How to pick the best document imaging system for your business

By Mark Parow

A quality document imaging device, such as a multifunction printer/copier (MFP), can save youcopier time and money by simplifying the work in your office. This type of machine would allow you to produce your own marketing materials, create professional presentations, and make consistently high quality documents without having to wait for a print shop.

But, choosing the correct MFP can be a daunting task. To make the MFP buying easier, here are the essential questions (and some tips) that can help you in your selection process:

• What is a document imaging device? Document imaging is an information technology category for systems capable of replicating documents commonly used in business. Document imaging devices usually include the ability for one machine to scan, print, fax, copy, and print.  

Scanning converts paper documents to electronic files that can be placed on a PC desktop or a hard disk, or be sent to an e-mail, fax, or to a URL address (which allows people to access the document without having to download large files to their computers). Scanning is very useful for archiving, sharing, and transmitting files, especially those that contain graphics, handwritten text, or other non-text elements.

If you intend to use your MFP for a lot of scan-to-e-mail jobs, you’ll also want Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) support. This allows the MFP to search the corporate intranet for specific e-mail addresses when the user scans documents. Without LDAP capability, the device can only scan to addresses stored in its address book or manually entered at the control panel by the user.

An MFP typically has USB connectivity, which lets users print documents by plugging their computer into a USB port on the machine. Ethernet is usually available and wireless connectivity is sometimes available as an option. Both Ethernet and wireless allow more than one computer to connect to the MFP.

Faxing is also included with some MFPs (though it is usually offered as an option).

• Do you need a color MFP? Should you to choose a model that prints in black and white (monochromatic) or color? Consider if you really need a color MFP. Color MFPs cost more to purchase as well as to operate. Be sure to compare the actual cost-per-page when choosing a color MFP. Page yields are based on 5% page coverage. If you are printing full color photos, your cost-per-page increases and the toner yield decreases dramatically. If you only print color occasionally, a better choice is a monochrome MFP and then either outsource your color printing or purchase a small color laser printer for your color printing.

• Are your documents secure? When selecting your next MFP, be sure to follow the five golden rules for security:

1. Ensure users identify themselves. Look for an MFP with security feature that require users to put in a special code before they make copies or print out documents.

2. Lock down the machine’s administration rights. This protects software running on the hard disk of the device.

3. Keep the firmware up to date. This will make sure you have the most current security updates.

4. Have a standard for the device settings. Treat MFP’s in the same way as other workstations and apply the same security procedure.

5. Dispose of them in the same way as you would PCs. Discarded devices can retain sensitive information on the hard disks, and the disposal procedure for an MFP must be the same as that of PCs, with the hard disk always being wiped as a precaution.

• What are the paper-handling capabilities? If you print many copies daily, scan, or engage in high volume printing, you should consider a copier with an automatic feeder. This device helps you to make more copies quickly and with minimum intervention.

Instead of manually placing the papers, you just put the stack on the feeder and the copier automatically makes the copies for you. Be sure to ask how many originals the document feeder can hold. You don’t want to purchase an MFP that can only handle 50 pages, if you consistently scan or copy 100 page documents.

• How much paper does the MFP hold? Even if you have a small office, you should definitely look for an MFP with proper paper handling capabilities. You need a capacity of at least a couple hundred sheets if you want to avoid constant refilling of paper trays. If your volume is much higher, you may want to consider an optional large capacity paper tray. Also remember to ask if you can add additional paper storage devices as your business printing and copying needs increase.

• How does a new model compare to my old one? Before purchasing any product, ask your dealer for a side-by-side comparison with the “old” product you use today. This will bring the differences between the old and new model into clear focus and help you make an educated decision. Be sure to ask about features that your old MFP or copier does not have that you would like to add to your new MFP.

• Should you purchase a maintenance agreement? Today’s maintenance agreements usually include all service and all consumables (with the exception of paper in most cases), but can vary greatly in regards to replacement guarantees, in which the dealer will replace the equipment if it’s not performing to your satisfaction with a comparably equipped unit. Usually the dealer will be given a set period of time in the maintenance agreement to address the problem, and if they can’t get it resolved, you will want to have the option to replace it.

Replacement procedures vary widely from one manufacturer to another, so be sure to have the dealer include the replacement guarantee within the maintenance agreement, not within the lease agreement.

This way, the dealer is making the guarantee and therefore is responsible for replacing the equipment.

Mark_Parow_HeadshotMark Parow is president of Envision Net, He can be reached at or 904-396-4401.

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