Document Scanning - Things to Think About

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Document Scanning - Why Scan at all?

Document scanning / imaging is not as simple as it first appears - so is there a case for scanning your paper documents at all?

In some cases there might not be. To determine if it is appropriate in your case, you would need to consider the inherent value of the information contained on your paper documents. It might be easier to simply keep a record of the relevant information somewhere in a database or spreadsheet and physically go look for the paper document in a filing system if and when you need it. However there are inherent problems with this approach, especially if you have a lot of documents.

Let's take a look at some of these.

The obvious one is the speed of retrieval of your documents. The Imaging Product News Magazine is often quoted for its article about a Price Waterhouse case study of a paralegal being tasked with finding 20 documents out of 20,000. The task took him 67 hours and even then he could only find 15 documents. You can imagine the problems involved at sites with millions of unfiled documents! The result is that many companies are turning to document imaging simply to improve their searching capabilities. And, it is such a pleasure to see staff morale jump when they can respond to their customers' queries vitually instantaneously because they have the documents electronically available at the touch of a few keys.

A side effect of creating document images is that it allows multiple people to have access to the same document at the same time while still controlling the versioning of the document. There was a time, before imaging became popular, when people would make photocopies of a document to share and would quickly lose track of which was the master document and which were the copies. They would have to spend hours trying to reconcile the various copies. Electronic document management, on the other hand, has now progressed to a point where each user can have their own (or even multiple) annotation layer/s on a document on which to make their notes; while still being able to view other users' annotations and, if security allows, to edit them, while everything is managed correctly by the system. Try doing that with a paper-based filing system!

The next is often the sheer space (and often weight) involved in storing paper. There have been situations where a company has been forced to move towards imaging because the weight of the paper stored in their fourth floor office had caused the windows to crack through the stress of the weight of the paper on the floor! imagine working on the floor beneath them!

Besides, storing paper is expensive. A recent Coopers & Lybrand study suggests it costs around $20 to simply file a document over its lifetime; $120 to find a misfiled document; and $250 to recreate a lost document. Compare that with the costs of scanning and storing your documents electronically in a document management system and you will discover you can do so much more at a fraction of the cost.

If you don't want the asset expense of buying scanners, servers and software, then investigate the costs of using a Scanning Services Company like our own, where we will do the scanning for you, even on-site if you so wish. Many of these services companies will even host your documents on the web for you so that you don't have to concern yourself with managing the storage of the documents at all. If you do your sums correctly you will quickly realise you could be saving your company a lot of money by moving to digital imaging.

Of course, this brings up the issue of what to do with your documents after they have been converted to images. Can you destroy them once you have scanned them, or do you need to keep them for a period of time? This is a whole new topic which should be addressed by itself and which will be tackled in a separate article.

Then there is the aspect that many people try their hardest to ignore, because the consequences are so dire that it just doesn't bear thinking about - a natural disaster. How many of you heard about the fire at one of the document warehouses in Midrand last year and thought "thank goodness that wasn't us"? But think about it - what if it were your documents that were destroyed? So many of us have had it drummed into us over the years to do backups of our PC / laptop / server, but what of our paper documents? They just don't seem to be viewed in the same way. However, once we have gone to the effort of scanning our documents, it is then fairly simple to make a backup copy of our electronic images onto DVD or CD and to store them off-site with our backup copies of our electronic data. In this way we can recreate the documents if ever it is needed, which hopefully never happens.

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