There they stand, staring into the abyss of the forest:  Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, all fearing what they may encounter as they traverse the lands during their journey to the Emerald City.  They envision a variety of beasties that could cause harm.

That journey is analogous to what occurs during the journey to digital document efficiency.  For on that path lay the dreaded Backfile Conversion.

There you stand, staring into the abyss of all those historical documents.  And within that backfile lays every imaginable document type that has graced your organization since its inception – and there are more than just three of them.  But, by considering your process first and then the use of technology, it need not illicit such fear.

In that famous scene, Dorothy’s despair referenced only three beasts that may lie ahead.  With the ominous Backfile Conversion (during which older documents are converted to digital documents), there could be scores of beastly Document Types. If you are in a Human Resources department, those beasts  may sound like: I-9, W-4, Application, Performance Review, Time Off Request, Timesheet, Termination Letter, Offer Letter, and on and on.

Why are different Document Types beasts?  Each document type you identify in a backfile conversion will add cost.  And, since these are documents that are less likely to be referenced or needed, identifying them is adding cost for little benefit.  More cost + little benefit = beast.

The fear behind identifying all those documents stems from your organized paper files getting converted to digital files and the possibility of not being able to find them anymore.  Not being able to find something means you need to look for it.  Having to look for something means the loss of something else: time.

In a nutshell, the decision on what to do with a backfile conversion is balancing cost with the future loss of time.

As we speak with many companies who bravely take on a backfile conversion, the instinctual response we often hear to the cost versus time quandary is to use all the same document types that will be used moving forward.  The challenge here is that we’ve seen this option multiply the cost of a backfile job, turning a $20,000 project into two or three times the cost or more.

Now the good news. A backfile conversion can remain effective without needing to use all those document types.  A likely solution is at the beginning, in your process.

In the course of your day, you are accessing documents for a purpose as part of a process. Some of those processes occur more frequently than others.

  • Medical facilities may always go to the intake form collected at the last visit.
  • Human Resources may reference annual performance reviews more often than anything else.
  • Accounts Payable might consistently reference the most recent purchase agreement from a vendor.

By putting your process first, it could help by revealing creative or very basic solutions, such as:

  • Batch backfile records in 6 month groups organized by date so records that are referenced by date are pretty close together.
  • Move that frequently accessed form to the very first document that gets imaged so it is the first thing that you see when the file is opened.
  • Batch backfile records into maybe two or three major document groups (ie. Performance Review, I-9, Other) so the important docs are identified while others can be searched through as needed.

Or the most basic:

  • Batch everything together and use the “Page Down” button on your keyboard to page through the digital documents to find what you need. This is actually the best way to go if your files have 25-30 pages in them and they are not accessed frequently.

The overall message here is to be flexible when it comes to working with your archive documents in your new digital environment.  Resist temptation to just write the check for three times as much as you need to or to get caught up in the need for everything to be right at your fingertips, right now.

Taking a few minutes to put your process first and technology second could save you a couple or ten thousand bucks.    And that’s not scary at all.