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Document Digitization: Challenges, Benefits and Strategies

Despite the growth of electronic documents, organizations still receive a lot of paper.  The sheer complexity of managing even small volumes of paper can pose big challenges for organizations.

In response to these challenges, more organizations are digitizing their documents to streamline their processes, enhance efficiency, and unlock the full potential of their information assets.

This article delves into the challenges, benefits, and best practices of document digitization.

How does document digitization work?

Document digitization is the process of converting physical documents into a digital format.

The technology uses cloud-based software and high-production scanners and other equipment to create digital images or text files that can be stored, managed, and accessed electronically.

There are typically several steps in the document digitization process.

  1. Preparation of documents for scanning, including the removal of any staple or paperclips.
  2. Scanning of documents using a high-production scanner or other device.  Some scanners enable users to capture color, bi-tonal, or grayscale images of documents, choose the resolution of the images they create, and scan different types of documents co-mingled.
  3. Conversion of scanned images into machine-readable text that can be searched and edited.
  4. Quality control checks to ensure that scanned images are accurate, complete, readable, and that no pages are missing.  Some solutions also verify the accuracy of extracted data.
  5. Assignment of metadata such as file names, dates, keywords, and document types to facilitate the indexing, categorization, organization, and fast retrieval of scanned documents.
  6. Storage of digitized documents in a document management system or other repository.
  7. Retrieval of stored documents using keywords, metadata, and full-text search capabilities.  Digitized documents can be viewed, edited, shared, and collaborated on for the seamless exchange of information.  User permissions and other measures prevent unauthorized access.

These capabilities transform the way that organizations manage physical documents.

Why digitize documents?

Document digitization provides significant benefits to organizations of all sizes.

  • Improved efficiency and staff productivity.  Digitizing documents eliminates the manual, repetitive tasks that bog staff down and can result in wasted time fixing errors and mistakes.
  • Reduced physical storage.   Document digitization frees up space by eliminating the need for physical storage.  There’s also no chance of digital documents becoming lost or misfiled, and digital documents cannot be deleted ahead of an organization’s retention schedule.
  • Enhanced accessibility.  Storing documents in a centralized cloud-based archive enables authorized users to access the information they need 24/7/365, from any location, using any device.  Digital documents can be located within seconds using keywords or metadata.
  • Increased control.  Digital solutions protect sensitive data with built-in controls such as user access permissions, systematic workflows, activity logging, and advanced data encryption.
  • Streamlined collaboration.  Digital documents can easily be shared with geographically dispersed users.  And cloud-based solutions simplify collaboration by multiple stakeholders.

These are some of the reasons that more organizations are digitizing their document processes.

Common document digitization mistakes

Achieving the full benefits of document digitization requires organizations to take the right approach.

Here are some of the most common document digitization mistakes to avoid:

  • Poor image quality.  Low-quality digital images with illegible text or distorted graphics can make a scanned image useless.  Avoid the possibility of poor-quality images by purchasing a scanner that can create high-resolution images and has built-in quality control mechanisms.
  • Inadequate quality controls.  Not implementing tools for ensuring that captured data is complete and accurate can result in inaccurate or inconsistent digital files.
  • Missing pages.  Information gaps and incomplete records can be a major headache and a potential liability for organizations in highly regulated industries.  Look for a high-production scanner that can automatically flag double feeds and detect the size of the paper being scanned (e.g., letter, legal), to ensure that the entire page is captured, regardless of its size.
  • Inconsistent file naming conventions.  Inconsistencies in how you name files can make it difficult to locate archived documents, especially when there are multiple users involved.
  • Cutting corners on metadata.  Not adding metadata such as file names, dates, and keywords can make it difficult to index, categorize, organize, and retrieve documents.  Improper indexing can make it hard to find information within large document collections.
  • Weak security.  Failure to implement access controls, data encryption, and other security measures can increase your risk of sensitive information falling into the wrong hands.  Ineffective controls can also increase an organization’s risk of running afoul of regulators.
  • No backups.  If there’s one lesson that organizations have learned over the past three years, it’s that they must prepare for the unexpected.  Neglecting to regularly back up digital files can result in data loss due to hardware failures, software glitches, or cyberattacks.

Avoiding these common mistakes can help ensure the success of your document digitization project.

Best practices for document digitization

The benefits of document digitization are proven and compelling.

Following the strategies below will help your organization get the most from document digitization.

  • Planning.  A successful document digitization project starts with developing a clear plan.  Spell out your goals for the project, timelines, budget, and the resources you can allocate.
  • Prioritization.  Prioritize the documents your organization will digitize based on their relevance, the frequency that they are accessed, and any legal or regulatory requirements.
  • Scanning.  Never cut corners on your document scanning equipment.  Look for high-volume production scanners with a proven track record for capturing clear and legible digital images.
  • Metadata.  Streamline the categorization and organization of digital documents by establishing consistent standards for assigning metadata such as file names and keywords.
  • Extraction.  Streamline the retrieval and manipulation of content by implementing data capture technology to convert scanned images into searchable and editable text.
  • Organization.  Make it easier to navigate and locate specific files by developing a logical folder structure and approach to file naming to systematically organize digital documents.
  • Security.  Implement user authentication, activity logging, data encryption and other security measures to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access and cyber threats.  Also ensure that your information controls comply with data privacy laws and industry standards.
  • Continuity.  Establish backup procedures and disaster recovery plans to safeguard digital documents against data loss due to hardware failures, software glitches, or unforeseen events.
  • Training.  Foster user adoption by developing an initial and ongoing plan for training users on how to effectively access, use, and manage the document digitization solution.
  • Measure.  Continuously monitor your document digitization processes, benchmark your performance metrics, and solicit feedback from users to identify areas for improvement.

These best practices will help any organization successfully digitize its physical documents to improve efficiency, increase accessibility, and mitigate the risk of fraud and compliance issues.

Digitize your documents

Managing physical documents can be a huge burden.  Digitizing documents can help organizations streamline their processes and drive enterprise transformation.  As organizations look for ways to navigate the complexities of our hyperconnected economy, digitization will continue to grow.

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