Document Scanning and Document Imaging: What's the Difference?

April 9, 2020
Document Scanning and Document Imaging: What's the Difference?

One common tech-related question is "What's the difference between document scanning and document imaging?" The differences can be tricky to explain without context. So, today, let's explain the difference between document scanning and document imaging through the lens of the logistics industry.

Why focus on logistics? Because the logistics and trucking industry are in the middle of an evolution toward a paperless office. To put it another way, trucking companies are halfway between document imaging, a technology of the past, and document scanning, the future of this technology.

The logistics industry, like the business world in general, is evolving toward the paperless office. Document scanning software will be the engine that makes the paperless office possible. The paperless office and paperless transactions have the possibility to save time, money, and reduce risk. But certain questions come along with a shift to a paperless office. For instance, you might wonder

  • What's the difference between document scanning and document imaging?
  • How can you eliminate the paper from a logistics transaction?
  • How do you manage all the document scanning and imaging data?

Today, we'll answer those questions. We'll clarify the difference between document scanning and imaging. Further, we'll look at some of the intriguing possibilities this emerging area of tech promises to unlock. And, finally, we'll look at some deeper considerations regarding risk mitigation and best practices when it comes to a paperless workflow.

Let's get started!

Moonshots and How Tech Evolves

The shift to paperless seems inevitable. It's well known that with modern cellphones, we all now carry around more computing power in our pockets than NASA used to put a man on the moon.

The moon landing was a giant leap for mankind. But we've kept skipping along. Even now, as NASA hands the space reins over to SpaceX, technology continues to evolve here on Earth. In general terms, technology is driven forward by an inherent mission of increasing human potential, providing greater access to information, and expanding profits.

Google summarizes the goals of tech with a list detailing the mission statements of technology. According to that list, technology aims to

  1. “Enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.”
  2. “Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
  3. “Utilize the power of Moore's law to bring smart, connected devices to every person on earth.”

Let's look at that last point a little more closely.

Moore's Law and Logistics

Moore's law is a rule of thumb borrowed from the semi-conductor industry. It is now applied somewhat generally to any industry that involves tech. Moore's law states that technological advancements double every two years. So, how does it apply to logistics?

When it comes to the universe of logistics, you could definitely argue that technology has lagged behind in certain areas. Certain technological advancements—like various GPS manifestations, TMS platforms, and CRM systems—have been in wide use across logistics for over a decade.

That said, other areas of logistics are still stuck in the 1960s. Specifically, paper and pen still dominates the daily workflow of the entire logistics industry. Consider the type of paperwork included in every freight delivery:

  • Paper bills of lading
  • Proofs of delivery
  • Weight tickets
  • Driver vehicle inspection reports
  • Fuel receipts
  • Lumper tickets
  • Detention tickets

How then, does tech approach the process of removing the paper bottleneck from trucking?

For starters, you don't just announce to the world that paper hand-offs have been eliminated from freight deliveries. Instead, you begin by building a serious understanding of drivers' workflows and the location of all the bottlenecks.

Then you accommodate a transition period from old tech (paper) to new tech (paperless). In reality, this could come with its own unique bottlenecks when early adopters of a tech try to interface with a holdout that is still using old tech.

For instance, let's say your company has a paperless office. Meanwhile, the third party carrier on your load still uses paper and fax machines. Does that mean you can't do business?

Definitely not. All you need is the right imaging software that's built by people aware of that potential issue.

Document Scanning vs. Document Imaging

By and large, we can sense the potential of imaging tech for logistics. The time and money a paperless office could save is enormous. Just picture a clutter-free work environment. Or clearing out that battalion of filing cabinets. That alone might make a positive impact on day-to-day operations.

It seems that if we can clarify some of these nuances of document management we can remove the roadblocks some folks have with the idea of a paperless office and paperless freight.

One nuance is the difference between document scanning and document imaging. So let's get clear on this:

  • Document imaging is when you convert a paper version of something into an image file. In essence, a document image is just a digital picture of a piece of paper. This digital image can be viewed, saved, and shared as a file, but it can't be changed.
  • Document scanning is when software actually reads the information on the paper version and converts the text and content into a working digital document. The information on that document can then be altered.

Granted, the terminology can make things confusing because we'll often say the word "scanning" when we really mean "imaging." For instance, someone might say "Can you scan this driver's POD into the system next time you go to the copier?" In that case, they intended to say "Can you image this driver's POD?"

A Simple Test

Thus, a simple way to know whether the software in front of you is for document imaging vs. document scanning is this: Can you can edit the file afterward? If you can't edit the content of the image, that's document imaging. To put it another way, document scanning creates a working digital document. Moore's law might suggest that scanning was the inevitable growth beyond imaging.

When it comes to logistics, the key difference here is that document imaging technology allows someone in the back office to attach an image as part of a load file.

There is still a lot of back-office data entry work involved with document imaging. On the other hand, document scanning technology can be programmed to allow the image to integrate into a load file.

A document image is attached to a load file. A document scan takes the scanned information and can become the load file. To think about this another way, a document image is dead, while a document scan is alive.

One leading tech company is offering several smart, integrated, customizable features in one straightforward document scanning package.

Vector Leads the Way

The capabilities of document scanning tech are changing the logistics game. It's important to note that document scanning drives the paperless office. This makes sense when you consider that the quality of your documents ultimately drives the quality of your data.

Without a doubt, the company on the leading edge of this space is Vector. Vector combines several pragmatic features into one piece of software. They basically offer a Swiss Army Knife of features that have the potential to streamline workflows, regardless of whether you sit in the back office or behind the wheel.

The beauty of document scanning tech comes together as a common sense combination of several features into one adaptable, easy-to-use platform. Consider the dynamic benefits of these features when they're combined into one piece of software:

  1. Images that are automatically enhanced and cropped
  2. Digitized document scanning
  3. Ability to read handwriting
  4. Scans of barcodes
  5. Mobile integration
  6. GPS integration
  7. Telematics integration
  8. TMS integration
  9. Cloud-based storage
  10. DMS integration (including search)
  11. Customizable documents and workflows
  12. Automatic invoicing

Greater efficiency and streamlined workflows can make real impacts to the bottom line in logistics. Each feature shaves time off the life cycle of freight load. Automatic invoicing alone can take a process that usually takes days and reduce it to a matter of minutes.

Document Management System (DMS)

With both document scanning and document imaging, data storage is an adjacent concern. With the help of a DMS, document scans and images are immediately routed from the driver to the correct back office personnel as needed. It’s all about speed: no delays, no paperwork, and no manual data entry. Just the data from the documents, when and where you need it.

A DMS can truly unleash the power of document scanning. A DMS can be programmed to take scanned documents and automate manual tasks like indexing, invoicing, and collection reminders. These systems will also feature search functions that allow for efficient document recall. No more sifting through filing cabinets and banker boxes!

Time for Liftoff

Today we learned the key difference between document imaging and document scanning. Logistics makes the world happen. We need to keep freight moving around the world. This doesn't require a moonshot, but it does require a bit of forethought. Best practices need to adapt with every new reality.

Regardless of how you look at the future of logistics, it is more and more evident that document scanning technology is now the leading edge. As such, early adopters might begin outpacing their competition for a number of reasons.

In the final analysis, history's winners will be those companies that identified outmoded ways of being, rigorously sought continuous improvement, and implemented the best adaptations.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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