IPS Blog

Strategic Approach to Backfile Conversion Adds Lasting Value

Jul 22, 2011 1:37:00 PM

Document Scanning of past paper records can be affordable, manageable and time-effective if you can answer a fundamental question: "What are we trying to accomplish with this conversion to image technology?"

Too often, people think of their backfile documents as an undifferentiated lump to be run through a scanner. In fact, backfile records are an important extension into the past of today’s business processes.

Backfile conversion (or document scanning) should be done based on the same goals driving the decision to install a document management solution in the first place: Adding lasting value to your business.

Too often, people think of their backfile as an undifferentiated lump of documents to be run through a scanner.

Long before you try to estimate the costs of any imaging solution, it is necessary to create a document imaging strategy based on the needs of your business. Like new documents, the archive fileroom consists of documents differing widely in value to the company. They may be retrieved daily, weekly, monthly or yearly, and they may be retained for differing lengths of time.

How do you develop a strategy? Start with an inventory of the material that might potentially be converted into electronic format. Once you know what’s there—employee, customer, vendor, contract, design, legal and other documents—you then define access characteristics for each kind of document based on:

  • VALUE. What legal liabilities does it protect you from? If you couldn’t find it, what would be the impact? Rank each type of document as indispensable, high-value, worth keeping or disposable.
  • LONGEVITY. How long must this document be retained? What are the legal, tax and other requirements? Rank by the number of years required, from “forever” to “zero.”
  • RETRIEVAL. On average, how often does this kind of document face a high likelihood of needing retrieval? Customer account statements are likely to be retrieved daily even though any one customer’s documents may go without retrieval for over a year. Rank the probability as: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, less often than annually or never.

Workflow Dependency

A workflow system is much like a manufacturing production line. Even a highly automated workflow will grind to a halt if inventory items (i.e. documents) have to be physically located and retrieved. Think in terms of transactions. To complete a record-search transaction, what other documents beside the primary one may need to be retrieved? For example, when a service rep retrieves a customer statement to answer questions, what other records might be needed to satisfy the customer?

With this information in hand, you are ready to set a preliminary strategy. Top candidates for the backfile conversion are indispensable and high value documents that, on average need quarterly retrieval or more often.

Other good candidates include workflow-dependent documents; documents with legal requirements for retention; and indispensable and high-value documents that may be needed infrequently, but which must be retrieved fast when needed.

Implementation Phase

Finally, you are ready to consider implementation. Keep in mind that document management is not once and done solution. For example, your first priority may be the file-forward application. You can then plan a timed phase-in, beginning with file-forward and moving to the backfile conversion.

Many important records may need retrieval infrequently—until you need daily access for intense, limited periods of time.

Many important records may need retrieval infrequently—until you need daily access for intense, limited periods of time. The solution we recommend here is what we call "imaging on demand." These records are left in their original form until the demand for frequent access arises, at which point they are quickly converted into images and indexed for retrieval.

There are also many cases in which companies invest in document imaging purely for storage and archiving. They ask the backfile service agency to convert important documents for instant access, and store either a duplicate optical or the original hard-copy off-site for backup.

Depending on the company’s retrieval needs and budget, the service provider can simply store the images for disaster recovery purposes or provide on-line access via dial-up or dedicated communications line.

Gregory J. Bartels is President and CEO, Image Processing Systems.