I have been involved in document capture for 26 years - since well before it was even called "capture." I am often asked about how I came to found Datacap. So taking advantage of my impending exit from the stage (read on for more!), I thought I would share some background on the founding of Datacap as the first true document capture software company.
The microprocessor revolution was in full swing in the mid-1980s when I joined a hospital information systems startup. We concentrated on data collection in operating rooms using what was then cutting edge: IBM PCs networked directly together with TCP/IP. We got sterilized computers into the operating rooms... but we struggled to get nurses to use them.
Turns out that not only was the nursing staff more comfortable working with pen and paper (usually on a clipboard), but they resented having to literally turn their backs on the patient - particularly when they were being asked to enter what was essentially inventory data for billing purposes (the materials and instruments being used during the course of the operation). We also had a back up system in case the PCs or the network didn't work (which was often). It used... paper.
It was in this context that I was struck down with a very nasty virus: chicken pox. You may think of chicken pox as a childhood disease with some discomfort - or even as a great opportunity to play hooky from school - but adult chicken pox, as I quickly learned, is an entirely different beast. I ran a high fever, and for several days I literally could not raise my head off the pillow.
At times I became delirious. And it was in a delirium that Datacap was born. I had visions of paper forms filled in by nurses in the OR dancing around... but, more interestingly, of the data on the pages coming unstuck from the paper and floating off. I saw individual characters very clearly and how they could be segmented to be understood by the computer as data.
Once the fever had burned itself out, I got back to work. One day not long after, a guy I had brought in to help us with some of our tougher user interface challenges showed off an early document scanner. He was building a driver to run the scanner from a Mac for another client of his. It seemed an amazing piece of equipment... and it struck me right there that if we could scan the nurses' sheets, then we could segment the characters and turn paper into data!
Once the wheels started spinning, there was no turning back. Along with Noel Kropf, the guy with the scanner, we founded Datacap and we set to work building our first product, Paper Keyboard, releasing it in 1989. It all seems so inevitable now, but at the time there were nothing but hurdles to overcome: porting to Windows 3.0, adding machine-print OCR, tying multiple machines together to distribute the work, etc., etc.. It kept a growing team of developers busy for the next two and a half decades.
And, of course, we faced increasing competition as the "forms processing" business became a recognized speciality in the quickly gowing document imaging industry. Some vendors edged into scanning and data entry automation from related areas like manual data entry (Textware, later Captiva), while some started the long transition from hardware to software (Kofax).
Eventually, Datacap became part of IBM in 2010, giving us the opportunity to put down a global footprint. What started off literally as a “vision” in a fever, has become a global reality, used by customers worldwide to ingest millions of pages each day. In some ways, for me, that fever never passed. It has energized me for years – and I like to think I have “infected” a few others. If so, then maybe my job is done. I can let a new generation of visionaries take what we have done with IBM Datacap to a new level. That's part of the reason why I decided to step aside from my current role into retirement at the end of this month, not long after I push the "Publish" button on this blog.
I still have a vision for the future of document capture, one that is increasingly mobile and distributed, and one that will make the steady transition from "on-premise" to SaaS for many customers. But I'm sharing it with you now so that you can help make it a reality while I spend some more time on my bike and doing the many things that I haven't had the opportunity to do since I first caught the Datacap bug!
Whatever I’ve done, I’d like to thank the hundreds, and probably thousands of individuals that have made the document capture space a thriving business arena. Whether you were with Datacap, with IBM, with one of our many partners, or even with a competitor (ha, I know you are reading this!), without all of you, we would not have such a vibrant and successful capture community!
Scott - @CaptureGuru