There comes a time in every organization where someone comes up with the idea to “go paperless”. There are many reasons for this; you’ve implemented a new electronic document management system, the contract with your storage provider has come due or you’ve simply run out of file cabinets and places to put new ones. We’ve all been there. Let me start out by saying it is highly unlikely you will ever achieve a complete switch to a paperless nirvana. This is not to say you shouldn’t try. There’s a lot to be said for reducing the amount of paper you’re storing. Just keep in mind that most organizations find that going paperless is easier going forward than digitizing legacy document stores.
The decision to digitize legacy documents is where the real issue comes from because there are several components to consider; there’s one part policy, one part usage and one part budgetary. Let’s look at the impact of each and you’ll see:
We’ve talked for a long time about how to properly set up your organizations information governance program. The foundation of your program is the Record and Retention Schedule. This is your first stop when you consider which legacy documents are good candidates for digital conversion. You need to understand how much time each document has within the document lifecycle and make a cost/benefit determination for digital conversion. If a document is within a few years of final disposition, then it may not be worth the expense. The retention consideration is the easiest of the determining factors.
Usage can be a tricky consideration. It literally means understanding how often your organization needs to access the information contained in the document you’re reviewing for digital conversion. This is an important consideration because there is very little reason to move a document from physical storage if nobody needs to retrieve it again. There are a number of document types in any organization that are kept for perfectly legitimate reasons, but are never touched again until their final disposition date is reached. It is more important that documents that are continually referenced be readily accessible to the organization. These are the types of documents you are looking for.
No matter what anyone says, it always comes down to money. This is the main reason why organizations have issues with going paperless. Storing physical documents is fairly inexpensive and if an organization has been in business for any length of time they accumulate a lot of paper. Eventually it is natural that those costs will begin to mount to the point when a review becomes necessary. Digital conversion has its own costs and these have to be understood to determine a plan forward.
Legal – The Hidden Consideration
There’s one more consideration we haven’t mentioned and that’s the legal opinion of electronic record validity. This is even trickier than all the rest because, even though electronic records have been considered legally admissible since the mid-1980s, it is important to involve your organization’s legal counsel in this process to ensure the documents you are considering for digital conversion are acceptable to them in digital form. It should go without saying that you don’t do anything without the approval of your legal counsel.
Find the “Sweet Spot”
Once you’ve reviewed all of your documents, with an eye on the above considerations, you will probably come to the conclusion that there is a certain year where it makes the most sense to begin the digital conversion process. The rest can be left to reach final disposition on their own. Now the REAL work can begin!
Call in the Cavalry!
Once you’ve identified the optimal year to begin the digital conversion it is time to call in professionals to actually accomplish the digital conversion. There are several good reasons why you should not try this at home, but let’s just talk about a couple:
- Converting digital files is not something you can accomplish even with the equipment you may have available. You need high resolution scanning to ensure you get the best quality image possible for the document you are going to preserve.
- Once it’s gone, it is gone. Let’s be really honest here, do you want to be responsible for some scan that you made several years ago when your organization needs it to defend itself in a lawsuit?
Trust me this is one of those times where you let people that do this for a living do their job.
The road to paperless nirvana is more of a journey. This plan will get you there over time with a minimum of disruption. When it comes to legacy conversion slow and steady is definitely the way to go!