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What is the Best Way to Digitize Paper Documents?

How much paper does your organization handle each day?

If you said, “too much,” your organization is not alone.

Despite the growth of e-forms, online ordering, and other methods of exchanging information electronically, paper documents stubbornly remain a fixture in most organizations. But that doesn’t mean organizations must be saddled with inefficient and ineffective paper-based processes.

This article details the best way to digital documents.

Why digitize paper documents?

There’s little argument that paper documents are a drag on business processes.

Here are some of the top reasons that more organizations are digitizing their paper documents.

  • Improved efficiency. The back-office staff at many organizations waste most of their workday shuffling paper, keying data, chasing down information, fixing errors and mistakes, and responding the inquiries from internal and external stakeholders about where things stand in the process. In a digital environment, documents are automatically received, information is extracted with nearly flawless accuracy, documents can be digitally routed to the right individual or department based on pre-set business rules, and content is instantly accessible. And digitization empowers employees to remain productive, no matter where they work.
  • Reduced cost. Digitizing paper documents eliminates the cost of paper and paper-related consumables such as mail opening equipment, toner, printers, inter-office envelopes, and filing cabinets and storage space. And digitization eliminates courier fees, overnight shipping, postage, and other expenses associated with transporting physical documents.
  • Enhanced customer experience. Digital documents are categorized, tagged, and indexed in a centralized cloud-based repository, making it easy for staff to locate the information they need to respond to customer or stakeholder inquiries. Authorized users also can access digitized information at any time, from any location, using any PC, laptop, or smart device.
  • Better collaboration. Digitization makes it easy for multiple people to simultaneously collaborate on a document, regardless of their physical location. And digital documents are instantly updated and managed to ensure that the latest version of the document is available.
  • More actionable data. It’s hard for organizations to gain insights, make data-driven decisions, and be agile when actionable information remains trapped on paper documents. Digitization puts smart insights at the fingertips of decision-makers when they need them.
  • Decreased risk of data loss. Paper processes make it difficult (if not impossible) to ensure chain of custody, enforce separation of duties, track changes to a document, or administer document retention policies. Digital solutions protect sensitive data with user permissions, advanced data encryption, complete audit tracking, automated document retention, and more.
  • Streamlined compliance. Organizations in industries such as insurance, healthcare, and legal face stiff fines and penalties if they discard documents prematurely. Digitization helps organizations comply with laws and regs for maintaining records for a certain period.
  • Lower carbon footprint. Sustainability is a top priority of many organizations these days. Digitization supports environmental efforts by conserving resources and reducing waste.

These are some of the reasons that more organizations are digitizing their paper documents.

What is the best way to digitize paper documents?

Advancements in technology have made it easier for organizations to digitize their paper documents.

Here are some of the most common ways that organizations digitize paper.

  • Flatbed scanners. If you have a small volume of documents, flatbed scanners may be an option. Ideal for digitizing individual sheets of paper, flatbed scanners provide high-quality scans while allowing users to control settings such as resolution, color depth, and file format.
  • Multi-function printers (MFPs). Nearly every office has them: devices that combine functionality for scanning, copying, and printing office documents. MFPs can be a convenient way for users to scan low volumes of documents directly to their PC or email.
  • Business process outsourcing (BPO) providers. Organizations with extensive document digitization needs may want to consider outsourcing their scanning to a BPO provider. Many BPO providers employ production scanners that can handle large volumes of documents.
  • Document imaging software. Document imaging software converts paper into digital format, identifies the type of document, and tags digital documents for organized storage and faster retrieval. Some document imaging software may include functionality for extracting data from documents using optical character recognition (OCR) and other technologies.
  • High production scanners. Production scanners make it easy for organizations to convert high volumes of paper documents into digital format. Some production scanners can process different types of documents co-mingled and extract data from documents during scanning.

These are the primary ways that organizations digitize paper documents.

Factors to consider when digitizing documents

Several factors should be taken into consideration when planning to digitize paper documents.

  • Document type. The first step in planning a document digitization project is to consider the types of documents that you want to convert to digital images. Your approach to document digitization may vary depending on whether you want to convert letter-sized forms, legal-sized documents, oversized materials, or fragile documents that require special handling.
  • Document volume. The volume of documents an organization wants to digitize may impact the type of scanning hardware, software, and services it requires. For instance, organizations with a high volume of documents should consider dedicated high-production scanners.
  • Image quality. If your organization’s use case demands digitized documents provide clear images and a high level of detail, consider scanners that output images in higher resolutions. Keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the more storage space you will need for images. And organizations must have a way to verify the accuracy and integrity of digital documents.
  • File format. Whether it’s PDF, TIFF, or JPEG, determine the format you will use to storage images. Compatibility, compression, and functionality will likely factor into the decision.
  • Scanning mode. Determining whether to scan images in color, grayscale, or black and white is another critical factor when planning to convert paper documents to digital images. Ensure your organization makes the right decision by considering the content of your documents. For instance, grayscale and black and white may be suitable for text-based documents.
  • Indexing. Instant access to content is a key benefit of document digitization. But that requires organizations to create a system for organizing digitized documents. Ensure that scanning solutions offer a way to index documents based on metadata such as the date. Similarly, organizations must establish consistent file naming conventions for documents.
  • Storage and backup. Document digitization eliminates the need to physically store documents in filing cabinets. Whether your organization uses a centralized cloud-based archive, hard drives, or both, plan how your organization will store digital documents. Be sure your document storage plan includes a strategy to back up content to prevent data loss.
  • Security. Protecting sensitive information is a critical component of a document digitization project for organizations in industries such as financial services and healthcare. Ensure that prospective document scanning solutions offer safeguards such as user permissions, data encryption, logging of all actions taken on a document, and automated document retention.
  • Staff training. User adoption has a big impact on the payback an organization achieves from document digitization. That’s why it’s important to develop a plan early on in your project to train the individuals involved in scanning paper documents. Organizations should also create documentation and ongoing training to ensure consistent procedures as staff turns over.
  • Integration. The last thing any organization needs is another data silo or unnecessary manual tasks. But that’s the risk when a document scanning solution isn’t well integrated with downstream systems. Ensure that prospective scanning solutions can be easily integrated with your legacy systems and processes. Integration is really important if you plan to use document images as part of your workflow. Some document scanning solutions use robotic process automation (RPA) to connect systems without the need for programming.

A scanning solution that meets these criteria will help ensure the success of a digitization project.

Tips for choosing a document digitization tool and technique

There are lots of document scanning solutions out there. Choosing the wrong one can set your organization back. Here are some tips to help your organization make the right choice.

  • Understand your needs by considering factors such as the volume of documents, type of documents, desired output formats, and any specific features or functionality you require.
  • Determine a solution’s ease of use by evaluating its interfaces and workflows.
  • Ensure prospective solutions integrate with your existing systems and processes.
  • Look for solutions with built-in security features such as encryption and access controls.
  • Evaluate cloud storage, backup mechanisms, and redundancy to prevent data loss.
  • Compare the output quality, speed, and usability of scanners to find the best fit.
  • Assess each solution’s scalability to accommodate future growth and needs.

These tips will help you make an informed decision on a digitization solution or technique.

Conclusion

Paper remains a big part of back-office processes. By digitizing paper documents, organizations can improve efficiency, reduce costs, facilitate better communication and collaboration, enhance service to internal and external stakeholders, and safeguard sensitive information. But none of those benefits are possible without the right solution. The considerations and tips in this article will help ensure that your organization achieves the optimum benefits from its document digitization project.