It is not uncommon for me to receive 3-5 calls per month from businesses stating “We want to go paperless and scan all of our documents”.  Rarely does this happen.  Stop a minute and think about the paper at your work or office … how much is there?  And what purpose does it serve?  Don’t get me wrong there are applications where scanning is the better option.

Let’s start with how much paper you have.  I can’t think of any business that doesn’t have some requirement to retain and maintain records.  Whether it is for legal purposes, tax purposes, environmental purposes, or maybe historical purposes, there is probably a reason, rule, or law mandating the retention of records.  What you have to determine is how much you need to keep, and for how long, and how often you will need to access the records.  These are the three primary questions to ask.  There is one final question that I will address last … is there historical value in this record?

How much do you keep?

Despite what many hoarders will tell you, it’s not necessary to keep every scrap of paper and records.  Keep the final product of documents, not every version or revision.  In accounting, keep the ledgers, journals, and month-end and year-end, but after 12 months when all bills have been paid and collected, get rid of the individual invoices, etc. that went into the final product.  In Human Resources, keep the personnel files and payroll records, but after a year get rid of individual time records and pay stubs.  How many have ever had someone come back to you a year later and say you skipped a day on my pay last October?

How long do you keep it?

Different industries have different requirements.  For example, my natural gas customers have retention dates on some records of over 100 years because of EPA regulations.  While this is an extreme example, most are 5-7 years.  Some records are considered to be “Permanent” which is the life of the Company plus some time to assure all issues (taxes, legal, etc.) are concluded.  Check with your industry association or local ARMA (Association of Record Managers and Administrators) Chapter.  Most Industry Associations have already researched and published Record Management requirements and recommendations.  ARMA will locate someone who specializes in your industry and put you in touch with them.

How often do you access the records?

This has more to do with whether you want to invest in scanning them than anything else.  If a record is needed to be accessed and referred to frequently, or by more than one department or individual, then you may want have that section of records scanned.  Since time is money, if a record is being duplicated many times so that many may use its data, or if a record is being pulled in and out of storage frequently this drives up the cost of keeping that record.  Having a digital copy could be more efficient and economical.  All of these considerations go into determining whether you want to go digital, or keep the paper.  It’s the economy of scale.

Scanning is a multi-part process. You must:

  1. prep the document for scanning,
  2. scan the document,
  3. index the document (only way to find it later),
  4. export and save  the digital image to something (hard drive, cloud, computer, etc.)
  5. do something with the paper document.

Do you shred the paper?  Some still store the document and are afraid to get rid of the hardcopy.  This is not an unreasonable fear, because what if something happens with the digital file?  But that is another blog entirely.  An average box of documents holds 1,800-2,000 pages, and costs depending upon complexity can run anywhere from $0.06 per page to $0.10 per page.  The total averages between $108.00 and $200.00 per box for scanning.  The cost to store that same box will be somewhere between $4.00 and $6.00 per YEAR … and there it is … for the cost to scan the box of documents you can store the paper approximately 30 years.  And you probably don’t need it for 30 years!

Is there historical value?

This last thought about going digital is a sentimental one.  If we get rid of all our paper, which is a tangible object you can smell, hold, and touch; and we covert everything to digital images on a screen, then how do we identify and preserve our History?  If the Declaration of Independence were on a computer screen would it have been cared for and protected so carefully all these years?  Would it hold the same meaning and be revered as it is now?  What about Birth Certificates?  Marriage Licenses?  Think of all the documents you save at home, or that are in the National Archives and Presidential Libraries around the country.  What about Public Libraries?  Will they go away?  Be extinct?  We as a society still print out pictures, magazines, books, newspapers, etc. so that we can hold them and enjoy looking at them, and to share them.  Progress and technology are wonderful things … when they are used appropriately with thought and consideration.

Just some things to think about before taking that leap.