Neat Tames Paper with Cloud-based Document Management

by Frank Ohlhorst

The Neat Company's NeatCloud and NeatMobile transform paper into digital documents that small businesses can store, retrieve and search from almost anywhere.

Most small businesses share a common problem; they are awash in a mountain of paper. The mountain typically contains paper that's critical to operations, required for historical purposes or used for research. Nevertheless, it's a beast that needs to be tamed, and the Neat Company may just have the formula to whittle that paper monster down to size.

Keeping all that paper organized is a time-consuming process for harried small business owners and managers. Yet they often waste countless hours trying to find an important tidbit of information lost in the sea of papers scattered across multiple desks, file cabinets and inboxes. It's a major conundrum for most small businesses and SOHO (Small Office/ Home Office) environments.

What if you could just wave a magic wand and turn all of that paper into information that you can easily search, index and retrieve from anywhere? Wouldn’t that be great? The Neat Company aims to become that magic wand with an innovative pairing of cloud technology and scanning hardware, which the company designed to bring simplicity and automation to document management enthusiasts everywhere.

Document Management for Small Business

The Neat Company started out a few years ago as NeatReceipts, a company with the sole purpose of selling scanners and software that simplified the expense reporting process. Over time, the company’s scanning and software prowess grew into a full-fledged document management solution, albeit somewhat limited and focused on a single desktop user in a small office environment.

neatDesk small business document management system

Figure 1: The NeatDesk Desktop Scanner + Digital Filing System.

Fast-forward to summer of 2012 and the Neat Company has launched two innovative services, NeatCloud and NeatMobile, which brings document management to those on the move and by its very nature, backs up scanned images to protect those files and their associated meta data from loss.

The services, which range from $5.99 to $24.99 a month, vary based on number of users and available features (see additional pricing information).

A Closer Look at Neat Document Management Products

The Neat Company shipped us a NeatDesk Desktop Scanner + Digital Filing System kit ($399.99 retail) for review, and set us up with a demo account for the NeatCloud and NeatMobile services. The kit included a Neat branded sheet-fed desktop scanner, which offers three input trays – one for documents, another for receipts and one for business cards.

The scanner's basic design, which features just two buttons (Scan and PDF), is quite intuitive – in other words, no one should have a problem using the device. The scanner’s sheet feeder handles multipage and double sided documents. The scanner's advertised capacity is 15 pages with speeds of up to 24 PPM (pages per minute) for color, grayscale and black-and-white documents at 300DPI.

The scanner offers a maximum resolution of 600DPI, which is useful for detailed or high-quality documents, but it's not necessary for most of the documents, receipts and business cards that most people have to deal with.

Truth be told, scanners are a dime a dozen; many companies make them, and very little differentiates them other than resolution, speed and price. That said, the bundled Neat scanner should prove more than adequate for most businesses – it's inexpensive, easy to use and speedy enough to tame mountains of documents.

Document Management: The Secret's in the Software

The real power of a paper management system centers on the software, and the Neat Company managed to create a software package that is both sophisticated and easy to use.

Simply called Neat V5.1, the bundled software that comes with NeatDesk installs the needed drivers for the scanner and sets up a document repository.  NeatDesk uses a tree-like paradigm to organize documents and handles the scanning, OCR and organization of scanned documents.

We found the software easy to use, but it was somewhat limited when compared to full-fledged document management system software. However, most document management solutions and paperless-office management products tend to cost thousands of dollars and are designed for larger business entities.

It all comes down to how much capability you need. If you're looking just to scan a few dozen documents every day and to keep them organized, NeatDesk is more than up to the task. If your needs go far beyond the basics, you may want to look into a high-end solution, such as those available from OpenText (formerly Hummingbird) and Xerox.

Document Management Meets the Cloud

Desktop software aside, the big news out of the Neat Company is clearly the company’s foray into cloud and mobile services. The company built a cloud-based offering, which makes it easy to store and manage documents in the cloud. The new product provides users with two distinct advantages; they can access files from anywhere with an Internet connection, and the system automatically backs up and stores documents, which protects valuable data.

Of course, the Neat Company is not the first to offer cloud storage, however it may be the first to combine organizational ease-of-use with cloud-based access, at least as far as integrated document management is concerned. We found the cloud application quite easy to navigate and to understand, and the performance was pretty good, considering that we used the service over a rather busy broadband connection.

Document Management Meets Mobile

NeatMobile, a companion to the cloud-based offering, lets people use mobile devices and tablets to access stored documents, as well as to add new document images. The company offers a slimmed down, portable scanner that's easy to transport and makes an ideal companion for road warriors looking to scan documents, business cards and other bits of paper while on the go.

We did not have the opportunity to test the mobile scanner, however it uses the same software as the desktop unit and is designed to work with the company' online services.

If you want to quickly bring order to paperwork chaos, NeatDesk is a decent starting point. If, however, you need more than basic scan and manage documents, you should explore a higher-end solution. But for small businesses and SOHOs, $400 isn’t a bad investment to get a handle on that mountain of paper taking over your desk.

Frank Olhorst is an award-winning technology journalist, professional speaker and IT business consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the technology arena. He has written for ComputerWorld, TechTarget, PCWorld, ExtremeTech, Tom's Hardware, Entrepreneur, Forbes and BNET. Ohlhorst was also the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek and former director of the CRN Test Center.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Aug 23rd 2012
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