In 2004, Avalon was primarily a high-end copy/print service company. We decided that year to “put ourselves out of business” by investing in the equipment, software, people, and training to help our clients go paperless. It turns out, though, scanning didn’t put our document services out of business—not even close, actually. However, we’ve since built a very strong document imaging service line and helped hundreds of clients eliminate millions of pages of paper records taking up space in their offices (check out Bye Bye Bookie from our blog). During these projects, we’ve learned that there are 8 pretty consistent challenges that our clients face in the process.
1. Budget. Yes, budget. There are many factors that affect the costs of digitizing records. As a general rule, the higher the quality of the rocess, the higher the accessibility after the fact—the bigger your budget should be. Going paperless has great benefits, but it does come with an up-front investment. When we meet with clients that want to discuss scanning the 1,000 boxes in their storage area, the first question we ask is, “Do you have a budget for this process”? When they say no, we know that there is almost a 0% chance that this project will ever get legs. We recommend first identifying what kind of budget you may (or may not) have to accomplish your goals to set up some guardrails for the outside experts to work within. Otherwise, you may start discussing the Lamborghini solution on a Yugo budget.
2. Scope. Once you realize that your budget is too small to tackle the entire document set, start digging into the scope of what you want scanned. Over 75% percent of the projects we look at contain documents that are 10 years or older. We ask the simple question, “how far back do you need to maintain?” If the answer is 5 years, then it’s safe to let the oldest 5 years die off over time and focus on the newest 5 years of documents. This could reduce the scope by 50% or more! When it comes to records management, a retention policy agreed upon by management is key to understanding the requirements and desires of key stakeholders, and it can have a significant impact on overall costs.
3. Accessibility. While it sounds great to be able to search within six different fields to find scanned documents (date, name, type, etc.), the reality is that you will pay for increased accessibility. The more indexing of data, the more time it takes, and the more it will cost. Reserve a high level of indexing for those documents that truly need a high level of accessibility. For everything else (the documents you literally might never even look at again), settle for a broad level of indexing. For example, consider a single file name “Purchase Orders May 2012.” If you could deal with flipping through a month’s worth of purchase orders from 5 years ago to find what you need versus being able to literally find the exact purchase order by typing it in, you can likely save thousands of dollars on your scanning project. There is a time and a place for a high level of accessibility, and there are even technology advancements that are making the indexing less costly. But, make no mistake, it will still cost you. Our advice: Discuss the records, the types, and the required level of access before you start.
4. Who. Who is going to scan all this stuff? We’ve seen clients tackle these projects in all sorts of ways—interns, employees’ kids over the summer, temps, current staff—you name it, it has been done. When considering who will take on these projects, it’s important to think of the repercussions. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- How confidential is the information to be scanned? Is it a good idea to have temps having access to these documents? Should my own staff see some of these documents? (Think about those HR records you wanted to scan!)
- How productive should I expect a college student earning beer money over the summer to be?
- Do I even have the equipment necessary to take on this project?
- What happens if we don’t finish the project before this staff is no longer available?
- If we change our mind mid-project and want to outsource, what might that look like?
Typical office documents are riddled with staples, paper clips, post-it notes, tabs, etc.; without high-speed equipment, state-of-the-art technology, and a trained motivated staff, we generally see documents scanned on office copiers at around 200-300 pages per hour. An average box is 2,000-3,000 pages. That’s about 10 hours per box—and nobody has even done any indexing or quality control at that point (insert shocked emoji).
5. Speed. Determine how quickly the conversion needs to be done. Unless there’s an office lease that is coming to term or there are some other pressing items, the more time you allow a vendor to complete the project, the more cost effective it can become. At Avalon, we regularly handle extremely time-sensitive projects so we generally have a large production staff ready to rock and roll at a moment’s notice. However, we love projects that are less time sensitive so that we can stay busy in between fire drills. For that reason, you should expect a more competitive price for projects that have no specific deadline.
6. Quality Control. Similar to accessibility, quality control can be a big factor in both time and cost for these projects. At Avalon, we are driven by process and procedure, and a page-by-page quality control process is built in. We pride ourselves in a very high-quality service with minimal, if any, error rate, but we also know that sometimes our clients would rather accept a small level of errors and get a lower cost. Most vendors in the market today do not offer any page-by-page quality control at all. If you’re comparing quotes, be sure to ask about this to understand exactly what you’re going to get. Is 90% accurate ok for these records? If not, ask for a full quality control to get to that 99.9%+ level.
7. You did it! Now what do we do? A hidden cost with this process that is rarely thought of until later is the now scanned hardcopies. What to do with those? Some clients want them returned unassembled so they can do some spot checking on their end before destroying them. Some clients have us hold them for a few weeks after delivery of electronic files and then we destroy them. And other clients have us scan them, and they continue to store the hardcopies forever. Whatever the case may be, each option costs something and should be considered when budgeting and scoping the full effort.
8. Go Forward. After all is said and done, you likely don’t want to end up in the same scenario 10 years from now. As a part of this process, a go-forward strategy should be built. Perhaps once the backlog is handled, current staff could handle going forward if internal process and procedure is created. Can the day-to-day volume be handled with current equipment? Should new scanners be purchased? Some clients create a workflow where we pick up new documents weekly or monthly to keep them current. Operating nights and weekends allows us to digitize their new records with little to no downtime on their end. Create a process that works for your company. Regardless of how it will be handled, it is another consideration in the process of reducing office paper.
So now that you’re an expert on at least 8 consistent challenges of going paperless, you’ll be that much more ready to discuss these projects internally. Have any additional tips? Please share them in a comment.
Determining how many pages you have depends on the scenario, so it can be dangerous to just guesstimate. Here's why: