What you need to know before starting a backfile conversion project

By Greg Bartels posted 02-13-2012 15:37


By now, most businesses know the benefits of embarking on a backfile conversion project when they start using a new digital imaging system. But there’s still plenty of contradictory information out there about the different ways backfile conversions can be tackled.

Is it worth trying to perform a conversion in-house, or is it better to hire outside experts? And if you choose to outsource, where do they want the work performed?

All are key factors. And all play huge roles in determining the amount of money, time and effort your project entails.

Should I do it in-house, or outsource the job?

The lure of attempting an in-house conversion can be strong … at first. Vendors of scanners and OCR software promise cheap, fast, easy imaging. Sensitive documents stay in the building. It’s all good – right?


Once the project starts, the drawbacks appear immediately. That “inexpensive” equipment proves expensive and requires a lot of labor to keep it running. Man hours pile up as workers are forced outside their areas of expertise. Data inaccuracies become rampant. And even the most simplistic manual indexing is found to be time-consuming, tedious and prone to errors.

Outsourcing to an imaging expert may appear to cost more up front, but it inevitably results in a superior backfile conversion experience – and at a lower total investment. Leading vendors offer completely secure processes, customized solutions, fast turnarounds and complex taxonomies and indexing. The repository of digital images they create are immediately useable and useful, and the top imaging services provide near-Six Sigma data accuracy. Best of all, knowledge workers are freed up to do what they do best – using their new business tools to improve upon existing revenue streams, and generate new ones.

If I outsource, where should the job take place?

Assuming you choose to outsource your backfile conversion project, you must then choose where the work happens. Good imaging services are capable of working in their own facilities, completing projects in the client’s space, or using a combination of the two.

Working in the vendor’s facility is known as “off-site” imaging. The majority of backfile conversions are performed this way – for good reason. The benefits of off-site imaging are clear: Setup costs are low, a full team of employees and the necessary hardware and software is in place, and quality controls and custody chains are maintained easily.

Some businesses are resistant to sending potentially sensitive documents to a third-party facility. Top imaging vendors address confidentiality concerns by using trained couriers, requiring background checks and confidentiality agreements from their employees and utilizing proper business processes and controls. The right backfile conversion service, will protect your trade secrets or confidential information from becoming public.

Still, some companies prefer to have their backfile conversion performed in their own facility. In the business, we call this “on-site” imaging. These jobs entail the vendor bringing scanning equipment and staff to the client’s facility and performing the same backfile conversion there. Though they are offered by most outsourced imaging vendors, only the most experienced can perform them under some circumstances.

Due to their complex nature, these conversions typically cost between 15 and 50 percent more than their off-site counterparts.

In addition to price, on-site conversions carry with them a number of other challenges. The client must offer a properly sized, climate-controlled facility for the imaging company to use. The electrical needs of the imaging equipment itself must be met. And furniture and reliable, secure internet access must be provided.

The “hybrid” approach offers a middle ground between on-site and off-site conversions. Often, companies will hire the outsourced vendor to properly prep and scan, at the on-site facility, before sending them electronically to the vendor for indexing, bookmarking and other backend services. This maintains an absolutely secure chain of custody from storage to imaging and archiving.

Is there anything else I should know?

Before hiring an off-site imaging vendor for your backfile conversion, check their business practices and take a tour of their facility. Who are their employees? How do they maintain proper chain of custody? Do they ensure sensitive documents are always held in secure locations?

If they do – like most top imaging vendors – you can be sure your backfile conversion project is in good hands.

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