by Jim Lyons

For my September “Jim Lyons Observations” column, I looked at some of my recollections and analysis of document digitization — a process that has been with us quite some time, but still in some ways has not yet reached its “tipping point.” As is my habit, I combined a look at the past and present, while seeking insight into a future outcome.

Someone who started me on this recent quest, and helped fill in a number of missing pieces, is a longtime printing and imaging veteran, Hiro Kataoka. He is now CEO of HoGo, a company whose tagline, “Document Protection Simplified,” says a lot about what they believe to be the “unmet user need” that is holding up wider implementation of document digitization. Following is part of our conversation.

First, at a high level, what do you see going on with scanning and document digitization? It’s hardly a new concept, but it doesn’t seem to have fully arrived, either.

While scanning has become popular for archiving and in some cases as a fax replacement, there is room for further adoption in the workflow of various industries. Two factors that have hindered digitization of paper documents are complexity and security. While scanning solutions are constantly improving, there is still room for improvement when it comes to ease of use and setup, particularly over a network.

Paper has inherent security advantages in its physical embodiment over digital data. A paper document cannot be easily modified without leaving evidence, and a piece of paper locked in a file cabinet is less likely to go viral than a file on someone’s thumb drive. Therefore, for digitization to be accepted in more sensitive applications, steps must be taken to control access and maintain traceability. This is an area that technology like Digital Rights Management (DRM) can help by protecting the digitized document itself to control who can view it, and keeping a “paper trail” of where the document goes.

On the other hand, there is a new opportunity for digitization that is now emerging: scan to mobile. While once we printed documents because they were easier to read than on a computer screen, and a file full of paper was easier to carry around than a computer, it is now a lot easier to carry around thousands of pages of documents on a tablet than as hard copy. This is where integration with cloud services for document storage and sharing will become critical.

Tell us more about HoGo, and the customer needs you are satisfying.

HoGo is a company focused on improving the security and ease of use of online document sharing. We utilize DRM technology to secure documents so that even if a document is stolen, leaked, or lost it is protected from unauthorized use. While DRM has been in use for e-books in the past, we are applying the techniques to all documents, and integrating it with a cloud-based service to share and distribute protected files.

Our first product is a service called HoGo, which allows users to copy-protect and distribute PDF documents. Users create a free account on our website, upload their files, and then send them by specifying the recipient and permissions. The recipients can view the documents in a browser, or download and view them in our free HoGo Viewer for iOS, or using Adobe Reader on PC and Mac. The key differentiator is that PDFs sent with HoGo cannot be re-shared or forwarded because they are protected using DRM.

You moved from working in mobile printing, one of what many would see as the most promising area in our business, to HoGo, and digital rights management. Can you compare the opportunities, i.e. mobile versus digitization?

While working on mobile printing, I came to realize that while the print industry had a very high level of interest in mobile printing, the temperature was much different on the side of mobile device and software vendors and end users, especially when it came to business use. While we saw a certain level of traction at certain enterprise-centric mobile companies, it occurred to me that mobile print was just a small piece of a larger puzzle, or opportunity.

I read recently an article where InfoWorld’s executive editor, Galen Gruman, coins a phrase called “liquid computing” to refer to the current trend toward treating computing devices more as contexts where content is created, edited, or consumed. I believe that media devices such as printers, scanners, MFPs, and intelligent displays must be equal members in this ecosystem along with traditional personal computers, mobile devices, and in the future, the Internet of Things. (By the way, the network printers and MFPs of the early 2000s were really the first incarnation of the Internet of Things, featuring intelligent Internet connectivity and the ability to autonomously interact over the network.)

Anyway, getting back to my transition from mobile print to the document cloud … The glue that connects a scanner or printer to a user’s other computing contexts such as desktop/laptop devices and mobile devices is the Internet, and specifically a cloud. This is true for connecting content from one user to other users.

Cloud storage/file sharing services such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Microsoft, Apple and others have popularized cloud services for connecting desktop and mobile devices, and allow users to share files (content) with each other. However, as seen with the celebrity iCloud hack, there remain serious holes in the areas of security and traceability — two must-haves for widespread business adoption.

Originally, my idea was to create a cloud service to allow “secure” sharing of documents (PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint) using DRM technology. The premise for this is to secure the content, not just the cloud. For example, if certain celebrities had applied protection to their compromising photos when storing them on iCloud, no one would be able to see the photos even if the files were stolen. So by integrating DRM into a document cloud solution, users can easily share documents between each other on multiple computing contexts including mobile devices, while maintaining control over who can see the documents and for how long. By securing the content, not just the cloud and network, the workflow around sensitive documents for business, legal, medical, and personal use can be made more efficient, safely.

When I mentioned what I was working on to some old colleagues in the imaging industry, they immediately suggested that we should integrate with MFPs for secure scanning and printing. While I was somewhat looking forward to moving into an industry away from imaging, it did not take long to come back.

So now, we are working on both server side (cloud-based) and client side (embedded, desktop, and mobile) to enable secure document sharing between MFPs, desktop/laptop computers, and mobile devices. We currently offer a freemium service in the U.S. and Japan that allows users to apply DRM and share PDF documents, and will be introducing a “pro” version that will expand that to Microsoft office documents as well. We expect to have MFP companies connecting to the service by early next year, and are also offering the technology in OEM form to companies that may want to provide their own document cloud service.

So in some ways, my transition may have been from mobile print to mobile scan and print by way of the document cloud.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.