Don’t over think business card scanning

by Ilya Evdokimov | Feb 26, 2010 | BCR

business card scanners, and OCR/BCR technology to read them

I am amused at the detail of thought and complexity people put into business card scanning, BCR. In my time in the enterprise content management industry, I’ve scanned hundreds of thousands of business cards. Yes I know that is a lot, and no I’m not that popular. A vast majority of the scanning was for testing of business card scanners, and OCR/BCR technology to read them. But what cards I do want to keep are scanned and stored for later retrieval. I DO NOT use a specific card scanner, nor do I use a special card scanning application. I truly keep it simple and in my experience this is the right right way to do it.

Card scanners are inexpensive and useful when all you are scanning are business cards, but why not scan all your documents? ADF feed document scanners today support feed trays that dial down to the size of business cards. They are also able to scan stacks of business cards, front and back without a problem. So all I need is one scanner for all my documents. After extensive testing, the image quality difference is negligible, and in the top 3 are leading desktop scanners which are actually higher.

Now that you have the image, how do you get the data? Most people want to use a dedicated BCR technology to extract each data element from the card. I too am very amused with this and have had fun setting up systems to do it. But as a practicality, it does not make much sense to me. BCR that extracts separate fields such as name, email etc. can be very accurate. But when it’s not accurate it’s a problem. It takes a lot of time to correct a problem if it occurs, but more often then not, you don’t even know the problem occurred so you get part of an address in the phone number field and miss the phone number completely for example. You will only know this is the case when it’s time to follow-up with people. My second practicality complaint is that you are adding one program to operate and use regularly. We all have our favorite email client, or CRM where we keep all our contacts. Most BCR applications promote their ability to export to the most popular email clients, but as soon as there is an update to your database application you also have to buy a new version or might be stuck. Some BCR applications do not even allow the export of data so you have to manually copy and paste anyway. Is this really necessary?

OK it’s only fair now for me to tell you how I do it. I scan my business cards with my ADF fed document scanner to a hot-folder. This hot-folder is watched by a Full-Page OCR system and the cards are automatically converted to search-able PDFs. I am not getting field data and I’m not saving into a separate application. I’m making search-able PDFs just like all my other documents. This has worked for me very well for the past 4 years. When it comes time for me to find someone, all I really want is to see the card and the info. Most likely, if it’s really important I’ve already emailed them and captured their information that way. With my system I can search for people, websites, company names, even topics to find the cards of the people I want. I don’t have to worry about searching in a special UI field by field. Nor do I have to worry about missing data as full-text does not fall to the mercy of field extraction, it gets everything that is readable. In the areas of business where card scanning is used for reading medical insurance cards and drivers licenses the technology is very useful and necessary. I’m speaking only of personal business card scanning

In my experience most users of card scanners and BCR application use them very actively for a period of a month or two and soon the use dies to nothing and they revert to manual entry. I’m not doing manual entry, I’m using the latest technology in one unified process and full-text search. I’m just keeping it simple and practical.

Chris Riley – Sr. Solutions Architect