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So far Will Whitney has created 5 blog entries.

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|