Backfile Conversion. The Time is Now!

By Greg Bartels posted 07-20-2011 13:19


With labor costs at an all-time low and scanning technologies at an all time high, now is the ideal time to embark on that backfile scanning project you’ve had on the back burner.

Backfile conversion, also called fileroom conversion or archive conversion, is the process of digitally scanning and indexing a repository of documents and then storing them in a searchable digital archive. This applies most commonly to paper files, but includes microfilm and microfiche as well.

The ideal time to start a backfile conversion operation is when your business starts using a new digital imaging system. This ensures that all records are in the same new electronic format and incorporated as a whole into the new system. Unfortunately, many businesses don’t have the luxury of doing it all at the same time—often because of budget, personnel bandwidth and lack of a process plan.

The reality is, if much of your organization’s documentation is still locked up in paper after you implement a document management solution, you won’t realize the true potential of a paperless solution—and you will certainly not see the promised ROI.

No More Excuses

Here’s an all-too-common scenario: The budget for your new document management system (DMS) didn’t allow for backfile conversion at implementation time. Now your system is experiencing workflow dependencies, slowing your entire operation.

We’ve found some common reasons why this happens:

  1. The DMS was originally installed as a departmental solution only—and now you want to move to an enterprise solution.
  2. The cost of backfile conversion (whether done in-house or outsourced) was too high at time of implementation.
  3. The business lacked the personnel bandwidth to hire and manage a temporary workforce.
  4. Scanning was the easy part, but the time-sink of document preparation brought the project to a halt.
  5. Company leadership didn’t have the confidence that an outsourced backfile conversion provider could effectively perform document classification.

If you’ve being paying to produce, store and manage paper backfiles, it’s the ideal time to shed that burden—especially if your impetus is because you want to move your office. The benefits are very real, and the barriers to entry are almost non-existent.

Now Is the Time

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statics, labor costs are at an all time low, and technology and scanning capabilities are at an all time high—so the question is no longer “if” but “when?”

But it’s important to keep in mind that not all backfile conversion providers are created equal. Like in any industry, you’ll find plenty of quick-fix providers who are in it for the money rather than the quality. Keep these five points in mind when you start the process of finding the right backfile conversion partner.

  1. Planning and Analysis—Make sure you have a well prepared project plan with full analysis of the type of documents, quality of documents and indexing requirements. A good service provider will offer to help you with this. A great service provider will insist on it.
  2. Scanning Quality Control—Select a vendor with the proper equipment and the right quality control (QC) procedures. Demand 100% page-for-page QC to guarantee not a single page is lost—even when scanning millions of pages.
  3. Document Control and Security—What happens if you need access to a document during the actual backfile scanning process? Will you be able to locate it rapidly and return it to the conversion process without missing a beat?
  4. Auto-classification and Auto-indexing—Look for a vendor that has established procedures for auto-classification and intelligent classification. For those jobs that require human classification make sure you choose a vendor with a strong knowledge transfer process. This becomes critically important the more documents types you have. A system that can automatically classify documents on will enable faster, smoother indexing with fewer exceptions to bog things down. The right vendor will also be experienced in helping you determine the proper taxonomy and number of fields to index. Too few index fields and you’ll lose your document in a sea of electronic documents. Too many and you could incur exorbitant costs.
  5. Image Storage and Retrieval—Make sure the indices and electronic documents images can be quickly and easily uploaded into your DMS—or find a vendor that will host the electronic documents as a service, and will link them into your business systems seamlessly.

Greg Bartels is president and founder of IPS—Setting the gold standard in backfile conversions for more than 20 years. Visit IPS online at

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