We have been invited by a few organisations to suggest solutions on digitising paper documents. These organisations range from a shipping company to a school.
The main reason that initiates their move is the most obvious advantage of digitising paper documents: Saving storage space.
However, there are many other advantages too:
- the potential to make backup copy of digitised documents and keep them in a safe place in case of disasters
- saving the wear and tear on the documents themselves from too much handling
- if OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology is used during the digitisation process, the text content of the documents can be advantageously searchable
- able to send electronically, e.g. using email, without physical courier
- fast searching and retrieving of documents (if a Document Management software is used)
However, most of them have become hesitated to start the project after realising the amount of money and time needed to be spent.
It is obvious. Scanning thousands of paper documents is a very manual process that requires vast amount of time, regardless of whether you are doing it in-house or outsourcing.
Imagine having to scan bound documents, books or large technical drawings manually page by page. Removing staples and other forms of binding will also slow down the process.
As a result, each project can take many months to complete.
If you are doing the scanning in-house, you need to budget for hiring of temporary staff. Scanning can also be outsourced to third party. The job is usually charged by number of pages scanned. There are additional charges if OCR and indexing services are required.
The organisations face the dilemma of starting the project. They need to justify that the amount of time and money to be spent is well worth for the organisation.
For those of you whose volume of paper documents have not reached the critical mass yet, you are lucky! There is a way to cut down time and money to be spent in the future if you want to digitise your paper documents:
As far as possible, avoid creating/keeping paper documents starting from today!
If you already have the documents in digital format, why not make the most of them! By keeping these digital files, you do not need to scan, index and OCR them in the future. Hence, you do not need to spend extra money and time for these services!
Here are some guidelines for good practices:
1. If the paper documents are created in-house, keep the original digital files, eg. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.
Isn’t that the obvious? You may think that everyone will definitely keep their original digital copies. But this may not be true for every organisation. In some organisations, important documents are usually printed out and filed in a central cabinet. However, the original digital copies, e.g. Microsoft Word files, are left in the hands of individuals . Whenever there is a change of staff or a change of computer, the original digital files will be gone.
The problem is that effort is usually put in to safe guard the paper documents, but not the original digital files.
2. If the paper documents are delivered from third parties, ask for the original digital files and/or PDF copies.
Take an annual report as example. The report may be created using graphics layout software like Adobe InDesign. You may not have that software to open the digital file, but you can ask for a PDF copy of the file. With the PDF file, you can open, read, search the content and print it with a free PDF reader.
The same goes for CAD drawings, graphic illustrations, Microsoft Office files, etc.
However, if you have the rights of having the original digital files, it is still best to ask for them and keep them.
3. Instead of printing out into papers, you can always print the documents, e.g. online receipts, into PDF files.
How to do it? Take a look at PDFCreator at the Free Download section.
4. Get a document scanner to start scanning paper documents into searchable PDF files
5. Implement a software system to organise all these digital files. For more details, see our Digital Asset Management solution.
Due to workflow complexity and scale of impact to large number of users, it is usually difficult to implement such near paperless workflow in a big organisation within a short time. But it is absolutely feasible for small offices and home users.
Start doing it from today!