Is This The Right Time For My Business To Start Scanning Documents?

By Matt OBrien posted 08-10-2011 09:26



Yes!  It really is as simple as that one word answer when it comes to the question of Document Scanning for your business.   The reason for the one word answer is equally as simple: the elephant is only going to get bigger and more costly the longer you wait… and eventually, some authority is going to make you do it anyways.

The reality is that our digital document future has beset us and the majority of information, whether it’s private or public, is now expected (and increasingly demanded) to be made available electronically.  Just try going to a veterinarian in an upscale neighborhood or head down to your local bank’s mortgage department and you’ll see digital “doggie” charts and electronic loans and invoices (which mysteriously go together all too well for us pet owners).  Combined with increasing governmental requirements for electronic documents – think Sarbanes-Oxley, HITECH and the increased push by ICE for e-Employment Records – and it’s easy to see that nearly all documentation will eventually move into this digital realm.

Now it would be one thing if you could just run out and purchase the software and hardware that would magically take everything we do on paper and transform it into an electronic process, but unfortunately it just isn’t that easy.  Numerous vendors have attempted to do this for every industry under the sun, from healthcare to human resources to manufacturing… and there has been varying degrees of success but we will never make all of our paper go away – just like with oil we’re addicted and loving every minute of it.  Paper gives us a sense of security, confidence and completeness that is difficult to obtain from e-forms and digital documents.  Additionally, some processes are difficult to separate from paperwork – think of when you signed your home mortgage, received fax records coming from a referring physician or had incoming paper invoices from small vendors.

The real answer is that there is no silver bullet to document management and werewolves and vampires only exist in our teenage daughters’ Twilight movies:  find out where your problem lies and seek out a document workflow solution to solve it.  If you’re spending thousands on overnight shipping to get documents to your corporate office then look for a distributed capture solution – if you’re backed up with HR files then look for a departmental scanning solution combined with e-forms to reduce future work.  New Document Scanners have become affordable and reliable, producing clear and legible images, while document management software has developed to be user friendly and customizable to varying applications.

An intelligent approach to document scanning will utilize both personal education and vendors that specialize in document imaging services and document management software. Although you’ll be at the mercy of a sales pitch, vendors can provide insight into indexing schemas, project management, e-forms and interoperability with multiple systems – along with being able to set you up with the hardware, software and off-site services you will need.  Following the eight steps below will help you conceptualize your needs and begin the process of Document Scanning for your business.

8 Steps to Starting a Successful Document Scanning Program

1.) Determine Where Your Scanned Images Will Ultimately Reside

The first and most important step to your journey along the scanning superhighway is figuring out just what program you will be searching in to find scanned images.  There are an almost infinite number of choices on the market ranging from ECM’s to EMR’s to EDM’s that are both application specific and general, both client server and online cloud.  Find out if any mission-critical software you already own has a document repository module and evaluate its effectiveness versus other products available from local vendors.

2.) Learn About Your Document Retention Requirements

Different documents have different periods of time that they must be stored and maintained depending on the type of information they contain.  Establishing retention requirements for the various file types you have will help with determining what to scan and get you a head start on digital retention logging.

3.) Solicit Advice from Department Heads and Measure Documents

Often Department Heads are extremely protective of their records and filing system… and why shouldn’t they be – their jobs depend on it!  If you don’t want a backlash against an unforeseen change I recommend collaborating with your Department Heads and picking their brain.  Almost every one of them will tell you how “if I could start it all over, it would be done like this”.  DO NOT try to make everyone 100% happy but incorporate their knowledge and insights into your decision – that’s what you pay them for.  Finally, measure your documents in storage to get a linear foot measurement and estimate your total volume of records.  In general, an inch of records has about 155 pages – however that can vary wildly depending on the presence of duplex (front and back side) pages.

4.) Prepare an Indexing Plan for your Documents

OCR has been characterized as the pinnacle of indexing technology, and while it is certainly helpful in research and forms applications, it is not sufficient itself to be the sole way to search for documents.  Indexing classification is the vital step in ensuring that documents are retrievable once scanned.  Think of Index Fields that accurately describe what the file contains like “Vendor Name”, “Invoice Number” and “Invoice Amount” for Accounts Payable or employee identifiers like “Name” Date of Birth” and “Employee ID Number” for Human Resources. Just remember, scanned information isn’t any good if you can’t find it.

5.) Only Scan What You Need to Scan

Keep an eye on the destruction dates of your documents from Step 2 and realize that documents which must only be stored for one more year before they can be shredded are not the ones you want to be scanning.  Use the most of your time and budget to focus on documents which are retrieved the most frequently or have the longest retention period and let the other records die out.  Following this step will help you maximize the Return on Investment from your scanning dollar.                                                                                  

6.) Determine “In-House” Capabilities, Costs and Constraints vs. Off-Site Vendor Options

This step is the most crucial decision for the success or failure of document capture in your business.  You will need a vendor’s help one way or another: whether it’s supplying the document scanners and training your staff, providing an ECM system for the images to end up in or performing the document scanning off-site.  In general, the greatest success has come from companies using off-site vendors to scan backlog paper files so they could focus on scanning future “day-forward” documents themselves.  Additionally, several steps go into scanning documents from removing staples to quality assurance of images and capturing very large volumes isn’t always as easy at it sounds.  I will explore this issue more in my next article entitled “What’s the Right Approach to Document Scanning for Me?”.

7.) Establish a Clear Goal with Milestones for Document Capture

Remember, there will always be business demands that must be committed to paper and pen so your goal shouldn’t be creating a “Paper-Less” office but instead an office with “Less-Paper”.  Set attainable goals that keep a close eye on your budget, time, training and transition to the new system to ensure success.  Start out with a pilot program for one department and take the lessons learned from that implementation to following departments.

8.) Determine How to Handle Documents Post-Scanning

Documents can be stored or shredded after scanning depending on the type of information they contain.  Check with your governing authorities on the length of time you must store documents after capturing them digitally.  A good rule of thumb is between 1 and 3 months, however this can be much longer or indefinite depending on the file.


About the Author: 

Matt O’Brien is Chief Executive Officer of DataProc, LLC. Based in Dallas, TX, he writes articles on Data Extraction, Document Scanning, Business Process Outsourcing and Document Management solutions.

About the Company:

DataProc, LLC - Data Processing, Made Simple™

DataProc was founded under the mission of creating "Innovative Data Processing Solutions for Commercial and Societal Good". We're a bunch of dreamers and doers who recognize the qualitative impacts that data can have on businesses, governments and the individuals that they both serve. DataProc provides efficient and affordable data processing solutions that take the smoke and mirrors away from validation through:

1.)    Any Document Input Channel

Including Web, Voice, Kiosk, Tablet, Fax, Snail Mail and Scanning

2.)    Automated, Standardized and Traceable Processing

Including Service Availability, Eligibility, Address and Identity Verification

3.)    Export to Any End System

Via Simple XML Web Services and APIs

Let DataProc help bring sustainability to your business, program or fund by contacting us today at (855) DAT-PROC.


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