“Digitization” holds the allure of a better future and a simpler life: “if all my hard copy records were digitized, everything would just fall into place!”
Digitally transforming your documents and creating electronic versions of your records can absolutely increase your organization’s data effectiveness and remove the stifling pain of handling physical copies. But in and of itself, digitization is not a magic bullet. You still need to put in some solid effort to make your project a success.
Below we dispel five myths about digitization, then turn it around and describe six benefits. After reading this, think to yourself, “is digitization the answer for me?”
What Is “Digitization?”
Digitization a catch-all term for the process of turning hard copy records into digital/electronic files. Other words that are often used interchangeably with digitization include scanning and conversion. In a general sense, they all mean the same thing when we’re referring to the digital transformation of hard copy records.
Myths About Records Digitization
We love digitization, we won’t deny it. But there are a handful of myths floating around that can skew the expectations of clients as they start their digital conversion journey. Below are five common myths about digitization that we want to illuminate so that you don’t get caught in a trap of unrealistic expectations.
Myth #1 – Digital is better than hard copy
The most prevalent myth about digitization is that it’s better than having hard copy documents.
First, what is “better?” Trying to define this can be hard, but it’s important to do when you start planning a scanning and conversion project. Don’t get us wrong, we want you to scan your physical records! But before you dive in, you need to know why you’re doing it and what you’re looking to accomplish.
A critical first step in a digital conversion project has nothing to do with scanning or creating electronic files; it has to do with defining success. Success is relative to the individual or team that’s executing the project, but you should know what it means for your job.
A simple way to start this process is to reverse engineer your project and start at the end, working backwards to the present time. By starting at the end, you define what “complete” means and then map out the steps to get there in reverse order. Neglecting this process can potentially have you end up still using your hard copy files, even after they’ve been digitized, because you didn’t have a plan and a goal in mind. Don’t let this happen to you!
If you don’t have an end goal in mind, you can finish a digitization project and still not be happy because there was no purpose behind it. Make sure that when you convert your physical documents to digital you’ve created a method that will ensure using those digital files will be “better” than reverting to the hard copies.
Myth #2 – Digital makes records easier to find
An inherent thought about digital files is that, because they’re digital, they will almost magically appear when you want them and search for them. With the amount of information available to us on the internet through various search engines, we’ve grown used to the idea that we should be able to just type in what we want and get the exact results (and instantaneously, too!).
This is a great goal to have for your digital files, but it has to be planned out properly. If you scan your records and don’t index (digitally name and organize) them in an effective way, you can really curb the effectiveness of your team’s efforts when they try to find the files later. Misnamed files can be close to impossible to find, so a solid indexing plan is essential to creating an effective document management system.
Also, if you decide to index your files by a single field such as “Applicant Number” from a physical folder of documents, you shouldn’t expect to later be able to search by Name, Date of Birth, Social Security Number, and so on. If those fields aren’t captured during indexing, they aren’t searchable fields! Just because the file has been digitized doesn’t necessarily mean you can search for anything related to that file and be expected to find it.
Myth #3 – Digital makes it faster to find records
Similar to myth #2, digital can make finding your records faster, but only if they’re organized in a way that allows them to be findable!
If you don’t create an indexing method that is usable for you and your colleagues, you’ll end up not knowing where the digital files are stored and you’ll probably revert to using the hard copies again. This is a terrible scenario, and we don’t want you to end up here.
A simple way to approach indexing, at least as a start, is to replicate the method by which you find your records now. Doing this will keep the familiarity of your current retrieval process, but will inherently be quicker because physical handling of the files is now eliminated.
Once you’ve created a retrieval process based on what you’re used to, and you make sure it works, you can then start to get fancy with your organization plan.
Myth #4 – Records can’t be destroyed when they’re digital
When we think of disaster scenarios we usually come up with images of earthquakes, fires, floods, and whatnot. In these situations it’s easy to imagine hard copy files (rooms full of paper records, cabinets of microfilm, etc.) being destroyed or damaged so badly that they become unusable. So once these physical materials are converted to electronic files, they’re safe, right? Maybe.
Even when you’ve digitized your records, there’s still a chance of destruction:
- If you keep your digital copies on a USB drive and it gets wet or kicked, it could stop working.
- Someone in your office can accidentally delete electronic records.
- If you have a server center in your building and an earthquake destroys it, unless you have a backup copy stored somewhere else, those files could be lost forever.
Those are just a few scenarios to illustrate that digital records don’t eliminate the chance of file destruction or loss. Proper backup methods need to be taken into account and implemented to ensure that your records are safe, even in the chance of a disaster.
Myth #5 – Digital records are more secure
The security of your records is critical. It doesn’t matter if they’re not confidential or don’t contain hyper-sensitive information; they’re your records and you want to keep them safe, both physically before they’re digitized and electronically once they’re scanned and converted.
As physical records, it seems to make sense that they’re not very secure: a locked cabinet can be picked, a door can be broken open, and your records are gone. Or, even a member of your organization can just walk into a room and take a file. Then there’s always the lack of security when it comes to physical records and natural disasters, as we mentioned in #4 above.
Once your documents are digital, it can feel like they’re more protected, especially from the natural disaster scenario. However, just as a lock can be picked, a “digital lock” can also be bypassed if your records management system isn’t set up properly. Having your records digitized is a step forward, but setting up access to those records is just as important. Some considerations to keep in mind for digital security:
- Who is the administrator of your digital records system?
- Which files are restricted? How are they segregated from other files?
- Who has permissions to access restricted files?
- Is access to your system locked to certain workstations, offices, IP addresses?
- How are logins and passwords generated and protected?
- Are there backup copies of your data in case of disaster?
Digitization can add a level of security to your data management if you execute it properly, but it is not in and of itself more secure. It’s up to you to make it happen!
Digitization Isn’t A Magic Bullet, But It Gives You Some Arrows In Your Quiver
Digitization isn’t all just doom and gloom, so now it’s time to lay out the benefits of digitizing your records. Below are six benefits you can get from converting your documents from hard copy and moving into the electronic space.
Benefit #1 – Digitization can make record retrieval more effective
If you do it right, digitization can make retrieving your records more effective. The key word is “if,” because as we mentioned in Myths #2 and #3, you can actually make things worse when digitization and indexing is done incorrectly.
When done in a practical way, digitizing can increase the organizational effectiveness of your archive and also provide you with a more efficient retrieval method than if the records were still physical copies. The critical point to remember is that digitizing, in and of itself, doesn’t make record retrieval more effective; it’s how you digitize and organize your documents that will bring you success.
Benefit #2 – Digitization reduces physical storage space
Once you scan and convert your documents into an electronic format, it’s likely that you can dispose of the physical copies. This may not be the right move for you depending on what your overall digitization and document management plan is, but it’s a common step in the conversion process for most of our clients.
When you have digital copies of your records, you can potentially free up a lot of space in your office or even remove the necessity to have a “parking spot” at an off-site storage facility. In the first case, the newly-available space can be used for other purposes that drive your organization forward, or in the second case allow you to remove the cost of storing records off-site.
Benefit #3 – Digitization can provide critical backup copies
When you digitize your records, you’re getting an electronic copy of the files. What’s great about digitization is that it’s so easy to make copies of the files, because you don’t have to hassle with physical copies.
Imagine you have 200 boxes of files that you need to keep for a long time. Having one copy of the files is a headache, because 200 boxes takes up a lot of room and contains roughly 500,000 pages. If you’re concerned about your copies being destroyed, lost, etc. and want a backup, making 500,000 copies of the physical versions seems crazy. But once you have digital copies of the records, making a backup is just a few clicks away! You can make as many backups as you want and you can feel better that if one copy is lost in some way, you still have the records.
One solution that many organizations have turned to is backup disaster recovery hosting through a third party – basically, you have a digital copy of your files and you also have a partner that keeps another copy safe in their secure hosting environment. This can be critical in case of a catastrophic event within your organization that wipes out all traces of your records; good thing you had a backup plan!
Benefit #4 – Digitization allows remote access
Remote work has been evolving for years and has become more common in all sizes of organizations in every industry. If you have physical copies of documents that your employees and colleagues need to access to do their work, but they’re not actually in the office to get them, what do you do? Make photocopies and scans then email the files? And what if the hard copy is 100 pages long, or in multiple folders, or a hard-bound oversize book? It’s doable, but time-consuming and not very productive.
Instead, what if your files were already in digital format? You could quickly locate and send the needed docs to your colleague, or you could have the records accessible on a collaborative hosted application. The upside of digitization for remote work is tremendous, and can be a game-changer for your remote teams.
Benefit #5 – Digitization saves time and costs over the long run
When you scan and convert your hard copy records, you create the potential to save both time and cost for you and your organization. There are many ways this can play out depending on which particular pain points you’re experiencing with your document management and which ones get resolved through digitization.
One common cost-saver is physical storage space reduction. Not all instances of digitization will save you money compared to storing your records, but in many instances it will. Depending on the size of your physical record archive, how often you access the records, and the cost of storage, digitizing will be the cost-effective choice going forward compared to storage.
Benefit #6 – Digitization eliminates hardware needs
This benefit is a bit more niche than the others because we’re focusing on microfilm, microfiche, and aperture cards with this one. If you have any of these types of microforms, you’re likely burdened with a reader-printer or two. These can be useful in certain situations and for certain folks that have a specific use case. On the aggregate, digitization provides the biggest bang for your buck.
When you digitize, you don’t have to continue to use the hardware! This alleviates the hassle of breakdowns, maintenance, and just using a physical machine. Also, the time consumed by using hardware (finding your microfiche, putting it on the machine, searching for a record, printing/scanning, then re-filing the fiche) is eliminated. Instead, you just search for the file you need from your workstation and it pops up within seconds. More details can be found in our “replace your microfiche reader” article.
Now that we’ve dispelled a few myths and clarified the benefits of digitization, are you ready to “bite the bullet” and start your digital conversion project? Call us at 800.359.3456 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get connected with one of our reps.
Take a look at a few of our other articles that describe various parts of your digitization journey:
“The BMI Milestone 1 Proof Of Concept Process” is our method of creating your digital conversion project so that we make sure you’re happy when the project’s complete. Our three-phased approach (build, test, refine) is a critical step in making sure your project is crafted properly and starts off in the right direction.
“Choosing A Partner For Your Secure Scanning Project” describes some things you should look for when you’re going to digitize your records. We talk a lot about security, and choosing the right scanning partner is a major part of keeping your records safe.
“The Price Of Digitization” illustrates how costs fit into a digital conversion project. A key consideration is the difference between upfront costs and total costs. If you don’t know the difference, you could end up paying heavily in the future.