Backfile Conversion Boot Camp

By Bud Porter-Roth posted 05-12-2011 12:46


In a recent conversation I had with a fellow consultant, he believes that only 11% of the businesses that could use document imaging actually are employing document imaging systems. This correlates to my thinking because I continually get inquiries from businesses, small to very large, that want to know more about document imaging, document management, and if the technologies are viable.

OMG! Yes, there are still companies that haven’t really discovered document management/imaging/workflow and don’t know how to get started! So here is a quick tutorial on getting started with document imaging.

When considering the implementation of a document management system, perhaps the most important consideration, aside from choosing the software application, is how (and how quickly) the existing paper documents will be input into the system. The many choices can be reduced to doing the conversion and input in-house versus outsourcing the work. Typically, the criteria for making the in-house or outsource decision are costs, time, and resources.

Companies that convert paper documents (and/or film) are typically called service bureaus. A service bureau will have in-depth knowledge of all types of paper documents, and usually has the latest scanners, software, hardware, and other associated equipment to satisfy most needs. In addition, because a service bureau is set up for large, high- volume jobs, it will be able to process the documents faster and more efficiently than you may be able to. The service bureau may also have specialized software and scanners to handle difficult documents that could not be handled with in-house equipment. Metaphorically, it is like buying a $200 torque wrench to tighten one bolt.

Outsourcing to a company that specializes in document conversion can be affordable and may be less costly overall, and faster, than doing the work internally. For example, if your project is to convert one million paper documents in a short amount of time, you would have to purchase several large, expensive scanners; hire document preparation people, scanner operators, and index and QC personnel; set aside facility space for the operation; plus other incidental costs. Moreover, once the backfile scanning has been completed, your on-going scanning needs may be small when compared to the daily backfile conversion volume. This would mean that your high-volume scanners would be underused, and many of the people hired for the conversion effort would be idled. By outsourcing the initial scanning, you can purchase a scanner that is designed to meet your day-to-day needs instead of a scanner that meets a one-time-only need.

Basic strategies for conversion are:

Full Backfile Conversion. A full backfile conversion converts all existing documents and pre-loads the system prior to going live. “All documents” will be those documents that should be in the document imaging system, whether they are active working documents or archived documents that are still within the official retention period, and vital records needed to restart your business, should there be a catastrophic event. If, for example, you are purchasing an accounts payable system, the backfile may consist of all current and historical AP documents stored.

A full backfile conversion must also account for new documents being received that are part of the daily business process. It is possible to allow a service bureau to do the “backfile” while your in-house scanning resources scan the incoming documents. The system must be sized to accommodate the full backfile and the projected number of incoming documents on an annual basis.

Partial Backfile Conversion. A partial backfile conversion allows you to designate only certain documents to be converted. For example, only the most recent documents that are still considered works-in-process will be converted. This allows you to limit the total number of documents for the initial conversion effort, while still allowing you to make a second conversion effort, if it is required and time and budget permit. Another common approach is to convert all documents back to a certain date, such as for a calendar year. This process may also require that you plan for handling current incoming documents, which may be scanned as they arrive. The system is sized for the partial backfile and the number of incoming documents.

Day Forward. Day forward conversion starts with documents that are being received once the system goes live. This is not a backfile conversion since only new documents are being scanned. The system would be sized for the estimate annual volume.

On-Demand. An on-demand conversion means that no backfile or incoming documents are scanned but when a document or file is requested and pulled from the file room or archive, it is scanned and the digital image is then provided to the requestor.

Combinations of the strategies described above are employed by companies, based on time, resources, and budget. In addition, companies engage in long-term contracts with service bureaus to scan incoming documents. These companies rely on the service bureau for the primary work of scanning all documents, and only a small scanning capability is maintained on-site.

Determining which files to convert is an exercise involving their usage, your resources, and your project budget. If budget and time are not a consideration, converting everything is the way to go. Many companies, however, realize that this is not feasible because some documents are seldom accessed or may be nearing the end of their retention period. It may not make good sense to convert a series of documents only to delete them within a year or so. Permanent retention documents and vital corporate documents should be converted as they would become part of the disaster recovery plan.

Bud Porter-Roth



  • backfile conversion
  • document imaging
  • Electronic Records Management
  • Scanning
  • Scanning and Capture
  • SharePoint