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Discussion Boards > Remote Deposit Capture Discussions > Best Check Scanners? View modes: 
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MITROAE - 2/24/2007 12:42:35 AM
   
Best Check Scanners?
What are the best check scanners on the market today? We're hoping to get answers from many different users, so please share with us..
Why do you feel that way?
Which scanners provide the best value for the $$$? How is this measured?
What are the expected maintenance costs? Is there a metric, such as cost per 100 checks which the industry might expect?

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rdc1 - 2/25/2007 5:58:18 AM
   
Re: Best Check Scanners?
M-

Thanks for your questions. Selecting the right check scanner is very much like selecting a car - there are many choices and the best scanner for the job depends upon the job description. Here are some things to think about when selecting an appropriate RDC scanner;

- What is your planned budget?
- Will you want to purchase a backup scanner (impact upon budget)?
- What will be your backup plan if your scanner breaks?
- How many checks will be scanned at the location in question?
- Will you be scanning more than just checks?
- If you're scanning more than just checks, what is the largest size document you'll be scanning?
- What is the processing "window"? For example, scanning 100 items throughout the day vs. the need to scan 100 items within 5 minutes may dictate what speed scanner you'll need.
- Will you want to be able to read the MICR line on the checks magnetically, or via OCR?
- Will you want the scanner to be able to also imprint or frank the items?

The answers to these questions will help guide you to the best scanner for your specific requirements. As the industry continues to develop, the choice and selection of scanners continues to expand. There are scanners which can be purchased for as little as $225 and others for sale in the thousands of dollars. Scanner functionality and capabilities tends to have a high correlation to price... the higher the price, typically the more the functionality / capability of the scanner.

So.... As is so often the case... The Best Check Scanner? It Depends.

Hopefully others in the industry might share some of their experiences / thoughts / opinions with us by replying to this topic.

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Strawman - 2/26/2007 11:50:23 PM
   
Re: Best Check Scanners?
Assuming your interest is small RD/distributed capture check scanners (you do not so indicate) to my awareness Unisys markets another maker’s design.  And if you include Unisys in your poll, then I am curious why you omitted Kodak and NCR, similarly visible and highly credible device suppliers, that are not primary manufacturers.  And if the inclusion of Unisys was an inadvertent error, I am curious why you omit the following manufacturers entirely:

BUIC
Rototype
SEAC Banche
VisionShape


This issue is of importance only because your incomplete list implies your prior judgment that these are the only options for “best.”  This may not be your intent.  And I would not object to an incomplete list so long as your poll included a “none of the above” or “other” choice.  But as you plod through my reply, I hope you get the idea that a “opinion poll” like the one you have put forward really does not speak to the questions I imagine you want answered.   

Even with my additions, the list of manufacturers/re-branders is not exhaustive.  Supplier/manufacturer relationships are indeed unclear and confusing and there are additional products available on the world market that have not (yet?) reached our shores.  And who knows when a new product will appear and I have not checked to see if a new one has in the past few weeks.  And it is the newer offerings that would interest me most if I were trying to make an optimal buying decision.

This is because electronic imaging and computer-based technology becomes obsolete so quickly, supplanted by the latest and greatest.  No matter how credible a supplier, I would not buy a check scanner that was engineered four or five years ago.  It will soon disappear from the market or at least require significant revamping just to remain compatible with currently available electronic components.  I want to select a product when it is early in its technology life so that I am not hamstrung by obsolete equipment while I am waiting for it to fully depreciate.  It is almost never a wise decision to attempt saving money by buying stale technology.

In this context, I don’t find the idea of a simple “poll” informative.  Even correctly structured, polls tend to be information through the rear view window.  It is not so much that any such polls will over represent products that are widely deployed as it is that those products have likely been out there for a while. 

Continuing my line, but now trying to explain why I agree with the gist of Mr. Leekley’s post, you mention nothing about specific product models. 

Most of the several scanner sources offer several models that differ significantly in features and performance and applicability.  Some models are nearly obsolete, some are not, some are price/performance competitive within their feature set/class of application, and a few are competitively inadequate.  One or more specific products might be truly exceptional along one or more dimensions.  You can also probably offer at least one or two serious and valid criticisms of every product.  This is not to say all products are equal.

It is my opinion that you can get a fair to excellent product and a possibly non-competitive product model from the same source.  A particular source may have brand recognition that makes the source seem superior.  But it is feature and performance attributes of specific models that must be considered first in optimal product selection.

An intelligent consideration of these attributes must further be made with regard to a particular subcategory/context and manner of usage.  All factors must be clearly understood if you are truly interested in making a "best" selection that optimizes performance, user satisfaction, and life-cycle value.   

Let me give you two examples with regard to the apparently simple issue of auto-feeder performance on one of these scanners.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  But they get to the single most important point: clearly stating your needs in a manner that leads to best product selection.

1.  If your application is scanning of reasonable size groups of personal checks that come in the mail, auto-feeder performance is likely to be adequate on at least several different models from several different sources.  The reason is simply that even the primitive auto-feeder mechanisms on some models can be easily adjusted to do a pretty good job separating checks of consistent thickness to avoid piggyback captures.  In this context, there is no huge difference between the primitive feeder and that on a more sophisticated unit (that might just cost more). 

If, however, business (and particularly government) checks are intermixed that are very likely to be on thicker stock than personal checks (or on rainy days the checks are likely to get wet as customers go from car to branch lobby) differences in auto-feeder performance become a very important performance and user satisfaction issue.  In this context, the primitive feeder offers no middle ground that will reliably feed the mixed thickness items without too many piggyback feeds.  And having the checks a little damp really ups the ante.

If price and other factors are equal, obviously all of us would want the more capable feeder.  But if the model with the weaker feeder is going into the first setting, its possibly lesser expense may make it the better buy.  Conversely, in the second setting, buying the less expensive unit may be an absolutely terrible decision that will be regretted as long as the scanners are deployed.  And notice that a customer in Tucson may be entirely satisfied with a model that is a source of user misery in rainy Seattle.  Noting the weather as a factor in scanner satisfaction is definitely picking nits.  But invariably I have found the origin of disappointing results in compounded small oversights and subtly different task demands.

There is another dimension to this issue.  In a bank branch, a training program or technician might successfully address feeder adjustment.  For a remote deposit corporate customer this may be impossible.  If you are a bank selecting a check scanner for your corporate customers, it is their needs you must clearly understand, not yours. 

Thus, with regard to the feeder issue, the buyer faces the dual issue of knowing this is a concern in their context and determining if a particular model has a feeder that is good enough for the context.  If this issue matters to you, trust me when I say that you will only know how well the scanner feeds by testing with your own properly selected check set.  The salesman presenting a unit with a mediocre feeder will not use test checks that demonstrate failure. 

To insure that what I have said is clear, I absolutely am NOT saying that the unit with the auto-feeder that performs best under “mixed check type” conditions is best.  I am saying that this factor may be immensely salient when and where it matters. 

The individual models subsumed in our mutual source list are astoundingly different in myriad performance details of this nature.  Anyone that assumes they are an interchangeable commodity differing mostly in price is very likely to make poor buying decision.  And the decision is almost certain to be poor if price operates against selecting the product shown to be superior on more salient performance dimensions. 

Is this a valid issue?  I can only say that I have watched procurements buy reasonable quality, but feature-wise inappropriate scanners on a few dollars per unit price advantage.  And the first thing that seems to be discussed is price, as if any check scanner a vendor might have meets application needs.  So my position is that they are all good for something.  However, that may not be what the buyer’s application requires.

2.  To complicate the feeder example even further, if your application is similar to deposits at a Teller Window, you face another feeder-related issue.  That is lots of one, two, and three item deposit groups.  Within our expanded list are drop-feed models, auto-feeder equipped models that support efficient drop feeding, auto-feeder equipped models that don’t support drop feeding but are easy to load with a couple of items, and a model where loading and starting the device is awkward enough that the deposit could have been completed with a drop feeder before the auto-feeder even gets going. 

Thus, a demonstration where you see an auto-feeder work very well may entirely beg the question of whether the model in question is a good fit with your use.  It is imperative that you comparatively test units as they will be used.  And it is critical that the actual users compare the available product options and attempt to use them as they will in live use. 

Maybe a auto-feeder-free unit is a best choice.  But a technologist on a selection committee or a “scanner expert” from the operations center (that knows little, for example, about what the teller does and how) is more likely to be impressed by the feeder.  For the technologist it is “neat.”  For the scanner expert out of the operations center, it is a miniature version of what he knows.  For the pragmatist like me, all that might matter is that the user is predictably productive and that a drop feed unit rarely inflicts the exception cost of a piggyback. 

The gist so far is I don’t know how to look for “best” until I clearly understand the “for what, exactly.”  In the case of your post, you have not told us [yet].  But if you expect that a $50 price advantage might decide which of two units is “best,” I assure you that you need to be sure that you have the feeder that adequately serves your application conditions.  This single issue can easily be the difference between an “OK decision” and a performance costly mistake.  And I can identify a fairly consequential number of other important issues that similarly impact cost and performance.

Anyone with their ear to the ground realizes the state of distributed and remote capture is not all roses and the rush to deployment has put lots of mediocrity in the field.  This is to be expected.  But in considering this mediocrity, it is my opinion that much of what passes for dissatisfaction with fielded products in the small scanner market place (and there is a fair bit) arises because the various scanner pegs have been viewed as all alike and square pegs have been put in round holes by uneducated buyers. This has been compounded by a rush to deliver application software in advance of fully thoughtful process engineering.  The good news is that this is being recognized and users are clearly articulating the warts in technology that in many instances has been inflicted upon them.

One reason is that “buyers” and “users” are usually different with the latter working with what they have been given.  Few users have experience with more than one scanner model.  So after the fact and without points of valid comparison, it is very difficult for them to distinguish a poor product from poor product placement.  While they can give some sort of diffuse satisfaction rating in its specific context of use and offer specific complaints, their input is not particularly useful as a source of comparative evaluation.  But if you can give them product manuals and set them up using the several scanner choices side by side in a realistic application simulation where price is not the first consideration,  they will pick the “better product” every time.  Less mediocrity would be fielded if exactly this had been done at more places. 

Users are far better at this task than “technologists” or a “scanner expert” from the op center.  The maximum value of user input comes in the product screening process.  Too often it is delayed to the point of blessing a decision already made at a level unaware of usage conditions.  And the corporate remote deposit user probably gets no input at all because the bank says “Use this.” The bank selects the scanner based on pricing, not necessarily a usage model.  Thus, a corporate user may well be left with a scanner that is not ideally suited to his or her needs with no awareness that there may be a better alternative. 

I applaud your effort to get valuable feedback.  But for this to be most beneficial, you should first tell us exactly your usage context and perceived needs.  Then, those with some level of expertise will be more able to provide you with focused guidance.

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MITROAE - 2/27/2007 12:42:42 AM
   
Re: Best Check Scanners?
Thank you RDC1 and Strawman (especially) for your EXTREMELY insightful posts. There's a lot of information to think about. To answer a few questions ...

The polling capability provided me only a limited number of response line items, so I just listed the names that come to mind and those listed in the hardware directory at http://www.remotedepositcapture.com/VDirectory/hardware_vendors.htm . As for those on your list, I have not heard very much about them (but I was aware of them) from peers and colleagues in the industry. I wish I could have listed more response options and have sent an email about this. Ideally I'd list everyone.

Your question about buyer / user is a good one. I can be lumped into the buyer category (banker). We have internal requirements for scanners (branch, teller, cash vault, etc) and perhaps most importantly, are trying to meet the needs of corporate clients of all sizes.

The "key questions" has really made us think about what is the right scanner at the right place and for how much.

The challenges we face are how to:
- Optimize efficiency - The (perceived) need to minimize the # of scanners so as to make the overall process as efficient as possible,
- Minimize risk  - (if there are probelms with specific scanners)
- Minimize costs - by Leverage purchasing power
- Find scanners that can meet the needs of wide segments of our and our client's requirements
- We're also limited by / concerned with solution compatability. Some solutions do not support all types of scanners and vice-versa.

I'd agree with the majority of your response (thank you again) but the realities we need to manage will likely force us to select a minimum # of different scanners to meet the maximum # of end users.

I could go into the process of segmenting our needs / requirements of a scanner at different capture points and environments, resulting in a myriad of segments, but is there a middle-ground?

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Independent Consul - 2/28/2007 3:53:32 AM
   
Re: Best Check Scanners?


I hope the following may be of some help to you.  (As background, I have 35 years of check processing experience).


Challenge:  Find scanners that meet wide segments of user requirements while optimizing efficiency by minimizing the number of scanners:

As I am sure you are aware, there are at least three categories of desktop check scanners, with very different functionality and pricing characteristics:
· Single item feed scanners, most often used in low volume applications or when CAR/LAR is not utilized (requiring manual keying of each amount).
· Auto-feed scanners, best suited for higher volume applications incorporating CAR/LAR but not requiring capture of information from invoices or other full-page documents.
· Scanners that can capture both checks and supporting full-page documents such as invoice copies (and envelopes if necessary) in order to properly post more complex payments to A/R systems. 

Further within each category, purchase prices differ substantially, primarily on the basis of throughput speed.  As a result, there can be no “one size fits all” solution and a variety of scanners will be required to economically meet an array of different user requirements.


Challenge:  Minimize costs by leveraging purchasing power and minimize risk by avoiding scanners with known deficiencies:

Auto-feed check scanners vary in price from less than $1,000 to more than $2,500, resulting in annual costs for depreciation (5 yr) and maintenance fees ranging from about $200 to $800.  Thus a volume discount of 25% would reduce these costs by $50 to $200 per unit.   

However, my analysis indicates that other costs of operation (excluding depreciation and maintenance) are far more important to the bottom line.  For example, in a typical teller application in which 300 items are processed daily through each scanner, these other “hidden” costs are estimated to differ by as much as $1,500 per scanner per year*, far more than can be saved annually through price negotiations.

Reasons for this variance include, but are not limited to, factors such as:
· Capture speed (but representing only about 20% of the difference in this case)
· MICR reject and misread rates
· Jam resistance and ease of clearance
· Piggyback prevention and detection capabilities
· Image quality
· Ease of document insertion and removal
· Susceptibility to print smearing and ink collection on cameras (causing streaked images)
· Frequency and ease of operator maintenance
· Consumables utilization
· Susceptibility to damage
· Duty cycle (useful life)

While some of these other costs can be measured in terms of operator productivity, several also have indirect cost implications that are more difficult to quantify such as:
· Handling items that fail image quality assurance testing
· Fixing items that fail to post properly
· Processing returns that have been illegibly endorsed
· Processing requests for a better image
· Answering related customer inquiries

Unfortunately, no independent body (such as “Consumer Reports”) has published an independent and comprehensive evaluation of all of the check scanners on the market and calculated their total cost of ownership or overall price/performance.  Further, there is no single winner since numerous factors such as volume, check values, processing requirements and application software functionality can significantly affect the outcome.  Hence, purchasers are left to make their own decisions based on their individual requirements and evaluation methodologies.

If you are deploying a significant number of scanners, it may well be worth setting up a rigorous and closely monitored test of each scanner, simulating the conditions that most of these devices will typically encounter and evaluating every aspect of their operation.  While this might appear to be a time consuming exercise, it could result in a substantial annual cost avoidance for your bank and its corporate clients.

*  While this figure is heavily based on fact, a true side-by-side comparison was not completed (as is recommended above).  Instead, a significant number of experience-based estimations had to be made for exception rates, processing costs, etc. in order to derive a comparable dollar value for each scanner.


Challenge:  Solution compatibility

It is true that not all applications currently work with all scanners, especially the newer entrants to the US market.  Although it is not a major undertaking, application vendors need incentive to interface new hardware, especially since many have successfully sold their product with minimal scanner choices (usually the older and better known products) for the past few years.  This incentive could come in the form of:
· Insisting that application vendors comply with your wishes under the threat of looking elsewhere for competitive applications
· Paying a one time fee to cover their costs (perhaps as little as $10,000 based on what some IT folks tell me the cost should be) and don’t be afraid to ask for a rebate if some the vendor’s other customers follow your lead.


Question:  Is there a middle ground?

To some extent, there is probably a middle ground within each of the three scanner categories, especially in the first and third.  However, depending on your client base, you may or may not have sufficient demand to pursue products in all three categories.  The other potentially good news is that several of the vendors provide units that fit into at least two of these categories (and a couple of them may supply units for all three) potentially with the same or very similar interface methodologies.



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