Digital conversion projects can be simple, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. The concept of turning records from analog to digital is straightforward, but there are many little obstacles that can pop up along the way.

In this article we’ll give you some “dos” that’ll get your project moving in the right direction (success!) as well as some “don’ts” that you’ll want to avoid.

The “Dos” For Successful Conversion

Start Small, Start Simple

The first thing to consider when you’re looking at digitization is to start small and keep things simple. 

There’s an old acronym, KISS, which stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” We don’t want to think of ourselves as stupid, but the phrase is really just saying to not overcomplicate things.

Keep it simple written out on a post-it note

Throwing yourself into a complex situation without proper planning can lead to missteps. The key to starting simply is to take a high-level approach, set a direction for your project, and focus on solving for the majority (90%) of it. 

Don’t get tangled up in the exceptions. That 10% of your project will always include some aspects that are out of the box and require special handling. However, if you focus too heavily on that, you will spend more time addressing these minor issues than managing the majority of the project, which will provide a greater return on your efforts.

Building Block Approach

The next step that you want to think about is what we call the building block approach

The building block approach is essentially about viewing your project from a high-level perspective, like a bird’s-eye overview. You start by building a solid foundation and gradually add different aspects to your project as you progress. 

Let’s take the example of paper scanning: if you have a couple of hundred boxes of files, implementing the building block method would involve first recognizing that you need these documents digitized and converted into a usable electronic format, this forms your foundation. You might start with basic file-level indexing so you can access and find these records effectively.

Hand putting a block on a stack of other blocks

The next level, or building block, might be realizing that you could index not just at the file level, but at the subsection level within these folders. Once you have a solid foundation and know that you can have those files scanned and indexed accurately, you might want to start indexing these subsections of a folder. 

Following this, the next layer of the building block could be importing these digitized files into an existing system. Therefore, you might need a specific load file so that your scanning partner can provide it to you in a format that’s compatible with your document management system.

From an outside perspective, building a solid foundation and making sure you’re doing the basic things well allows you to add complexity as you progress, ensuring you’re not deviating from the project’s main objective of producing usable, accessible, and effective files.

Replicate Your Current Indexing

This next step is closely linked to the ‘start small and simple’ principle and the building block approach: replicating your current indexing refers to a fundamental aspect of a digitization project’s simplicity. 

Said differently, take how you currently locate your files in a physical format and replicate it in a digital format.

White knight chess piece next to black knight chess piece

Using a paper scanning project as an example again, we’ll say your files are stored in boxes labeled with a specific name range. To retrieve a record you’d start by locating the box, find the name range, and then gloss over the individual folders by the folder tab to find that record. 

The best way to start–from the digital perspective–could be to replicate this process before doing anything else. 

By copying the physical method of retrieval, you’re not only keeping things simple and adhering to the building block approach but also keeping the files in a familiar format for easy use once they are digitized. 

Some people fall into the trap of over-complicating the indexing process with too many details, making the files hard to find later. Even attempts to add things that aren’t on those folder tabs can cause disruptions, delays, or obstacles that halt your project because you’re adding data points to your current system that are not necessary.

If you replicate your current indexing, you’re on a great start. Again, you’re maintaining familiarity and keeping it simple.

Decide What You Need

This last point may seem superfluous, like “how would I not know what I need if I’m undertaking a digitization project?” However, it actually happens more often than you might think. 

Before diving into discussions with potential scanning partners or advancing your project, you really need to determine why you’re undertaking this project.

Businessman standing in front of three doors, trying to decide which to choose

You don’t necessarily need to have the perfect solution in mind, but having a solid 70% idea of your final destination is essential. If you start engaging with scanning companies and work begins without a clear goal, you may get caught up in the project details and lose sight of the overall desired outcome. Establishing an overall direction from the start is indeed necessary.

The “Don’ts” To Avoid

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

The first pitfall to avoid is biting off more than you can chew with a project. This is essentially the opposite of the ‘start small and simple’ approach. Just because you’re digitizing doesn’t mean you need to dive deep into elaborate, complex, and overly precise solutions without first considering what you currently have. The initial goal should be to effectively access these records and make the transition from the analog to the digital realm. 

Man trying to eat a large hamburger

Starting off with an overly ambitious idea can bog you down by getting wrapped up in minutiae and causing analysis paralysis before you even collaborate with a scanning company expert.  

Instead, aim for a 70% solution – have a general idea of where you want to go and discuss a few potential options with someone who knows how to execute the project. Then, craft your scope of work and your solution using those ideas with the end destination in mind.

Complex Indexing For The Sake Of Indexing

Don’t complicate the indexing process just for the sake of it. 

A great quote in this context is from Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, played by Jeff Goldblum. He criticizes the scientists at Jurassic Park by saying, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

This applies to digitization, and more particularly to indexing: just because you can make your indexing very detailed and highly complex, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. The best starting point is to replicate what you currently do. This approach ensures that the process is familiar, and it keeps things simple.

Man trying to untangle a knot of strings

Once you’ve digitized and indexed your records in a straightforward way, you can always add more complex elements. However, adding too many complexities up front can cause problems. If things don’t work out, it is difficult and more costly to revert the changes, especially after you have spent the time, money and resources implementing a system that didn’t work out.

Not Having A Plan

Not having any plan at all is a definite “don’t” for digital conversion projects. You don’t have to have the perfect plan, because there never is one, but you should have a pretty solid idea of where you want to go, what success means to you, and what you want the project to end up like.

Woman standing in front of a whiteboard with planning notes

Having a 70% plan is the best place to start because even if you do have a 100% plan, it’s going to change along the way. You’re going to discover things that you and your scanning partner didn’t even know about and you’re going to have to adjust. So having a good plan that will get you most of the way there and then having the ability to adapt along the way is the best way to avoid this pitfall.

Focusing Solely On Price

The final ‘don’t’ is focusing solely on price. Of course, price is important, because if you lack the financial resources to pay for something, it’s not going to pan out. You also don’t want to be gouged by high prices just because someone has the option to charge exorbitantly. However, you need to consider what you’re getting for that price and the value you’re receiving. Often, if you’re talking to multiple scanning companies, you’ll receive quotes based on discretely different pricing methods.

Hanger rack of clothes with discount signs

For instance, when scanning microfilm, one company might price the project at the microfilm roll level while another might charge per image. If you don’t yet know the quantity of your rolls, you’ll be working with an estimate. Even if you do have an exact roll count, the number of images on each roll can vary greatly. So, you’ll never truly know the image count until you’ve completed scanning. Hence, if someone is pricing per image and provides an estimated number of images per roll, they could be way off—either high or low. Ultimately, you might end up with an entirely different invoice than expected because it’s difficult to know for sure until the project is done. 

Besides, when getting quotes from different companies for the same project, you need to ensure you’re making an accurate comparison and not comparing apples to oranges. Try to break it down and understand their pricing structures so you can compare apples to apples. Otherwise, you might end up paying extra because you didn’t comprehend how the pricing compared.

Seek out comparisons of scopes of work and ask questions to your potential scanning partner like “This other company is doing this, so how would you compare?” This way, you’d ensure the scopes of work align and you’re obtaining the value you actually expect, and not just basing your decision on price.

A person holding an apple and and orange

You should know how a company prices its projects, working off their estimates whenever possible. However, typically, these remain estimates. At the end of the day, price should not be the sole determinant of your project’s success. You must have confidence that you’re getting what you need at a reasonable price. Don’t hesitate to clarify your assumptions by asking questions.

Where Do You Start?

To get started, the first thing you need to decide is whether you’re going to do it yourself (DIY) or work with a scanning partner. If you’re opting for DIY, you need to have the people available for scanning, processing, post image processing, and everything else that the scanning demands. You’re also going to have to invest in the machines for it. On the other hand, if you’re choosing to work with a partner, it’s crucial to understand their process, security measures, cost factors, overall management of projects, and what they’ve accomplished in the past. 

Absolutely, asking a lot of questions from your potential partner is key. Initially, you may not know all the questions to ask, but as discussions unfold, you may start thinking of more questions to ask. The more you ask, the better you’ll understand the process and build your trust in the company you’re consulting. It will help ensure the end result aligns with your expectations and stays within your allotted budget.

Business person and customer talking happily

Multiple conversations are beneficial throughout this process. When you reach out to a scanning partner, they’ll initiate a discovery conversation with you to understand what you have, how many records you possess, your expectations, timeline, and more. After the initial calls, even if you initiate a sample phase or move further into the project, continue engaging and asking questions. Maintain constant communication with your partners even during the project’s execution. This helps ensure you’re receiving the results for which you are paying. 

Lastly, if you do decide to work with a scanning partner, start with small steps. There’s no need to jump into a massive project after just one conversation. A sample phase might be beneficial, where you can assess the quality of their scans, the indexing, and their work process. Following that, a pilot project could be considered before moving into a full-scale project. These small steps can boost your confidence, allowing for an iterative approach that gradually builds up towards the full project phase.

Next Steps

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Further Reading

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