Walk Backward To Sprint Forward: Reverse Engineer Your Project

Most of the time, the way we (humans) plan out an event is from the present moment going forward. We’re in the present, so why not start there? Or even more realistically, we don’t really plan at all and just assume that everything is going to happen as it should, without hiccups, and whatever we’re going to do will occur on time, on budget, and on the mark.

Too bad that’s not usually the case!

Why not try a different way? How about imagining the end, the successful end to your project, and then work backward from a specific Execution Date. Doing this creates clarity, understanding, and even urgency. Starting from a date in the future and filling in the gaps until the present day will show you holes in your plan, areas where you need to really focus, and the key people you need to involve early on to avoid stallouts and project bungling.

Let’s walk through a reverse-engineered digital conversion project, shall we?

The Execution Date (“E-Day”) is the date that drives your whole project. Knowing this puts the fire in your belly and makes you sweat (in a good “anxious that we won’t be ready and complete the project on time, but now I’m not procrastinating and know we need to shift into high gear!” kind of way).

  • E-Day can be one of many things that drive a project forward. Here are a few examples:
    • The date your project needs to start. Maybe your department is working with other parts of your organization and need your hard copy files in digital format to provide critical data to the rest of the team. You need to start by the end of next month or else you’ll fall behind. You’ve got an E-Day!
    • The date the project needs to be completed. Moving offices? Yup, you can’t wait until the last minutes in this case! Or suppose your state passes a new regulation requiring you to have a certain type of record backed up in digital format by the end of the year. Yes again: you have a solid E-Day!
    • Any other time-sensitive event that influences your project. It could be that your boss said “I want these 300 boxes of files scanned, indexed, and ready to use in three months!” There’s your E-Day.
  • Start here! Now that you know what constitutes and E-Day, it makes sense to start here and work the timeline of the project around this critical date.  
  • And what if you don’t have an E-Day? Well, then you’re probably just in an investigation mode and doing some research to see if a digital conversion project makes sense for you. But if you don’t have an E-Day, will you really put the effort into making the project happen?
  • One last note about an E-Day: it doesn’t have to be right around the corner. Just because your fiscal year started two weeks ago, and you won’t be able to ask for funding until about a year from now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have an E-Day. Even a project with a known E-Day two years from now is important because planning the path to get there is critical to your project’s success.

Now that you have an E-Day and can start your planning in reverse, the next time-oriented step to consider is how long the project will take to complete once it’s churning along.

  • “Full speed ahead? Please explain.” Well I’m glad you asked! Most projects don’t just go from your records showing up at our doorstep to 100% production velocity overnight. They require material review, project process flow set up, testing, and approval, and then it can go full speed ahead.
  • Most of the information that will determine “full speed ahead” will be gathered and evaluated during the Milestone 1 Proof of Concept (“M1”) phase. However, that detailed info won’t be available until that phase is completed, so you and your scanning partner’s Account Executive will be making educated estimates about the pace of the project.
  • Some of the items related to project cadence are the rate of scanning your material, the post-processing requirements (OCR text search processing, image framing, indexing/organization of the records, custom code, etc.), the amount of material available for scanning at one time, and so forth. As much information as you can provide during planning, the better, as each little part of the project has an impact on completion.
  • If it’s possible, add a buffer for unforeseen issues that pop up. For instance, if you and your Account Exec. determine that the project should take about 8-10 weeks to complete, but your E-Day allows you 14 weeks to finish, it would be wise to put a little wiggle room in there and say the project should be done in 10-12 weeks. Could you be aggressive and say “I don’t care if we have 14 weeks, I want it done in 8!”? Of course you can, but from our experience, there is almost always something that pops up that slows down a project. So save yourself a heart murmur and throw in some extra time if you’re able.

Our Milestone 1 Proof of Concept (M1) methodology is the first step in your project once we receive the material. We create your custom project process flow, test the process flow using a small batch of material, and then review the output with you and ask for your approval and your recommendations to improve the project.  

  • The meat of your project is executed once your M1 has been completed, reviewed, and approved.
  • The amount of time to go from M1 completion to full production mode can vary tremendously based on numerous circumstances including:
    • Complexity of project scope. If your project is simple, the M1 will likely be completed more quickly. If it’s complex, it could take a bit longer to get everything set up and tested.
    • M1 Approval. Although it sounds odd, we occasionally encounter customers who are not exactly the most efficient when it comes to approving their own projects. Sure, there may be other priorities at their organization, but waiting weeks or months to approve your own project (or even look at it!) doesn’t do anyone good and just slows down the project. Also,  the longer the wait is between testing and approval, the more information gets forgotten. Better to keep momentum on a project so that everyone involved is sharp and aware of the nuances.
  • Changes to scope. Even though the Scope of Work may already have been agreed to, the M1 process oftentimes illuminates areas of a project that our customers hadn’t thought of before, or they see what they wanted but now change their minds on how the material should be handled. This isn’t a showstopper, but it may require redoing or tweaking the M1 based on new requirements and specifications.

For a more detailed description of what a “process flow” is, and our Milestone 1 Proof of Concept testing method, check out our other article “Creating A Conversion Process Flow … For You!

Okey dokey, Scope of Work and pricing have been worked out, negotiations have taken place, and the contract is signed and countersigned. Fantastic! Now the real work begins. As they say, “amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.” You can have great plan, a glorious company goal for digital conversion, and a solid scope of work and contract, but without the means to get the project done, you’ve got … nothing. What can you think about prior to beginning a project that will help reduce delays and confusion?

  • Is your material packed up and ready for pickup? Or is your scanning partner going to help you with that?
  • Are your files organized based on the specs laid out in the Scope of Work? If not, is there a price item to allow for your partner to spend time organizing your material once it’s at their facility? If not, that could cause a delay (scope creep) which may require negotiations on how to proceed. This could be a problem if it’s not solved quickly!
  • Will all your records for the project be picked up at one time, or will they be in batches?

Though seemingly minor, we’ve encountered numerous projects where all the planning, contracting, and negotiations finally got completed, only to hit the big pause button because proper logistical planning hadn’t taken place. Oof!

Determine how long it will take you and your scanning partner to handle all aspects of the logistical requirements, and build that in to your reverse timeline.

These days, everyone’s gotta have a contract. It seems the good ol’ days of a handshake and a nod are long gone, and the team of lawyers are always on standby to negotiate the smallest of details of a project. But that’s the way the wind blows, so there’s not much use in fighting it.

  • The first part to consider is whose contract will be used for the project. This could influence the amount of time and negotiation that takes place, and is better to understand up front than get excited about starting your project then *screeeeeeech!* Hold on! It’s contract time and no one anticipated how long this will take.
    • Whichever party’s contract is going to be used, decide early and then have the other party take a look at it even before finalizing all the project specs. By doing this some red flag contract items can be identified and discussed in tandem with project planning, instead of just one step at a time. This can speed up contract finalization when it gets to that point, because it’s already been identified and resolved.  
  • Most of the time the individual with contract signing powers isn’t on the front line coming up with the project specs or deciding how things will unfold. Sure, they’re part of the overall project execution, and may have a vested interest in it, but they’re usually not in the trenches.
    • Get them involved early! If they don’t know what’s going on until a contract with a scope of work lands on their desk for signature, it’s likely they’ll take some time to review it, get up to speed, ask you some questions for clarification, and eventually get back to you with more questions. This is a major time suck. Instead, involve them throughout the scope of work discussions and logistical set up so that they’re aware of what’s going on and won’t be blindsided when you hand them the agreement for their review and approval!
  • Legal teams and contract review staff are ubiquitous, it seems, but that doesn’t mean they should hold up progress.
    • If you’re not in the position to approve contract changes, you can still work with your scanning partner to discuss why a contract edit was made and the thinking behind it. This will allow you to calm the rage that comes from your attorney when you show them contract markups, and simply explain the reasoning. Even better, get your legal folks on the phone with your scanning partner and just discuss it that way, instead of dozens of emails and tracked changes back and forth. Email doesn’t have a good tone to it, and it doesn’t have the same friendliness and slight sense of urgency that comes from a brief phone call.
  • The contract process could take a week or a month, but understanding that it’s not usually a quick turnaround is important so you can build in some time to account for this phase of the project process.

The Scope of Work (“SOW”) is the plan for actually carrying out the digital conversion of your records. This will lay out the detailed services that will be provided by your conversion partner, the pricing, the timeline for completion, and so forth.

  • Description of Services
    • Even a straightforward and simple project should have a solid SOW. Why? Because having clear definition of what’s going to be provided during the project will alleviate uncertainty later on if an issue pops up, or a request is made that is outside of the SOW.
    • A good SOW walks you through the project in chronological order from beginning to end. Each step is described, and the details of what will be provided during the project are explained.
  • Project Pricing
    • Your SOW will also include pricing items that relate to the services being provided.
  • What are the parties’ roles and responsibilities?
    • You may have a few responsibilities during your project, and you may have a lot, but there’s always something. Even if they’re simple, like boxing up your records and sending them to your scanning partner, that’s a responsibility that will impact the project.
    • Each step of the project should clearly identify which of the organizations are in charge of that step, and define what needs to happen to be successful. If steps are laid out with clarity, your project is much more likely to be a smooth experience.
  • It’s important for you to make sure that what you’re asking for, or expecting to receive, is clearly described in the SOW and pricing. If it’s not, you may have to renegotiate later when you ask for a service you thought was included, but isn’t listed.
  • Scope creep. The dread of all companies! Scope creep is when more and more services are added to a project, and negotiations and change orders begin to be the norm rather than executing the project as originally discussed.
    • It’s not necessarily a bad thing if the scope gets change; sometimes it has to change to make the project successful! But when change after change is requested or required, the drain on all those involved can be significant.
    • How do you prevent scope creep? It may not be possible to prevent it, but to mitigate it as much as you can, understand your material, what your overall objective for the project is, and how you’re asking that objective to be met. Try not to include unnecessary requests because you read an article on a blog about the next new thing in document management. If it’s not crucial to you, it may be best to wait until a phase two to knock it out.

Putting It All Together 

Now that we’ve walked (see what we did there? “Walked,” like in our title. Clever, huh?) backward through the parts of a digital conversion project, we can put all the pieces together as a complete vision.

Let’s say it’s March 1st and your department is moving offices on December 31st, and you can’t take your records with you. Looks like you have a pretty well defined E-Day, right?! And for this scenario, we’ll assume you have 400 bankers boxes of personnel files.

Your super smart Account Executive (“AE”) sits down with you to plan out the general project timeline:

We know that the office is moving on December 31st, so we have a solid date of when the project needs to be completed, and from which we can plan in reverse. Excellent.

Based on conversations about your records, what you’re looking to accomplish, and so on, you and your AE can come up with a general estimate of how long the project should take. The AE should have knowledge of similar projects, plus input from their project execution team, that will guide this step. For 400 boxes, we’ll say that from M1 approval the project will take about 16-20 weeks at a steady pace.

Right from here you can calculate the following:

E-Day = December 31st

20 weeks (using the slower estimate) backward is August 13th.

The project has to be in execution phase (aka M1 approved!) no later than August 13th.

Depending on how many different types of records you have, and document types and the such, the M1 timeline could vary, but let’s make it simple and assume you have three document types. This would fall into a pretty standard project and we can estimate a normal M1 turnaround of 3-4 weeks.

Timeline calculation:

M1 approval no later than August 13th.

4 weeks backward is July 16th.

The M1 has to start no later than July 16th.

This means that the records to be used for the M1 need to be at the scanning facility by this date, and also that the approval needs to happen by that date. So if there is a delay in actually approving the project once the M1 is presented and approved, that could shift the project to the right.

This isn’t necessarily a time-consuming step, as long as each part of the logistics have been accounted for and planned out in the Scope of Work.

For this scenario, we’ll say that the Logistics don’t take any additional time because they’ve been lined up perfectly and your records will be where they need to be when they need to be there.  

This step is very situational and will depend on the involvement of your organization’s contract team, whose contract is being used and how long/detailed it is, and so on. For the sake of this example we’ll say that the contract review started after the Scope of Work was created, and that it’s about 4-6 weeks of back and forth reviews, edits, negotiations, questions, etc.

Timeline Calculation:

Contract must be approved and executed by July 16th to get the M1 started.

6 weeks backward is June 4th.

Contract review and negotiations must start no later than June 4th.

Depending on the size and reach of your project, the Scope of Work can be fairly simple or very complex. To build the Scope of Work, you’ll probably have multiple phone calls, plenty of emails, potentially a site visit by your Account Executive if the situation warrants it, maybe a sample conversion of some of your material, and on-going analysis of the project. Likely there will be a high-level concept followed by an initial proposal, which you’ll review and probably make some edits, and then an updated proposal that will work for the contract. All of this could be very quick, but based on our experience of conversion projects not usually being rushed, let’s use 6-8 weeks for this scenario.

Timeline Calculation:

Scope of Work must be completed and agreed to by both parties by June 4th to be able to go to contract phase.

8 weeks backward is April 9th.

Scope of Work discussions must start no later than April 9th.

April 9th!!!

This, of course, is a fictional scenario and takes into consideration timelines that are common, but not exclusive. If you need a project started or completed sooner, we can work with you on that and make stuff happen.

Further Reading 

Reverse engineering your project is a smart way to plot and scheme, but there are other cool things about digital conversion you may want to know about.

Curious what you should expect during a project? Then our “What You Should Expect During Your Digital Conversion Project” should scratch your itch!

Or read “5 Ways To Ensure A Successful Microfilm Scanning Project” for other useful tips and hints. And just because you may not have microfilm doesn’t mean there isn’t useful information. Read on!

2019-02-05T08:42:19+00:00February 5th, 2019|Document Management|

Supporting Our Community With Martha’s Kitchen Of San Jose

Most years, December 18th isn’t anything special at BMI. It’s usually just another day in the middle of the holiday season, pretty close to Christmas and very close to our annual employee Christmas party. But in 2018 it was a little bit different, and a lot more special, because a group of BMI employees from our Sunnyvale headquarters got together and headed to downtown San Jose for a morning at Martha’s Kitchen.

BMI at Martha's Kitchen in San Jose

Martha’s kitchen provides meals to the less fortunate in the San Jose area, and its motto is “Feeding the hungry with dignity, no questions asked.” Some of our employees remember being younger and going with their families to Martha’s Kitchen for a prepared meal, or they describe their spouses recounting similar stories. With such personal connections to Martha’s Kitchen, it seemed the perfect organization for us to volunteer at and give something back to the local community.

Our group of volunteers helped the Martha’s Kitchen staff by preparing food and setting up the dining area. Food preparation included peeling and slicing carrots, cutting oranges, mixing salads, and destemming grape clusters. They had a blast doing it in their hair nets, aprons, gloves, and all! The Martha’s Kitchen staff said we prepared so much food that they not only had that day’s portions ready, but also the next day’s; that’s the effort we like to see from our employees!

BMI at Martha's Kitchen in San Jose
BMI at Martha's Kitchen in San Jose

Though our volunteering lasted only two hours, the BMI management team paid our employees a full four hours since they had to leave their workstations to attend the event. BMI’s admin team knows how important helping our community is, and they want to support those that volunteer their time and encourage this kind of generous attitude.

All of those that participated were very happy to have spent a few hours helping others, and it lit a flame in our staff to provide more opportunities to volunteer for similar causes in our community.

Thanks to all that participated!

2019-02-01T13:16:05+00:00February 1st, 2019|Community|

Creating A Conversion Process Flow … For You!

It’s okay to admit it. You only clicked this article because you were curious what a “conversion process flow” even is, right? That’s completely understandable because it’s pretty jargon-y and wouldn’t make much sense if you weren’t reading this right now.

So what’s a conversion process flow? In a nutshell, it’s the framework of a project with all the steps required to go from start to finish. A process flow can have five steps, and it can have forty! The most important part of a process flow is that it’s unique to your project. Sure, some people will try to put you in a box and say you’re just like all their other customers. But you’re not! Your conversion project, regardless of what anyone tells you, is one-of-a-kind and needs to be looked at exactly that way to make sure it ends well.

Let’s take a look at how we create a unique process flow for your conversion project, and why it’s important for you to know how your project is being built and executed.

Create A Framework

There are a few schools of thought on how to get a project kicked off, ranging from “just get started” to “we’re not even touching this without a perfect plan.” We believe the best answer lies between those two extremes.

  • Work with your potential conversion partner (the company or companies you’re talking to about your project) on the requirements and outcomes you need to make the project a success.
  • Your partner will be able to take your thoughts, ideas, goals, and requirements and craft a plan on paper that makes the project successful, based on what you want.
  • Depending on who you decide to partner with, a sample may be available to test the project goals. Samples are great because you not only get a small glimpse into the effectiveness of your partner, but you get to see your own records in digital format rather than some generic demo material.
  • Once the plan has been created and a sample’s been reviewed, you and your partner can revise the plan to create the agreed upon Scope of Work for the project as a whole.

Test The Framework And Revise

How do you know that your project will be successful? So far (if you’ve followed our guidance above) you’ve talked to a potential scanning partner, received and reviewed a sample of the project, and put a project framework together. That’s like if you went to a food truck rally, or whatever those things are called, and were deciding what to eat. Walk up to a truck, talk to somebody, get a small bite as a sample, and then figure out what you want for your entire meal.  

If that sounds kind of thin, well, sometimes you gotta go with what you’ve got! Unless your organization is okay with shelling out some dollars for a pilot project, the sample is probably as close as you’re going to get before choosing a company to work with. Let’s assume you chose us as your partner (good choice!). Here’s what you’d get from us:

We call our project setup and testing the “Milestone 1,” or M1 for short.

What happens during the M1 is that an assigned Project Manager will take the framework that was created by you and your BMI account executive and begin to create the project process flow. Depending on the complexity of your project, the process flow could be ten steps or it could be fifty!

Once the M1 process flow is completed, our Production staff will use a small batch of your project’s overall volume to test the process flow. The test batch will run through all the steps of the process flow to ensure that we set it up right and that the final digital delivery matches what was agreed to in the contract and scope of work.

Once the M1 test batch is finished, you’ll be able to review the M1 and either approve our work or let us know if there’s something we missed or even a potential change you want to make. The M1 is a great tool because it allows us to test our Production steps as well as find any inconsistencies between the agreed upon scope of work and the actual execution of the project. Also, it allows you, as the one who is paying for the work, to make sure that we’re giving you what you want!

BMI’s internal project tracking system is called Unity, and we built it completely in-house to meet our specific requirements for how we do our work. In a nutshell, Unity allows us to track each piece of material that we work on, through as many steps in a project process flow as are available, and to get real-time data and notifications for every project we are currently working on.

This is important for you, as the customer and the one paying for the project, because you can have peace of mind that your project is being executed professionally. You’re handing over your data and records, and that’s sometimes a scary thing. Would you rather hope that your material isn’t just being thrown into a pile and haphazardly worked on, or would you rather know that at at moment that you ask, your digital conversion partner can let you know where each unit of material is relative to the project as a whole, if there are any issues with the project, how many are done and in process, and any other number of data points important to you? We’re guessing you’d rather go with the latter, because no one could truthfully say they didn’t care about their records.

Execute The Project

Once you approve the M1 (either as-is or after some changes and revisions), we’ll complete the rest of your project based on the approved M1. Sometimes the remainder of your project will go along as smooth as silk because all of the material (microfilm, for instance) are of the same type as the material we saw in the M1, and nothing out of the ordinary pops up to put the brakes on the project.

Most of the time, though, an anomaly in your material will cause our Production team to pause and consider the new material. This can be something like a different type of microfilm (single image per frame vs. two images per frame) or a new data field that was not described in the scope of work (an SSN pops up when we’re only supposed to see and capture First and Last Name). When this happens, our team will notify you that we found an oddity and will work with you on how to solve the issue.

If a change has to be made, our project team will update your process flow to include new steps and procedures to make sure that the remaining material gets processed using the new method.

Wrap Up

Not all projects are super complex or require thirty or more distinct steps to make them successful. But some do, and those are fun projects. Even if your project is pretty straightforward and doesn’t require any special software or new process to make it successful, you want to make sure it’s done right, don’t you? With our process flow methodology and M1 proof of concept testing, we strive to make sure your project is a success and you come out a winner.

Further Reading

If you’re excited about a digital conversion project because of what you’ve just read, we recommend you take a look at another of our articles that will give you a glimpse into the realm of document organization: The Wild And Wacky World Of Indexing.

Are you new to the document conversion industry and not sure what to expect when you decide to move forward with a conversion project? Our article What You Should Expect During Your Digital Conversion Project is perfect for you and will help you feel more confident when you reach out to a potential scanning partner.

2019-01-04T09:28:01+00:00January 4th, 2019|Document Management|

What You Should Expect During Your Digital Conversion Project

Unless you work in document management, we don’t blame you for not knowing what you should expect when you enter into a digital conversion project. Digital scanning and conversions aren’t exactly mainstream, like going to the mall and knowing what you should expect from the staff at a clothing store.

It’s a different world, document management is. And it can be tricky, but that’s why we want to give you a few pointers to help you in your journey. Below are some thoughts that we, as a document and information management company, believe you should see and understand as you choose your partner in conversion. We’ve broken them out into what you should and should not expect; not in any particular order, just some useful tidbits.


What You Should Not Expect

It comes down to this: digital does not equal miracle. Once you accept that fact, you’ll be much more prepared for your project and ready to work with your partner to create a solid scope of work for digitizing and organizing your records.

They may! They absolutely may. But when you think about your own life, does it usually work that way? Do you wear the cheapest shoes? Drive the cheapest car? Eat the cheapest food day in and day out? (And c’mon, we don’t mean low priced. We mean the actual cheapest option you could find). Probably not. Instead, you got what brought you the most value at a reasonable price. And that’s the whole point, you’re reasonable! So be reasonable when you’re choosing your conversion partner.  

Sure, there are $10,000 martinis you could drink, but does that mean you’ll be happy after drinking that martini, which was unsettlingly like all the other martinis you’ve had? I doubt it. Just because something’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s valuable, so be aware of this side of the coin. The key is to understand the value you’ll receive and match that up with a reasonable price that makes sense for you.

Because it just ain’t real.

What You Should Expect

Yes, it is possible to completely remove yourself from the execution of a project, but we don’t suggest it. Lots of little things pop up during conversion projects that no one thought of, and it’s very useful to have you (you know, the one who owns the records?) be a part of the problem-solving team. If you’re not involved, and you don’t like the final product, then too bad! Just kidding (sort of). But by then you’ll wish you were more involved throughout the project to make sure that everyone was pointed in the right direction. So roll up your sleeves and get involved!

If you’re not being challenged, then you’re not working with an account executive; you’re working with an order taker. Which may be what you want! That’s fine, but it doesn’t take a genius to sit around and say “yes” to everything thrown their way. What you really want, and should expect, is an expert in document management that challenges your assumptions, your plans, your designs, and makes you really think about what you’re asking for. If they don’t, then you might end up with exactly what you asked for … and have no one but yourself to blame if it isn’t good.

If you already have the best plan, why do you need someone else? Answer: because you probably don’t have the best plan. And that’s OK. We all have massive egos; that’s what makes us human! But if a team of document management professionals suggests an idea or solution that isn’t exactly what you planned for, don’t immediately go negative. They may, just may, actually be trying to make your project more successful than you could have done on your own. Crazy, right?

It’s like the old saying about weddings: something will go wrong, just accept it. You’ll be furious at the time, but you’ll get through it and laugh later. Boiled down: don’t be a jerk when the project hits a bump. No one’s perfect. (see: “Don’t expect perfection” in the section above)

Because if you don’t, you’ll be sorely disappointed and probably frustrated throughout the entire project. There are things you don’t know, and things even the experts don’t know, but that’s the fun part about conversion projects. There’s always something new popping up, and being able to adapt and overcome these little obstacles makes your project unique, and forges a better solution.

Wrap Up

No one knows everything, and it takes a confident person to admit that they’re just not sure what they’re getting into. After reading this far, we hope you have a better idea of what you should (and should not) expect when you start your digital conversion project. If you’re interested in learning more about document management and scanning projects, take a look at our “Further Reading” section below; there are some links to other articles that’ll help you become more knowledgeable about document management.

Further Reading

If you have documents (paper, film, anything!) that are going into digital, you’ll need to get them organized. Take a peek into “The Wild and Wacky World of Indexing” and be amazed!

Got some microfilm sitting around and gathering dust, and you’re just waiting to figure out how to scan it into digital? Look no further, because our article
5 Ways to Ensure a Successful Microfilm Scanning Project” will give you just what you need to make your project a success. 

2018-12-10T15:19:04+00:00December 10th, 2018|Document Management|

The Wild And Wacky World Of Indexing

“Indexing? What indexing?”

You’ve decided to peek at the grim underbelly of the document management world, where brave souls venture forth … and occasionally don’t return. But where do these explorers go, and what are they looking for?

The elusive perfect indexing specification!

Indexing can be pretty confusing. It seems so easy at first, just naming files as they 
should be named. If you have folders, name (index) them by what’s on the folder. If you have stapled or paper-clipped files, name them by whatever’s on the first page of the file! If you have microfiche sheets, name them by the microfiche title strip!!

What’s so hard about 
that, BMI??

I’m glad you asked.

1. Native Knowledge

You have “native knowledge” of your files, and the content (actual data) of those files. What seems an obvious way to name a document to you could be extremely difficult for someone that doesn’t have a solid understanding of your records. Imagine that you have a bunch of patient charts, and you decided to name a file by Patient Name and Date of Birth (DOB). And those two index points (or “fields”) should be on the first page of every patient chart. Easy enough, right?

Ok, so we scan the patient chart into a digital format and are about to index the file. We’re looking at the first page within the chart.

Patient Name: check. (Easy peasy)

Date of Birth: check!

But wait!! Is that another date on the first page? Which one is Date of Birth?

Can you hear the sounds of something grinding to a halt?

What happens next is a string of emails and/or phone calls to ask what you want to do, and you don’t know because you can’t see the file, and so on and so forth. This back and forth to solve an indexing question may only take a couple of minutes, or a string of ten emails. Even when this one instance is resolved, it’s really only the first glimpse into the world of 

2. Exceptions

Exceptions are relatively common. Pretty ironic, right? An exception is an instance of an index point that doesn’t match the criteria that’s been described by the owner of the files. Or in English:

What we see doesn’t match what you told us we’d see.


  • You have student transcripts on microfilm rolls and want the Student Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, and Student ID of each student captured.
  • You’ve told us that all four fields are on the first page of a student’s file.
  • A student file is identified by a big red “S” stamped on its first page.

As we go through the first roll of microfilm, we see the “S” stamped on images, and we start keying the fields you’ve requested. All’s well, but as we move through the roll, about 50 student files in, we stop. We’ve found the big “S” stamp, easy enough. There’s a Student Name, Date of Birth, and Social Security Number, but no Student ID. EXCEPTION!

Further along we find another file that has Date of Birth, Social Security Number, Student ID, but two Student Names!! It looks like the person changed their name senior year. Which name should we use? EXCEPTION!

At the end of the roll, we find the big “S” stamp, but the first page is some kind of cover letter. Should we move on? Should we consider these images as part of the previous file? EXCEPTION!

In each of the above three examples, an exception occurred that would cause us to pause and clarify with you about how you’d like the exceptions resolved. This is time-consuming, costly, and throws the project into stall mode.

But how’s this problem solved? Contingency plans, my friend. In the student transcript example, a contingency to alleviate the exceptions would be: “if one of the four fields is not found, replace that field with an ‘NA.’” You may not be able to plan a contingency for 
every exception, but as many as can be identified and resolved prior to the project starting saves loads of time later on.

Solved. Done. Success.

3. Do You Really Want That?

This is a bit more philosophical than the other two reasons that indexing can be difficult, but important anyway. What it comes down to is knowing what will be considered useful and complete once the project is done.

If you work at a building department with thousands of permits on microfiche, a microfiche title might have a Permit Number, Street Number, Street Name, Project Name, Notes, Year, and more. If you ask to just “index the Permit Number,” it 
could be useful, but all that other information wouldn’t be captured. Once all of your microfiche are in digital form, like a PDF file or in a content database, is the Permit Number all you need? Will it be the single field you’ll use to find these records later on? If not, you may need to dig a little deeper and identify other fields that need to be captured.

On the flip side, if you wanted to capture 
all the information on the microfiche title, you could be creating an overload of information. Sure, it’s on the title currently, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily useful. We’ve seen many a case where title fields were added over the years and the current staff doesn’t know what half of the information means. If you don’t slice off some fat from the title info, you could be creating a mess that doesn’t help anybody.

So, what will be useful? That’s what you have to answer.


Getting your indexing right can be tough, we won’t sugarcoat it. But you want to do as much as possible to nail it down right so that you have an effective way of finding your records once they’re digitized. There’s not much that’s more demoralizing than wrapping up a digital conversion project, only to realize that you can’t even find your records and you’d be better off having not done the project at all. This is the exact opposite of how we’d want you to feel.

So, before leaping off the digital conversion cliff, take some time to really figure out the most effective and efficient way to access your records once they’re digitized, utilizing the ideas we’ve presented in this article. And if you need some help along the way, give us a buzz.

Further Reading

Here is our take on getting your scanning project off on the right foot:
How Do I Start A Microfilm Conversion Project?

And here are some ideas for you that (we think) will make your project a success:
5 Ways To Ensure A Successful Microfilm Scanning Project

2018-12-10T15:05:44+00:00November 5th, 2018|Document Management|

Teal Run 5k To Support Ovarian Cancer Awareness

On Saturday, September 29th, a chilly fall morning, a group of BMI teammates met at Campbell Park in Campbell, CA to participate in the 4th Annual Teal Run. The Teal Run is a 5k run/walk event to support ovarian cancer research and awareness.

The morning started with some coffee and pastries, a cameo by Sharkie of the San Jose Sharks hockey team, and speeches by ovarian cancer survivors and the doctors that treat and support them. Once everyone was warmed up, the participants followed a path along the Los Gatos Creek trail until the path looped back to the finish line.

BMI is proud to have been able to participate in the Teal Run and support ovarian cancer research.

BMI Imaging Systems employees prepare for the 5k Teal Run

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and teal is the color for ovarian cancer research.

Learn more about the Teal Run at the event website:

2019-02-01T12:58:03+00:00October 26th, 2018|Community|

CJIS Compliance And Document Management

What is CJIS? Does it apply to my records? Who can I talk to about this kind of thing?

These are all great questions, and potentially they’re the ones that you’re asking yourself if you’ve landed on this article. What we’ll do here is give you an overview of CJIS, why CJIS compliance is important, and who should be concerned about it. We’ll also talk a bit about how CJIS applies to scanning your records (such as microfilm, microfiche, and hard copy files) and accessing your documents through a hosted database.

What is CJIS?

CJIS stands for Criminal Justice Information Services and is a division of the FBI. The mission is “to equip our law enforcement, national security, and intelligence community partners with the criminal justice information they need to protect the United States while preserving civil liberties.” Basically, CJIS provides a quick-access information database to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, which can then use that information to help them catch the bad guys more efficiently.

The FBI heads the overarching CJIS division, but individual states usually have their own organizations for handling CJIS protocols, such as the California Justice Information Services (“CJIS”) and the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System (“ACJIS”). At a high level, the FBI CJIS policy is the standard for local agency policies, and must be adhered to. However, local agencies can also complement the CJIS policies with their own protocols, but the CJIS Security Policy must be maintained at a minimum and must not be detracted from or reduced.

Why is CJIS Compliance Important?

One, because the FBI says it’s important. Two, because if you have CJI (Criminal Justice Information) then you’re required to adhere to the policies provided by the FBI (and potentially local agency policies) related to this type of information. Three, because if you are responsible for CJI, the FBI can “pop in” and perform a security audit at any time.

Who Should be Concerned About CJIS?

CJIS compliance applies to records that contain criminal information, such as police department records or court documents with criminal data. If your organization (hint: police departments, sheriff’s offices, courts) handles records that contain criminal information, you are likely supposed to be following the rules and guidelines of the CJIS Security Policy to ensure that your content is handled by the proper individuals and in the proper way.

How Does CJIS Apply to Scanning?

Here’s where we come in.
It’s all well and good to know CJIS policies and requirements, and that you have records that fall under the CJIS umbrella, but if you’re interested in scanning physical records like microfilm, microfiche, and paper files into digital format, or transferring electronic data with that same type of information, how does that work? Who’s allowed to handle this type of material?

The first thing you should do is to go to the CJIS portal ( and do a search for companies that provide scanning and document management services. If they’re not on the list, they’re probably not the best pick to provide CJIS-compliant records handling. If you didn’t find what you were looking for on the CJIS portal, another way to determine which organizations can work with CJIS data is to search the web for scanning companies and when you get in contact with them, just ask if they’re a CJIS-listed vendor. If the response to that question is “who’s CJIS?” then you know you’re not talking to the right company.

BMI is a CJIS-listed vendor, meaning we’ve been given the green light to work with criminal data records. Our folks have been vetted and cleared for this type of work, and our physical and network security policies and procedures comply with the rules and guidelines for the sensitive nature of the material we’d be handling. To get an idea of the type of security we employ at BMI, take a look at our Security page for a brief overview.

CJIS Secure Cloud Hosting Environment

Let’s say you have an archive of 1,000 microfilm rolls containing criminal records. And let’s also say that you decided to scan your microfilm into a digital format. Finally, let’s say that you found a company that is a CJIS-listed vendor and worked with them to scan your microfilm. Good job!

But now what?

As with most choices in life, you have many. You could have your microfilm scanned into a standard format, such as multi-page PDFs or single-page TIFFs, and returned to you on an encrypted USB drive; you may have an existing content management database and choose to have the images formatted for import to that system; or, you may want to have the digital images and data imported into a hosted database provided by a document management company.

If you’re interested in a CJIS Cloud Hosting solution, that’s fantastic. We provide CJIS hosting to many clients from the law enforcement arena, and our network is structured to accommodate CJI. Aspects of the BMI CJIS Cloud Hosting Environment include:

  • The system will present a Community Cloud hosting model as defined by NIST SP 800-145.
  • Unique login credentials (username and password) with two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • IP Address Lock implementation to only allow system access to requests that originate from your network.
  • Data within the system encrypted at rest using FIPS 140-2 certified encryption technology.
  • Data in transmission encrypted using TLS encryption to conform with FIPS 140-2.
  • Automatic session timeout after 20 minutes of user inactivity.
  • All BMI personnel with access to the CJIS Hosted System or client data during the conversion process will have CJIS Level 4 certification and will have undergone and passed a criminal background investigation.

Next Steps

If you think it’s time to get serious about CJIS, we agree. As we mentioned in the section “How Does CJIS Apply to Scanning?”, you could check out the CJIS portal to get an idea of who may be a good fit to work with you on your project.

Another option is to give us a call (800-359-3456) or fill out a form (right side of this web page) and we’ll get one of our teammates to follow up with you and answer your questions.

2018-10-17T11:14:55+00:00October 1st, 2018|Security|

5 Ways To Ensure A Successful Microfilm Scanning Project

You can have your microfilm archive in front of you and know that you want to scan it to digital, but what else should you be thinking about? In this article, we’ll give you some ideas that we believe will make your project successful. You can ask ten companies the same question and get ten different answers, and that’s fine. But here are five ideas we want you to know about that’ll guide your decision-making process and enable you to execute a successful microfilm scanning project. Onward!

1) Phases Are a Good Thing

Why phases? Because if you try to do too much at once, you can get lost in the sauce and not know how to get out. By using a phased approach, you can complete the most important task first, then move on to other items as needed. Here’s an example for microfilm scanning:

Phase 1: Replicate Your Current Methods

What this means – Do what you’re doing now, but in digital!

Why this works – You know how and where to find your records, so starting with an existing (working) method is a great place to begin. Not only will your people know how to find their data, but it will be even faster to find in once it’s in a digital format.

Phase 2: Get Granular With Indexing

What this means – Microfilm is normally organized simply because it contains many records on a single unit. There’s not really much you can do other than find the roll to find the record. Once your microfilm is digital, though, you can get fancy and index (name/organize) your records at the individual level.

Why this works – Once you’ve scanned your microfilm into a digital format, you can decide if you need to get even more detailed. If the answer is yes, you can identify which records need to be segmented into distinct files, and how they will be named during the indexing process. The nice thing here is that the records are already in a digital format (good work starting with Phase 1!) so it’s a simple process to look at various images and get a sense for the scope of the indexing.

(more on this in “2. Indexing” below)

Phase 3: Data Transfer

What this means – Once you have your digital images, you’re ready to import these to electronic databases for total document management.

Why this works – You may already have a database for your current and go-forward images and data, and you want to get your archive microfilm records into that database. By using the phased approach, you now have a complete set of digital images (Phase 1) indexed to your specifications (Phase 2) and ready to import into your system. Instead of trying to get the perfect solution up front, which can drag out projects for what seems like forever, you decided to go step by step and make the process smooth as butter.

2) Indexing

Indexing (identifying, naming, and organizing your records) can make or break a project: it can be simple and cost-effective, or extremely complex and pricey; it can help you find your records quickly, or it can cause confusion and consternation. Getting this part right is critical!  

How do you access your records now? Using this as a starting point, you can make your life easier. If you find microfilm by opening cabinet drawers and then locating a box of film that’s organized alphabetically, it could make sense to replicate this structure digitally. Once the records are scanned and digitally accessible, you can then see what may make more sense and do a reorganization of the files based on different criteria.

Maybe you want the full monty solution with image-level indexing up front. Aggressive, but doable. Identify the way files will be separated and named, and make sure that you have examples of each type of document that exists in your archive. This is a potential rabbit hole, so be ready for a flurry of questions from the company you’re working with, all with the intent of making the project successful.

3) Identify the Primary Points of Contact

A very important step, but one that’s often overlooked. Because scanning projects are dynamic and involve unique material like microfilm, surprises are a guarantee. By having a primary point of contact at your organization and your scanning partner’s organization, questions and answers will flow more smoothly and ensure an efficient and effective project.

Without clearly identified points of contact, you will run into delays, confusion, frustration, and finally resignation. That’s probably a bit more dark than reality, but you get the point. Have a point of contact identified and accountable!

4) Understand What You’re Willing to Pay For … and What You’ll Get For It

If you want the lowest price, don’t expect rainbows and sunshine at the end of the project. If you want best total value, consider your project an investment: it doesn’t feel good putting money in now (short-term pain), but when you finish the project and see a result that makes your and your staff’s life easier, you’ll be glad you did (long-term payoff).

We see many companies that opt to pay the “low” price up front, only to realize that scope changes, mistakes, and errors ensure much more total spend down the road. You can never be certain what will happen during a project, or what surprises will pop up and derail your plans, but having a solid understanding of the capabilities of your scanning partner and their willingness to work with you will go a long way. Beware the charlatan that promises perfection and asks for little in return!

Caveat – high price doesn’t guarantee high quality. Make sure your partner understands you and your objectives, not just what they want to sell.

5) Understand the Material

As a colleague of mine used to say, “ask for the world, but expect New Jersey” (sorry, he was from Boston).

What does this mean? Ask for what you want, but temper your expectations. With scanning projects, we see plenty of new customers with grand visions of perfection: that just because the images are now digital, the entire organizational structure of the files will be perfect, down to the image; errors will be non-existent; all documents will be optimum legibility; coffee will brew itself!! A pleasant dream. And this even though they may have only asked for roll-level indexing. Be aware that with digital content, there are many ways to peel the onion and organize your records, but you need to be specific at the beginning of the project so that your scanning partner can create an optimized process flow.

A way to think about this is “scanning” vs. “cataloging.” Scanning is the up front part, getting the images into a digital format. Cataloging is the back end indexing/organizing part, normally a bit more difficult depending on your requirements. If you decide on a simple roll-level indexing scheme, and have 500 rolls of film, you can expect 500 files named by roll container. You should not expect multiple document types to separate the varying kinds of content on the rolls, and then formatted into 10-page segments named by the employee ID#. That, my friends, is cataloging.

Now, if employee-level indexing is stated as a requirement up front, absolutely expect it to happen! But just be sure you’re clear on what you’re asking for, and what you receive.

There you have it, five ways to make your microfilm scanning project successful.

Further Reading

In a previous article we gave you some important first steps to prepare for and start a scanning project. If you haven’t read it yet, we encourage you to take a look by clicking this link: “How Do I Start A Microfilm Scanning Project?

2018-10-01T13:51:17+00:00September 12th, 2018|Microfilm|

How Do I Start A Microfilm Scanning Project?

A simple question, with simple answers. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy, of course, but we’ll do the best we can to make it that way. First, we’re glad you’re reading this article, because it means you’re curious about how to make your microfilm scanning project a success. Second, you’re reading our article, which always makes us happy. Our goal here is to give you some ideas before heading down the path of microfilm scanning, and we know you’ll find at least one nugget of useful information here. Let’s proceed, shall we?

4 Steps To Prepare For A Microfilm Scanning Project

If we wanted to, we could list dozens of steps to help you prepare for a microfilm scanning project. Dozens of steps could be a long read, though, so instead we boiled this article down to four larger steps to get your planning juices boiling as you embark upon the great crusade of digital conversion! Read on and open your mind to the wonders of microfilm scanning…

Step 1. Figure Out What You Have

One of the first questions we like to ask prospective clients is “what type of microfilm do you have (microfilm, microfiche, aperture cards, etc.), and how many?” You don’t need to have the exact number down to the roll of microfilm or sheet of microfiche, but a good estimate is a solid first step. Something as simple as “about 500 rolls” or “30,000-40,000 microfiche” is a great first step.

Not sure what type of microfilm you have? Click over to our “What Kind of Microfilm” page to get a better idea of the various formats you may have. And if you still can’t figure it out, a phone call with an expert (hint: BMI) will do the trick!

Here’s a bonus trick to count microfiche.

Microfiche are those small sheets that are close in size to an index card. You know, those cards  you used in grade school to learn how to spell words? Anyway, if you have even a small archive of microfiche, you’re not going to want to count out all the sheets to figure out a volume for your project. Luckily for anyone that’s ever had to deal with fiche, there’s a quick way to get an approximate number of fiche: when the sheets of fiche are stacked together, such as in a drawer, get a measure of the linear inches that the fiche take up and multiply that by 90. (90 is a rough number and will depend on if the fiche are stacked tight together, if they’re in sleeves, if there are numerous separators, etc.). This will get you a ballpark count of fiche!

Example: you have a 4-drawer cabinet of microfiche, and each drawer has two rows of fiche, front to back. The drawers are 15” deep. So, four drawers multiplied by two rows per drawer equals eight total rows. Eight rows multiplied by 15” per row equals 120”. 120” multiplied by 90 fiche per inch equals a total estimate of 10,800 fiche. Easy!

Step 2. Figure Out What You Want To Do

It’s nice to know what you have, but it’s even better to know what you want to do with it. Why is this step important? Good question! Let’s use an analogy:

Scenario A: you’re laying around on the couch, watching cartoons, and your stomach rumbles. Ok, time to get some food. You hop in the car and start driving around. And driving around. And around.

Let’s try a different approach.

Scenario B: you’re laying around on the couch, watching cartoons, and your stomach rumbles. Ok, time to get some food. You sit up and think for a minute or two and decide on a sandwich, and you remember a great place downtown. So you hop in the car and in ten minutes you’re at the shop ordering your hoagie.

Could you make Scenario A work? Sure, but it’s tedious and time-consuming, and seeing all the options on the drive may put you into analysis paralysis, which could mean hunger cramps and being hungry. Make your life easy and have a (general) idea of what you want to do before jumping into action.

What does this mean for a scanning project? Well, here are a few things you could have in mind … *DEEP BREATH* scanning resolution, file output format (e.g. PDF, TIF, black + white or grayscale images), index information (how to name your files once they’re digital), start date of project, desired completion schedule, budget, and so forth. Whew! Quite a few things to ponder, but well worth the effort.

Step 3. Decide How You Want To Do It

You know what you have and you know what you want to do with it. But how?! If you’re a DIY kind of person, we applaud you and wish you the best of luck. We can even give you some helpful advice to guide you on your way.

If you lean towards the “I can do it myself, but I have more important things to do” kind of person, we applaud you even more and would like to meet you. Specifically to scan your microfilm.

Step 4. Do It!

Time to roll up our sleeves, get in the trenches, put some back into it, and get your microfilm scanned! Really, though, digital scanning projects are (almost) never emergencies or urgent, so even if you’re not planning on starting scanning today, it’s a good idea to get the ball rolling so that it doesn’t surprise you when your boss says “hey, I want that film scanned. How are we doing it?”

Think ahead to get ahead. Planning early is the smart move, and we know you’re smart because you took the time to read this entire article, give you a leg up in your conversion project preparation.

Further Reading

If you’re curious how your project will run once we get the green light, take a look at our “How Does a Microfilm Conversion Project Work?” page to get an overview of our unique process.

2018-10-01T13:45:44+00:00August 7th, 2018|Microfilm|

JIIMA, Japan Document Management Association

JIIMA Spends Time at BMI

BMI Imaging was happy to have the Japan Image and Information Management Association (JIIMA) visit our California document scanning and document management service bureau as part of their Silicon Valley Tech Tour.

Document Scanning Solutions

Document Scanning Solutions

JIIMA spent six days in the San Francisco Bay Area, visiting various technology organizations (including ABBYY, Fujitsu and Adobe). We were honored to spend two hours with JIIMA.

Our meeting included a history of BMI and a facility tour that included security parameters in place to handle highly confidential client records. We demonstrated our document processing operations, microfilm conversion areas, indexing and quality assurance mechanisms and an on-site vault to store confidential client records. We also highlighted a uniquely developed process control system that we term Unify that offers a high-level dashboard of our entire service bureau workflow.

2018-11-26T13:37:46+00:00November 19th, 2015|Document Management|