When it comes to the digitization process, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Every organization is unique and at different stages in their digitization journey. The process should be thought of less as an edict and more of a “choose-your-own adventure”.
This two-post series will guide you through the necessary steps and best practices of moving forward wherever you are in the journey — making the transition to digital as seamless and easy as possible. It should also help you and your organization to be prepared to tackle any information requirements or challenges that may come along.
Step One: Understand your current state
If you’re just starting to build a business case for making the transition from paper-intensive processes toward a digitized solution, knowing the current state and cost of your existing system is always the best place to begin.
As you look toward improving your digitization efforts, you should be able to answer specific questions about each part of the information lifecycle – questions we’ll outline in the upcoming sections of this article. You’ll want to start by understanding the stakeholders and costs associated with your current program and then define what future success will look like specifically for your organization.
In the digitization process, capturing a document means taking the document from paper form to digital form. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing mostly on the processes surrounding the management of a new paper record generated by your organization. Aim to answer the following questions about capture:
- How much of your information only exists in paper?
- Are there ongoing processes that are more paper-intensive than others?
- How many steps does it take now to convert paper documents into digital formats?
- Are most of our new paper records generated internally or externally?
- What percentage of these paper documents are legacy versus active?
The cost of physically storing files can be considerable, especially if your organization is not adhering to a strict record retention schedule and disposing documents at the end of their lifecycle. The math here is simple: as storage needs grow, so do the annual storage costs. Aim to answer the following questions related to storage:
- What percentage of our paper records are stored onsite? Off-site?
- How much square footage are we spending just to store paper records onsite? How much does that square footage/real estate cost?
- Are we storing legacy files onsite or only active files? Can some of these be shifted to off-site storage?
- How accurate is inventory of our physical records? Do we know what’s in our boxes?
There are both hard and soft costs associated with enabling access to physical documents, including requesting, retrieving, and returning them. By contrast, digital active files are much more easily and cost-efficiently shared with colleagues and clients because the laborious task of printing, packaging and shipping large file packages can be avoided. To help determine the productivity that could be gained, aim to answer the following questions about information access needs at your organization:
- How much time does it take for an employee to track down a file?
- How easy is it for employees to access files that are digitized?
- Is our metadata and indexing accurate to allow for quick retrieval?
- Are we leveraging a centralized document hub to facilitate easy access?
It goes without saying, but physical records are far more challenging to track than digital files. Was a specific document received, updated, or removed from a box? If so, when? This challenge makes it all the more important to have vital records in digital formats to provide auditable metadata. You should be able to answer the following questions:
- Where did the file originate?
- Who made revisions and when?
- Is the retrieved version the most up to date?
- Is our chain-of-custody tracked?
Physical destruction demands a great amount of labor and disposal fees, whether conducted in-house or by a third-party partner. That makes it all the more important to have a sound physical destruction program. The shift to digital-first can create impressive opportunities for revenue savings through disposal activities, depending on the volume. Aim to answer the following questions about your disposition program:
- Is our shredding process auditable?
- Are we destroying documents onsite or offsite? Both?
- Do we have scheduled services or are we shredding only when we need it?
- Are our shredding containers placed throughout our facilities?
- Are employees required to sort or do we shred everything?
Step 2: Plan a pilot
An important part of the digitization journey is to gain a clear understanding of the scale required for the transformation. Conducting a small-scale pilot will ensure your path forward is strategic, manageable and aligned to meet business goals by the deadlines you set for your organization.
By starting small, you can work through any minor issues and be in a better position to present provable ROI opportunities such as physical space savings, increases in speed, and higher returns of productivity, efficiency, cost, and security, before you “go big”.
You should keep these four considerations in mind as you formulate an approach.
TIP 1 – During your trial, ask your teams to track their time to prepare the file for scanning, including removal of paper clips, staples, unfolding paper, reassembling if necessary, etc. That way, when it comes time to compare in-house time/costs to vendor costs, you are getting an accurate, apples-to-apples pricing comparison of staff time/costs versus vendor time/costs.
TIP 2 – Consider the staffing resources required. The preparation, imaging and indexing work related to digitization is not the same as paper filing processes. Does your organization currently have staff with the appropriate skillset, or will you need to consider additional costs associated with retraining or hiring?
TIP 3 – Never forget the importance of change management during your pilot. Fears of job loss and uncertainty around changing roles can create powerful resistance to your project. Take the opportunity to ease the transition by providing positive support and clear communication.
TIP 4 – There are often strict compliance considerations for image quality of digitized files. Be sure you know the minimum standards and test and record various scan settings to ensure you are meeting requirements for compliance and otherwise.
Step 3: Identify a Partner
Should you determine that outsourcing is your preferred path forward, it’s time to talk to potential information management partners. Unfortunately, comparing apples to apples isn’t always easy when you’re speaking with multiple providers. Each will bring unique service benefits and approaches to the project. Your best decisions will be informed by clear and direct communication about the services you need and your expectations for service, based on five key areas:
COMPETENCY – Do they have experience working with other organizations like yours? Do they have solid client references?
CAPACITY – How much volume can they manage? What is their peak capacity? How quickly can they ramp-up?
COMPLIANCE – What does their chain of custody process look like? Do they understand what that entails, can they demonstrate?
TECHNICAL – What is their equipment capable of (color, OCR, oversize, etc)? What data sources are accepted? Do they integrate well with existing systems? Do they offer AI-powered technology to optimize automation of indexing?
COST – Do they offer digital invoicing? Are there volume/ early pay discounts? Do they offer predictable, subscription-based programs enabling savings over time? Are there hidden charges/change requests?
Is going 100% digital the right approach for your organization?
Most organizations will find that a phased approach is best since only a small portion of their documents are truly active. That’s why it’s so important to go through the process outlined above to understand where you can achieve an optimal return on investment, streamline processes, and increase efficiencies without affecting quality or breaking the bank.
In addition, since so many documents are inactive, it makes sense to retain them physically in a low-cost model and only scan them on an on-demand basis.
After all, there’s no reason why you should take on the expense of converting inactive documents to digital until they are needed.
For more guidance on going digital, check out our eBook, Accelerating Digitization to Meet Today’s Remote Work Requirements.