“What’s your QA process?”

It’s a question we’ve heard hundreds of times, and you may have even asked it yourself. For such a simple question, you wouldn’t think that it leads to a quagmire of confusion, but it does. QA, or “quality assurance,” carries a lot of baggage and can mean many things to different people. 

What we’ll do for you is break down some of the mystery surrounding QA and help you figure out what it is and what you can get from it during your digital scanning project.

What Is Quality Assurance?

Quality assurance is “all the planned and systematic activities implemented within the quality system that can be demonstrated to provide confidence that a product or service will fulfill requirements for quality.” That’s a mouthful. Said another way, it’s the processes that are in place to make sure something is done correctly. 

Quality control is “the operational techniques and activities used to fulfill requirements for quality,” or the actual activities used to check the product and ensure quality.

(both the above from ASQ and are ISO 9000 definitions)

These two terms, quality assurance and quality control, are often used interchangeably even though they technically mean different things. 

When clients ask for quality assurance and quality control, it’s because they want to have confirmation that their information is being captured and indexed correctly. If you’re working with a project that has millions of images, it’s a good idea to not just hope for the best. Instead, you’ll want a way to verify that your data is being captured properly, at least to the degree you can realistically do so.

When we start conversations with clients, quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) doesn’t always come up, but when it does it can become an interesting topic. The hardest part about QA/QC is that it can range from doing absolutely nothing to checking everything, and people don’t always know what they want.


A conversation might go like this:

Client: “What’s your QA?”

Sales rep: “It varies depending on the project specs. What would you like?”

Client: “Ummm, what do other people do?”

Sales rep: “Some just have us review images while scanning, some do a 10% check, and we have one clint with 100% hard copy-to-digital inspection.”

Client: “Oh wow. Ok, let’s do a 10% check.”

Sales rep: “Sure. 10% of what, the individual images or the files?”

Client: “What’s the difference?”

Sales rep: “Well, your project is 100 boxes of files, and each box has about 2,500 pages batched into around 40 files. So, if we did 10% on the images, that would be checking 25,000 images. If we do 10% of files, we’d check 400 files, regardless of how many images are produced.”

And so on…


The above dialogue is somewhat tongue-in-cheek (we’re not trying to play “there’s a hole in my bucket” with clients!) but even with a little satire, there’s a hint of truth in there. The point is that QA can have a wide range of possibilities, and if you’d like a specific method of checking your material, just let us know.

And yes, we do have baseline methods of QA depending on which type of project we’re running for you. 

How Does Quality Assurance Relate To Digital Conversion?

When you’re scanning records into digital images and files, you’re immediately creating a next-generation copy of that record. For example, if you work at a library and you have a collection with years of hard copy newsprint that gets scanned, you’re making a second-generation copy of that paper. If you also have microfilm of the newspaper, you’re making a third-generation copy. The more steps removed that each image is from the original, the more chance that the image quality could degrade, so it’s important to make sure that the digital scans created are as good as possible.

QA’ing digital scans can work as a catching feature to make sure that the images being created are legible and as good as can be made as a next-gen copy from the source. 

QA Types

Three common types of QA for converted images are hard copy to digital, digital to digital, and indexing.

Hard copy to digital

Hard copy to digital is the most laborious of the QA methods because it requires an individual to physically handle a hard copy record and compare it to the newly created digital image. 

An example of hard copy to digital QA is lab notebook scanning. Let’s say that you gave us 100 lab notebooks to scan, and each notebook has 100 pages (10,000 pages total). If you asked us to do 100% hard copy to digital QA, one of our employees would be required to sit at a workstation with the notebooks, and turn page-by-page while visually comparing the physical notebook to the electronic images. They’d be checking to ensure that a) each page was actually scanned and captured, and b) that the quality of the scans provides legible images in digital form.

You can imagine how long this would take and how expensive it could become. Yes, the above example is 100% QA, so that could be reduced to 20%, 10%, whatever, but the general idea of hard copy to digital is a slow and expensive process.

Microfiche conversion

QA operator reviewing a sheet of microfiche. A hard copy to digital check would require looking at the individual microfiche images and comparing them to the digital results – labor intensive!

Digital to digital

Another type of QA is digital to digital, which would typically be used in the case of a legacy data migration project. For instance, if your company had some digital images and files on a database that you wanted to get rid of, you might transfer that data to a new application before retiring the old system. Once the migration is complete, you’d want to be sure that it was successful and all the data was transferred.

To QA this type of project, you might provide us with a copy of your database before we start the migration. Once the migration is complete, we can cross-check your original database with the newly transferred files and check that they successfully made the transition.

Indexing verification

The third type of QA is checking the indexing of your digital files. When you convert a record from hard copy to digital, you have to name it something so that it can be organized and found later. Usually, the name of the file will replicate what’s on the hard copy, such as a book title, folder tab, or microfilm label.

Once the record is electronically converted, you’ll want to be sure that it’s named properly so that when you look for it later you can find it. 

Let’s use a roll of microfilm as an example. Once the roll is scanned, we’d have an employee verify the indexing was done correctly by showing them an image of the roll label, which shows the data on the roll, and have them check that against the name of the digital file, such as a PDF. If the file name and the image of the original record match, we’re good to go. If there’s a mismatch, we’d flag it as an exception to correct it and also investigate why it was incorrect in the first place. 

Microfiche Title

Title strip of a microfiche sheet. A QA operator would check this image (the original) against the resultant file, such as “2330.PDF.”

What Are My Options For QA?

At the end of the day, the QA standard is up to you. What you want, you should get. But remember that the more stringent and complex the QA, the more likely you’ll have a higher price for your project. 

Here are a couple of examples:

5% QA of physical files

You have 300 boxes of files, organized by folders within each box, and you ask for a 10% QA. To make it more specific, we determine that 10% of files within each box will be QA’d by doing a hard copy to digital check. 

As we scan your records, each box will be reviewed and QA’d. If a box has 100 folders in it, 5 of those folders will be randomly selected and checked against the digital images. This will happen for all boxes across the project.

The key here is that 5% of the files will be checked, regardless of how many pages are within those folders.

5% QA of scanned images

Let’s do a twist on the above scenario. Same project, but this time you ask for 5% QA and agree that the QA will be done based on images per box, not files. 

This can get more difficult, because a box has an average of 2,500 pages. And pages can be front/back, which can potentially double the scanned image count. We’ll keep it simple and assume all pages are one-sided. 

Once the images are scanned, a 5% QA would require us to check 125 randomly selected images. But where are those images? Since we’re not checking based on the file/folder, we may have to go into every single folder to look at a page or two. That can be expensive!

AQL

One method we employ is called AQL, or “Acceptable Quality Limit.” From QualityInspection.org, AQL is the “quality level that is the worst tolerable in ISO 2859-1.” That sounds bad, but with further explanation it gets better: “It represents the maximum number of defective units, beyond which a batch is rejected.” Much less scary!

AQL is more or less a system of identifying how many units in a batch can be defective before that batch is flagged as unacceptable. If you click the link to QualityInspection.org you’ll see their article that describes in detail the method and application of AQL. There are tables, inspection levels, batch sizes, and more that are used to create a QA spec.

Interestingly, AQL allows some units to be defective during quality control. Just because something is found that was incorrect, that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire project is bad. The key to AQL is that once a threshold is crossed for defective units, a next-level quality check is implemented. And if you’re wondering, if we find something wrong during our QA we’ll fix it, even if it’s below the threshold.

Overall, you should be careful what you ask for. Any method of QA can be done, but just make sure you understand what you’re asking for, the difficulty level of the QA, and how much it can cost you. And if there’s a simpler method to get similar results, maybe that’s best.

How Much Does QA Cost?

The price for the QA portion of your project will ultimately depend on the level of QA you ask for. Generally, the more detailed and extreme the QA request, the higher the cost. Some QA processes can be automated while others are manual and labor-intensive.

Next Steps

Are you planning to start a digital conversion project and are concerned about QA? Reach out to us by calling 800-359-3456 or send us a short email to info@bmiimaging.com.  

We’ll get you set up with one of our reps to review your project and see if we’d be a good fit to work together.

Further Reading

To learn more about digital conversion, below are some suggested articles. We’ve included two articles about processes we utilize during conversion projects because of the tie-in to quality and process control.

“The BMI Microfilm Scanning Process” describes our 10-step method of scanning your microfilm. You should know what happens to your microfilm when you work with a scanning company!

“What You Should Expect During Your Digital Conversion Project” highlights some items that you should (and should not) expect during your scanning project. Topics include customer assumptions, general project info, and partner expectations. 

“The BMI Project Review Process” illustrates our step-by-step approach to take your digital conversion project from idea to reality. If you want to know how we do what we do and what you can expect from us, this is a great place to start.