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What is Document Imaging? A Complete Guide

Despite years of chatter by information management pros, the “paperless office” remains elusive.

Many documents still come into organizations as paper.  Professions such as legal, finance, real estate, medicine, and education still rely heavily on paper documents to do their jobs.

Dealing with all this paper costs information management teams lots of time, money, and effort.

Paper also makes it hard to run a business effectively.  According to research compiled by Statista, paper processes are more costly, more time-consuming, and less efficient than digital processes.

Organizations don’t have to wait around for the paperless office to improve their processes.

Document imaging helps organizations accelerate their move toward a digital environment.

What is Document Imaging?

Document imaging converts paper-based information to digital images.

Images are created using a combination of software and hardware.

Once documents are digitized, they can be manually or automatically indexed and electronically archived using metadata from the document, such as the document owner or the document version.

Sometimes referred to as electronic imaging or simply imaging, document imaging can significantly improve the information management process, especially for organizations that receive a lot of paper.

Imaging vs Scanning

Document imaging software is not the same as document scanning software.

While this software converts a paper document into a digital format that cannot be changed, document scanning software takes things a step further by interpreting the information and converting the text and other content into an editable digital document.

In other words, a document can be attached to a file; a document scan can become the file.

Common Uses

Although organizations receive more documents electronically, many documents still arrive as paper.

Document imaging systems bridge the gap between paper documents and digital business processes.

Here are some of the most common uses:

  • Data capture. Digitizing paper documents helps facilitate the automated extraction of critical information using optical character recognition (OCR), intelligent character recognition (ICR), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other technologies.
  • Approval workflows. By digitizing, organizations can electronically route purchase requisitions, supplier invoices, applications, and other documents for approval.  For instance, document imaging systems streamline the loan and mortgage approval process.
  • Research. Authorized users can securely access archived images at any time, from any location.  Some entities make images available to external stakeholders via an online portal.
  • Records management. Make it easy to digitally store and manage vital records in accordance with legal or regulatory requirements.  Once an image of a document is created, users can even redact sensitive information or annotate documents.
  • Big data analytics. Organizations need a complete picture of their information to make an accurate assessment of where things stand.  Digitizing documents ensures that decision-makers have all the information that they need to analyze the organization’s data.

Any business application that relies on paper can benefit.

Document Imaging Process

There are four basic steps to the process:

  1. Input. The process starts with the conversion of paper documents into a digital format.  The conversion of documents is typically done by a document scanner, fax machine, or multi-functional peripheral that combines capabilities for scanning, printing, and faxing.  Some scanners are simplex, which means they only capture a single side of a document at one time, or duplex, which means they capture both sides of a document.  The higher an organization’s volume of paper documents, the more input devices it will need.  To make the most of available storage space, some input devices compress document images.
  2. Indexing. Automatically index documents for storage and retrieval using metadata that uniquely identifies the document.  Metadata commonly used for indexing includes the unique identifier assigned by the document imaging system, the date and time the document image was created, the title of the document, the owner of the document, and the version of the document.  The expansive metadata used by document imaging systems for indexing makes it easier for organizations to retrieve documents.
  3. Archival. Replace physical storage by connecting to workflow automation platforms, document management solutions, enterprise content management applications, records management systems, and other solutions that digitally store documents.
  4. Retrieval. Digitally archived documents can be effortlessly retrieved by entering a request for information into the system that is managing the electronic storage of the document.

After images have been created, paper documents may be recycled or destroyed.

Top Benefits

Document imaging solutions deliver big benefits to organizations that receive paper documents:

  • Reduced cost. Digitizing paper documents eliminates costly manual tasks such as routing, storing, retrieving, and searching for lost or misplaced documents.
  • Decreased storage space. Digitally archiving scanned documents eliminates the need for bulky file cabinets or pricey and inconvenient off-site physical document storage services.
  • Accessibility. Authorized users can instantly retrieve digitally stored documents, at any time and from any location.  Full-text search capabilities enable users to find documents based on any criteria, including customer or supplier name or ID number, address, date, and amount.
  • Enhanced customer service. Instant access to digitally archived documents means that call center staff, sales representatives, and other users can respond fast to customer inquiries.
  • Ease of access. Eliminates the shuffling of paper or the possibility that documents will become lost or languish on the desk of someone who is out of the office.
  • Greater collaboration. Digital documents make it easier for far-flung staff to share, edit, and collaborate on information.  Annotations help ensure that information is kept straight.
  • Disaster recovery. If there’s one lesson that organizations have learned over the past few years, it’s that they need to be ready for the unexpected.  Converting paper documents to electronic format helps ensure that critical documents are preserved in the event of a disaster.
  • Security. Solutions include user permissions, activity logging, and other security measures to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands.

How to Quit Paper

There’s no telling when, or if, the paperless office will become a reality.  In the interim, document imaging solutions bridge the gap between paper documents and electronic business processes.

Digitizing documents simplifies and speeds business processes, reduces the possibility of lost or misplaced documents, improves information access, and eases legal and regulatory compliance.

To discuss the best solution for your company, contact us.

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