7 steps to a successful document scanning project

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Top down people at desk

Whether you’ve been tasked with a document scanning project or are seeing your office slowly disappear under paper, then this article may be just what you need.

You may of course be comforting yourself with the simplicity of the project.  Even underestimating the volume and treatment of documents. Be warned that this type of project is no mean feat.

Critical to success is being well prepared with a good understanding of what needs to be achieved. And being realistic on whether you can scan in-house or need to outsource.

Document scanning myths

Myth 1: Document scanning is an easy project

Using a desktop scanner couldn’t be more straightforward…for a couple of documents. But converting boxes or filing cabinets of records is an entirely different matter. Identifying the different formats and preparing the documents (removing staples/ folded A3 pages) takes far longer than you anticipate – even before you get to the scanning. Forget a few days – you’re potentially talking weeks or months here – with quality checks to ensure accuracy of the captured information. Plus, you’ll need to use optical character recognition (OCR) software if you want to make your digital files searchable.

Myth 2: Outsourced scanning is expensive

You’ll likely to find the opposite if you look at the true time and cost of assigning or redeploying staff from their core activities to do the scanning in-house. Plus, you’ll need to purchase all the necessary equipment and software – and provide training to ensure the quality. It’s certainly worth getting a quote and timeframe from a scanning company – then weigh up the cost and benefits.

Myth 3: You Need to Scan Every Document

Document scanning isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Deciding how much of your file inventory to scan depends on your workflow requirements. Often, it makes sense to scan your most active documents first and then digitise other semi-active documents gradually or as needed.

Scanning companies can offer a scan-on-demand service, where your documents are stored offsite to free up valuable office space. When you need access to a file, this is scanned and converted to a digital image, which is then sent directly to your desktop or digital device.

Myth 4: Digital documents aren’t as secure as hard copies

In addition to being less susceptible to natural disasters, digital images can be encrypted, stored securely in the cloud, or backed up to digital media and stored offsite.

Why is document scanning so important?

Whichever sector you work in, organisations are continually looking for ways to become more efficient and cost-effective.

This project could be the start of helping your business towards a paperless organisation. And there are big savings and other benefits to be realised. Further, having reduced the volume of paper in your office – how are you going to ensure that you won’t be in same situation in 12-months?

So, what benefits can digitalising your documents offer you?

·      Finding and accessing your documents
Digitalising your documents makes 24/7 access and retrieval of documents easier – using different devices. Within teams and departments, documents can be shared and stored safely across authorised users – and nobody ever needs to leave their desk.

·      Reduced costs
The same document can be duplicated, faxed, manipulated or combined at the same time at no cost in terms of paper, printers and secure paper storage and disposal. You are also better able to use valuable office space through clearing filing cabinets and archive boxes.

·      Secure systems

Digital documents can be kept on secure servers or the cloud using a document management system with only authorised users able to access them.

·      Better perception

Operating more efficiently is better for everyone. It has an impact on how you are perceived by customers, suppliers and the market as a whole. It certainly improves the customer experience and their expectations.

•      Kinder to the environment

A scanning project should run hand in hand with the introduction of a document management system to ensure you continue to reduce paper usage going forward. Less paper means less destruction of trees, and less paper waste in already packed landfill.

7-steps to delivering your document scanning project – on time and in budget  

1.     Plan, Plan, Plan!

Put a good project plan in place. Not only will it help you to fully identify what you need to do and establish the timeframe but also help with the following:

·      Legal issues surrounding documents conversion. Whilst images are accepted in place of paper ones in legal proceedings, you do need to assure the integrity of the system and the reliability of the image for legal use.

·      Storage & security – Careful thought needs to be given both to the format and on the access, retention, and security requirements that you have for the images. Give some thought to images that need to be kept for long periods of time as they will need to be stored on media that doesn’t degrade quickly or won’t become obsolete in the short term.

·      Assess the project scope – is this a pilot project or one involving several departments? Could this balloon mid-project with other departments coming onboard?

·      Indexing – what’s the criteria you’re going to store documents?

·      What are you going to do with the documents after they are scanned? What process do you have in place to destroy large volumes of paper? 

2.     Document audit

Understand what type of documents and how many you have in storage. I can’t remember the number of times people seriously underestimate this. A filing cabinet can hold as many as 16,000 documents, whilst an archive box around 2,500 pages. Even box files can store 500 pages, while a document folder up to 150 documents. Surprising isn’t it?

Just make sure you exclude those documents that are no longer needed – there’s no need to spend money or time on scans you don’t need. There may also be multiple copies of the same document. Doing an audit of your files to eliminate duplicated and unnecessary documents will save time and money.

This can be a daunting task and you can approach companies like BPMS who have considerable experience in document audits and can help support every step of the way.

3.     Inhouse or document scanning bureau?

This is a critical decision and much easier to make once you’ve got a plan in place to identify your approach and the volume and types of documents you need to scan. Before making the decision, we recommend you get some quotes from document scanning specialists. You’ll get an approximate cost as well as further insight into whether you’ve got everything covered. You can weigh this up against the staff time, operational pressure, training and the cost of getting in specialist scanning equipment and software.

Also consider whether the project can be spaced out longer – and possibly save you money.

4.     Preparing the documents

·      Staples need to be removed, pages turned around and everything set straight before being fed into a scanner. This does take time and there’s no need to prepare documents is you’re using a scanning company as they will do it.

·      It’s best to prepare all documents in batches – based on common criteria, such as the file number, retention, and disposition. Wherever possible, keep all pages the same size. Place a batch header at the beginning of each batch.

·      As you box the prepared documents, you’ll need to number each box and record the box numbers on the file/document lists. Keep a copy of the list for tracking purposes – noting any omissions and missing, illegible or damaged pages. Don’t forget to remove sticky notes and flags, unless they contain important information.

·      Identify documents that need to be enhanced by using special scanning techniques. If special processing techniques are required, these should be clearly explained in instructions to the scanner.

·      Transcribe any hard-to-read handwritten documents. Insert dividers or separator pages in-between documents or batches of documents to indicate where each scanned file should start and stop.

5.     Working with your scanned documents

If you’ve already caught this in your planning process, great! If not, a number of decisions must be made before you begin scanning documents.

·      First, you need to decide on the file format that you will use for saving the images. There are a number of options to choose from including PDF, TIFF (.tif), and JPEG (.jpg). PDF and TIFF are both formats that can be used for multi-page documents.

·      Then you need to decide where to store the scanned images. Frequently used images should be easily accessible. The temptation is to simply save on a shared network drive but, if the files are large, they may take up too much space. Consider the use of DVDs or CDs – and don’t forget to create a listing to indicate which images are on which disk. Jump to step 5 on digital systems as this may provide the solution you seek.

·      It is important to carefully consider how documents are to be indexed and a system of uniformity introduced to ensure efficient future retrieval. Document management systems are able to achieve this by controlling the process and removing individual interpretation.

·      Before the scanning project starts, gather a set of test documents to run through the scanner. The test set should be representative of the documents for scanning. Scan the test set and save the scan as your quality reference. Print the scanned images and save the printouts for comparison purposes.

·      Scan documents according to the instructions provided for using the scanning equipment.

·      Check for single-sided versus double-sided documents – and any special requirements.

·      When you have finished scanning a batch of documents, return them to their original box in the same order – as they were originally packed.

·      In order to ensure good quality images are made, the scanner should be checked before and periodically during the scanning project. Test scans should be also run at pre-determined intervals during the project.

·      Post scanning each batch, check that all pages were scanned, are legible and have the correct orientation.

6.     Document destruction

Once you have finished your project and are happy with your digital images, it’s well worth committing to destroying the paper documents. If you don’t complete this step, it could be argued that the whole project has been a waste of time. Documents can be shredded and pulped to guarantee complete security of information.

Make sure you have a process in place, with costs, for destroying large volumes of paper.

7.     Are you ready for a paperless office?

Having seen a successful document scanning project completed, how are you going to ensure there’s not another build-up of paper in the future? Change comes from within so it’s important to lead from top down with a clearly defined plan and implementation. Going paperless means you need to digitise and semi-automate multiple company processes. Do think about:

·      Putting a team in place to manage the process and engage with employees. So many business transformations fail on the people piece. Do get in a specialist if you don’t have internal expertise and make sure you assess any internal training requirements.

·      Document management system or Enterprise content management
There’s different options out there and you need to fully assess what will suit your business best. The lighter solution is the document management system which handles file creation, sharing, manipulation and storage. The Enterprise Content Management provides a heavier solution – covering all company content, including files, images, web pages, records etc. A further decision is then required whether you want to go the cloud or server option.

·      Paperless tasks and meetings – There’s a number of options about moving your processes around meetings, billing, payments and invoices to a paperless system. This saves time, reduces costs and can improve the perception of the business by customers and suppliers.

If you want to find out more on this, have a look at our 11 tips on creating a paperless office 

With a document scanning project, there are so many traps you can fall into and hope this has helped you navigate the various pitfalls. The planning piece at the beginning is equally as important as the piece – planning on how to manage your office paper going forward.

Please call BPMS if you want further information around helping you reduce your storage requirements – whether looking to carry out a document audit, scan documents or moving towards a paperless office.

For more information, go to www.bp-ms.co.uk