujitsu fi-6130z, for example, is designed to be used for up to 4,000 pages per day.
  • Repair Parts Availability – Since there are moving parts for the scanner, you will want to see if repair parts and are readily available. Some technology consultants to the profession (like Randy Johnston’s Network Management Group) offer extended factory warranties for scanners that provide tech support and repair service for a fixed annual amount. In some cases, next day overnight advanced replacement of a defective unit is included with these service plans.

Although the settings used to scan your documents vary based on the application and how you are going to use it, a good base setting is to image general documents using settings of 300 dpi, black and white (one bit) images. This setting is generally seen by many experts as being a good compromise between achieving quality and the amount of space needed to store the image. The end result is a file size with about 60 KB per page.

When scanning documents where the digital text will be extracted from scanned images using OCR, or electronically sorted and bookmarked using automated tax document organization applications like Lacerte® Tax Import and ProSeries® Tax Import, you should use the EXACT settings recommended by the software vendor. Applications that are optimized to work with documents scanned at 300 dpi in black and white do not work better with images that are scanned at higher resolution.

Another consideration should be selection of devices recommended by the manufacturer of your document management software. By using vendor-recommended hardware and software, you effectively rule out hardware incompatibility as the source of any problems with the related hardware and software. This also makes it easier for you and your staff to resolve problems with the software vendor’s technical support staff.

While you could purchase a new multi-function printer/scanner/fax unit that does each of those tasks marginally well, I recommend that you consider the purchase of a purpose-built scanner like the Fujitsu fi-6130Z (click here to watch a video about this model) that does one task – document imaging – exceptionally well. I purchased one of these devices for my office three years ago and have been very happy with its performance in the demanding environment of my office.

Editor’s Note: Intuit offers discount pricing on the Fujitsu fi-6130Z scanner. Visit this page for details.

Maintenance Concerns

Once you have purchased your scanner, you should perform routine maintenance on the device according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Some of the tasks typically required include:

  • Clean the rollers and imaging glass with manufacturer-specified substances (usually denatured alcohol).
  • Remove all staples and clips from documents before running through the scanner.
  • Sort images by the width of the original so that the adjustable paper guides can be employed to help keep the document image straight and square.
  • Replace the moving parts, which touch the paper (e.g., rollers and paper picks), as recommended by the manufacturer. These kits are usually available online from multiple sources, and frequently make the device function as if it was new.

Manufacturers like Fujitsu frequently publish guides and videos to help end users maintain their scanners. Users should either follow manufacturer-recommended maintenance procedures or outsource recommended maintenance to third parties. If this is a mission-critical device at your firm, it is recommended that you invest in an extended warranty with advanced replacement of defective hardware so you can minimize downtime associated with a broken scanner.

About the Author

Brian Tankersley

Brian Tankersley

Brian F. Tankersley, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is a speaker and author with K2 Enterprises. He has made presentations for 46 state CPA societies, as well as similar organizations across Canada, and has been named five times as a Top Thought Leader in Accounting Technology. He is also one of the authors of the Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey, an annual research survey of hundreds of U.S. accounting firms. Brian blogs at www.cpatechblog.com, and is @BFTCPA on Twitter.

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