Getting Started With Document Management

Many businesses turn to electronic document management because their paper files are getting out of control: taking up too much space and making it too hard to find the records you need. Classic examples include schools or medical offices, but many other businesses can benefit as well, from small one or two-person organizations to Fortune 500 companies.

But, once you’ve found the perfect document management system, what do you do with all of that paper? Who scans and when? Considering all of your options can make the transition to a paperless office easier.

To convert or not to convert?

It’s important to understand that you don’t have to start a document management solution with a total conversion of all your old paper files. There are three ways to transition from paper records to electronic: back-file, on-demand or scan-forward method. And you have to decide whether to do the scanning yourself or enlist help. Your budget and available resources will determine which method is best for your business.

Do your own scanning.

If you have the time and space, scanning your own documents is the simplest and most affordable way to convert your paper files. Most companies have someone go through their paper files to remove staples, paperclips and duplicate copies before anyone starts scanning. While you have the file in your hand, why not scan?

“We recommend that our clients do their own scanning, if possible,” explains Leslie Haywood, CEO of a web-based document management company. “Only someone involved in their business can tell which paper REALLY needs to be archived. Why spend time and money on duplicate records or documents you are no longer required to keep?”

Back-file. Back-file scanning or batch conversion is the most immediate and most expensive option. It involves scanning large quantities of records at the same time. Businesses eager to start taking advantage of a new document management system sometimes choose to scan their entire archive, feeling that the extra cost is justified by the ability to access all their records through the new system. But, that may not be necessary.

“The summer we started using a document management system, we had our teenage daughters come in and scan two days a week,” explained one insurance agent in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It was a great way for them to make some extra money and it allowed us to keep our documents on-site and under our control. They scanned in everything that came in the office on Tuesdays and worked on our old files on Thursdays. It took the entire summer, but it was worth it.”

On-demand. The on-demand method is a more gradual, less disruptive approach. Instead of converting all paper records at once, a system is set up where every time a paper file is accessed, it gets scanned into the system. The electronic document replaces the paper record from then on.

This approach is popular in medical applications: every patient who visits gets their record scanned into the computer. You don’t have to pay a scanning service to set you up, and it can also help weed out records that can be archived separately or discarded: if some records haven’t been accessed after two years, they may be good candidates for long-term storage.

Scan-forward. In a scan-forward implementation (also known as “day forward” or “forward scanning”), a cut-off date is chosen after which all new documents will be scanned. This approach means you can get started much more quickly since there’s no delay while a backlog of paper is scanned. Once you feel comfortable with the document management system, you can decide to start scanning older files. The scan forward approach isn’t for everyone, though – for some businesses, access to paper files is essential. In those cases, you may want to consider a scanning service.

Hire a scanning service.

To process years worth of old records, you’ll probably want to hire a scanning service. You can either ship your records to their facility, or have them come to you with a mobile scanning setup. These services have the best in high-speed, automatic scanners, making it possible to scan hundreds of thousands or millions of records in reasonable amounts of time.

You can ship your documents to the scanning service or you can pay for them to come to you. That can cost more, but if your files contain highly sensitive material, it can be reassuring to keep them on site. Once the documents are scanned, the scanning bureaus can provide CDs of the resulting images or put them directly into your document management system. They’ll can also destroy or return your paper documents, as you prefer.

“The paperless office is as likely as the paperless bathroom.” While the restroom is definitely someplace I’d like to continue to see paper, going paperless in your business is a real possibility. Getting your paper documents converted can take time and money, but in the long run, it will make your business more efficient and compliant. Take the first step… go paperless today!