$$ - Two's A Crowd

The Setup

I look after several sites that have chosen to either primarily or exclusively use Mac systems. While Mac users typically reap many benefits from Apple’s high quality operating system, the niche penetration levels of the Macintosh conspire to prevent some technology from thriving on the platform (usually niche solutions themselves).

My tale begins at a time when high capacity document scanning solutions had made little impact in the Land of Mac. After fruitless searching themselves, a practice asked me to procure a suitable document scanning solution for use in their exclusively Apple practice. There were many scanners that would have been suitable had the practice been using Windows, however none of the manufacturers developed Mac software. With few options to choose from, I identified a software product called ScanTango as the best way forward.

ScanTango is a program written by a US based company, Mindwrap. It is essentially a combined scanner driver and document processing application designed to work with a range of Fujitsu document scanners. It has an impressive range of features, many of which are not included in Fujitsu’s own software.

I’d had positive experiences with Fujitsu scanners over the years and was happy to find a Mac software solution that would give my client access to this hardware.

After searching the web for testimonial about the product and not finding any reports of major issues, I contacted the ScanTango developer. He tipped me off about a new version of his software that would include support for a new model from Fujitsu, the Fi-5120c. Offering duplex scanning at up to 25 pages (50 sides) per minute, I learned that this scanner was essentially a refreshed version of the Fi-4120c, a model that I had deployed successfully in the past.

Confident that I had found a workable solution, I called Fujitsu's distributor and ordered a Fi-5120c which was soon to be released in Australia. When the scanner arrived, I checked back in with the developer of ScanTango and purchased the promised update (version 2) that included support for the Fi-5120c. Or so I thought...

The Debacle

Having purchased and installed the software, I plugged in the scanner, did a few test scans, trained the practice staff and was on my way. The staff were happy, the practice principle was happy, I was happy. 2 hours later, I had a call from the practice to say the software was intermittently throwing up communication error messages, requiring the scanner and software to be restarted to allow scanning to continue. Over the course of the next few months, the practice persisted with the “solution” while I tried to resolve the issue. Despite ScanTango updates, OS updates, scanner firmware patches, trials with identical scanners and different computers, and several lengthy discussions with Mindwrap and Fujitsu, I simply couldn’t get the solution to work as advertised.

The major problem for the software developer was that with only a few hundred customers (based on my serial number), and presumably only a fraction of them using the new Fi-5120c, the number of people using the exact solution world wide could have only been a handful. Of these people at the time, I was the only person having this issue.

Six months after I had initially deployed the “solution”, the developer contacted me to say that he had identified the root cause of the problem: The early first revisions of the Fi-5120c had a hardware fault that rendered his software unstable. For reasons that I didn’t care to waste time thinking about, this hardware issue doesn’t cause problems when connected to a PC running Fujitsu's supplied Windows software.

I was pleased that the problem had been isolated, however realised very quickly that this was of no help to my client. As Fujitsu didn’t advertise the product as being Mac compatible or supported, they were under no obligation to swap the scanner for a newer revision that did work reliably.

Mindwrap had been successful in getting Fujitsu to assist customers in the US, but made little effort to pursue a similar arrangement in Australia. I did make my own enquiries with the local scanner distributor, but we both agreed I’d be better off unloading the existing scanner on eBay and repurchasing a newer revision. Having already wasted dozens of hours, I capitulated and requested a refund of the ScanTango software.

The Lessons

The obvious problems associated with buying from a small international vendor aside, by purchasing the scanner and software when they were first released to the market, I’d essentially signed up to beta test three technologies at once (i.e. the scanner, ScanTango and the combined solution). The main lesson to be learnt from my miserable experience however, relates to the relationship of accountability between hardware, software companies and support entities.

The bottom line: If you purchase a product/service to support or add functionality to a 3rd party solution, you need to ensure that one or both of your suppliers will take ultimate responsibility for the total solution.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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