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The “Image Everything” Bandwagon

“Image Everything” aptly describes some of what we see in the document imaging industry from time to time. When there is a substantial volume of records, the push is to image everything – mostly because it seems like the thing to do. Digitize! But is it necessarily the best choice?

Dictionary.com defines “Bandwagon” as:

Party, cause, movement, etc., that by its mass appeal or strength readily attracts many followers.

As we speak with customers about how to work with their records, hopping on the “Image Everything” bandwagon can be a costly and unnecessary decision, especially with the archival or historical variety and even more so when considering archives stored on microfilm.

Imaging all records in your inventory, known as a “full backfile conversion,” does have some merit in certain circumstances, but because of how much document imaging costs, our perspective is one of value. In today’s world of tight margins and demands for the best possible ROI, document imaging should be evaluated in a very similar manner.

Full backfile conversion makes sense to consider if records are touched frequently, if they will never be destroyed, or maybe if the volume of records is small. Even then, it is only a starting point. In these situations, the value in document imaging primarily comes from two areas: cost savings and time savings.

Imaging documents saves costs through reduced physical storage needs as well as reduced staff time for maintenance. Records retained in a physical form occupy a physical space and hence must be paid for and visited to access. By imaging records, the need for paying for storage and paying for staff time to access is significantly reduced.

Document imaging saves time by allowing staff members to access records without leaving their desks, access remotely “in the field,” and often being able to locate exactly what is needed in a document more quickly through document text searches. Even better, this affords staff more time to dedicate to higher value tasks.

So, what could possibly be wrong with this? How could saving money and time possibly be a poor investment?

Answer: When the loss of time is not that great to begin with, when the records have a limited lifecycle, when you can do more with your financial resources now, or when there is some flexibility with how quickly the information needs to be accessed.

  • If the time invested to access records in their physical form is low, the return on investing in the conversion of them will be low and drawn out. It could take years or longer for the investment to break even.
  • If the records have a retention schedule and are slated to be destroyed after a specific length of time, the investment in full backfile conversion may never break even. Because records were imaged that may not ever have been accessed, the benefits gained by saving potential time may never exceed the actual outlay of cash.
  • If you have limited financial resources and multiple investment options, each yielding good, but different, returns, choosing to engage in a full backfile conversion driven by the “Bandwagon Effect” could lead to buyer’s remorse, or worse – a high opportunity cost.  ( I see this as a little like buying a 20 lb bag of potatoes at Costco for a dinner party with 4 people. Sure you’ll need some, and you’re now sure you’ll have enough, but isn’t there something better that you could have done with your hard earned dollars?)
  • When there is some flexibility with how fast the information on a document is needed, imaging the document in advance could be a questionable allocation of resources.  If there is little or no consequence to taking a day to retrieve or provide information from a box, why make the extra investment to having it available in two minutes?  This is especially true for records that for which access is or can be planned (records needed for appointments in two days), or when expectations are set for a delayed delivery (student transcripts or vital records).

All of this then begs the question: How is an electronic document management system leveraged to its fullest when physical records are not imaged and, hence, not integrated into the system? That seems wasteful as well.

Answer: Image documents as you need them.

Naviant offers Scan on Demand as a service that provides great flexibility and a potentially far greater return on your conversion investment. Documents on paper or on microfilm film are imaged only as they are needed.

You may pay slightly more per image by imaging the document when you need it, but the cost pales in comparison to what would be wasted by imaging a 15” box of records when 90% of them could be destroyed in 7 years without ever being accessed. Additional benefits are realized through allowing your staff to focus on higher-value activities for your organization.

A targeted, partial backfile conversion that images the most heavily used records followed by our Scan on Demand service for the remaining inventory could even further enhance the ROI of an imaging project.

(Don’t even get me started on a discussion about the cost of records stored offsite at a self-store unit that requires your staff to leave the building to retrieve them.)

In the end, I admit that the call of the Bandwagon can be strong, but you can be stronger. Take the time to consider what you really need from your records. Take the time to consider what your process entails, what your obligations are, and what options exist for you when considering the imaging of all those file cabinet drawers full of records. You may be surprised to find that you can afford an imaging project for the records you need.

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