NeatDesk Scanner: Effective Bookkeeping Tool?

As an accountant, I occasionally (literally) get shoeboxes of documents from my small business clients.  Receipts are stuffed in and scrunched up and comprise everything from gas (good) to toilet paper (bad).  As I contemplate the mind numbing exercise where I will have to sift through everything, identify missing information and worst of all, enter it all into an accounting software (usually Quickbooks), I often feel a sense of dread.  I've often fantasized about a tool that could do it all for me (of course I could outsource, but since I only have a handful of these types of clients, it is not worth it, yet...). So, when I saw an ad for the Neatdesk Scanner (shown frequently on CNBC), I felt a little bit of glee as I perceived a potential solution to (at least part of ) the problem. 

What Does it Do?

The primary purpose of the Neatdesk scanner is to create a paperless office.  Scan everything, and get rid of (by recycling of course) all the unnecessary paper.  The part that caught my attention, however, was the ability of the scanner to actually read the receipts and populate the appropriate fields. This could potentially save hours of my time and make the task of entering data far less tedious.

How Does it Work?

(I had some trouble installing the software, however their tech support department was helpful, and I finally solved the problem.)  The hardware, which is simple and streamlined, has three separate slots each for documents, receipts and business cards.  You can place a handful of documents/receipts in any slot, and it slides through the scanner smoothly and quickly.  The actual scanning takes significantly longer, but it queues up the documents, so you can continue to put documents through the scanner (I had  up to 20 documents in the queue.).  Once the document is scanned it is sent to the "inbox" where you review and file it.  The scanner is supposed to read the info on the receipt, and has fields for #, Date, Vendor, Amount, GST and QST (Canadian version) and Category.  It maintains the details in a table which can exported to csv, Quicken, Quickbooks and pdf among other formats. 

Does it Work?

Yes and no.  It scanned the documents elegantly and accurately.  However, it only read and populated about 50% (or less of the data).  I entered about two hundred receipts and bills of all sizes and formats, and it did not deal well with unconventional formats (the majority).  That being said, once scanned, it was quite easy to enter the missing information as I could just refer to the scanned receipt.  My biggest complaint was that I could not get it to export directly to Quickbooks.  This is a technical issue that hopefully I will be able to work out with NeatDesk.  It did export perfectly to a CSV file, which I was able to convert to an IIF file which I could export to Quickbooks.  The pdf export also worked well.

Verdict:

Despite it's inability to read a lot of the data and problems with exporting to Quickbooks, the scanner did save me a lot of time and more importantly, the frustration of unscrunching, lining up and reading receipts.  Also, it was kind of fun (it doesn't take much to make bookkeeping fun) to feed the documents into the scanner.  Whether you provide bookkeeping services or are a small business owner doing your own bookkeeping, I would say that it is definitely worth the $400 (which of course can be written off).