Printer and copier functionality traditionally did not compete or cross over. Printers made a hard copy of an electronic document and copiers made copies of original documents. This changed when printer manufacturers saw the opportunity to incorporate components that traditionally resided in PCs, such as memory and scalable fonts, into their products.
Copier manufacturers also realised the opportunity that lay in enabling a computer input to their products. This blurred the lines between the printer and copier markets, making them more competitive and introducing more functionality and business benefits to users.
The demand for multifunctionality (including print, copy, scan and fax) along with the arrival of the digital age has driven the emergence of multifunctional devices (MFDs). These devices were initially popular with the small to medium enteprise (SME) market for their affordability, greater functionality and smaller footprint on the desktop.
However, corporates are beginning to benefit from MFDs as vendors cater to the needs of this market segment with the introduction of laser and colour MFDs, as well as additional functionality such as scan-to-e-mail and digital archiving.
Although software is required for digital archiving, MFDs are becoming an important component within document workflow, the automation and management of documents entering and leaving the organisation.
MFDs now also incorporate hard drives, allowing businesses to store original documentation permanently or temporarily and convert it to an electronic format on the MFD if they choose, do enabling digital entry of documentation into the organisation's network.
Optical character recognition (OCR) software has also improved the management and searchability of documents. It allocates a serial number to a document and then reads the information when a user enters search criteria.
A keyword can, for example, be typed in and the OCR software will automatically search each document for that word. This is beneficial to any organisation that needs to archiving documents.
Technology is dynamic and ever-evolving. MFDs will soon feature functionality that allows users to scan documents and choose the file format that the document should be saved to. We can currently save a file to .pdf or .gif format. Future developments include saving a file in Word and Excel formats, making it a simple matter to scan a document and then modify the content once saved in electronic format.