Should I scan my records, or just keep them in storage?

This question is the one that gets the research started to decide what’s better for you and your company, team, or organization: to keep physical copies of your documents or to scan them into an electronic format.

When it comes to document scanning vs. document storage, everyone has their own opinion and it can be hard to decide which is the best option for you; it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. We’ll cover some key items for you to consider as you make your choice about which option will work for you.

What Is Records Scanning?

Records scanning is the process of converting hard copy materials (such as paper files or microfilm rolls) into a digital format (i.e. PDFs). 

The process varies from scanning company to scanning company, and from material type to material type. For instance, the way we scan large format engineering drawings is much different than how we scan microfiche sheets. And the process that we (BMI) use to convert these records will differ from how another company handles the same records. 

Scanning services are pretty similar overall, but each company has its own special sauce to create digital images.

How does records scanning work?

At a high level, records scanning starts with preparing the material so that it’s ready to go through a scanner, then scanning the documents, and finally doing some post-processing work on the now-digitized files to index the files and prepare them for digital delivery.

Reasons to scan

Some of the primary reasons that companies scan their hard copy records into digital files are:

Storage Facility

What Is Records Storage?

Records storage is keeping your hard copy documents for retrieval or retention purposes, either at your own office or an off-site storage facility or records center.

How are records stored?

Physical records (paper records, medical records, books, microfilm, microfiche, etc.) are normally stored in boxes, in cabinets, or on shelves/racks. Depending on how many files you have, and how much space is available, you might be using a single closet to store a few boxes of documents, or you may have 20 cabinets full of microfiche lining your building. 

If you have microfilm (including microfiche and aperture cards) be sure that your storage facility is properly maintained, otherwise you might end up with deteriorated and ruined records!

Why is records storage important?

Records storage is important because the information contained on your documents is either necessary for daily operations or it’s required to maintain because of records retention guidelines. If you only have a hard copy version of the files, you may not be able to dispose of it.

Reasons to store

  • Retention requirement (long-term storage) 
  • Low access, don’t need it around
  • Limited funding to scan / cheaper to store

Costs Of Records Scanning And Storage

The costs of scanning will vary from project to project since so much depends on the specifics of what you have and what you want done. Storage costs should be more standardized when it comes to pricing, though storage companies will have rates based on the location of the facility, the security levels required for your material, access frequency, and so on.

How much will you pay for records scanning?

Ok folks, this is going to be a mile-high birdseye view of scanning prices, because we can’t cover the thousands of variations that we’ve seen over decades of digital conversion projects.

Microfilm scanning can be in the $20 – 40 / roll range, microfiche scanning in the $1 – 4 / sheet range, and paper scanning in the $200 – 400 / box range (for a banker’s box of office-size pages). 

This isn’t set in stone and we’re just trying to give you a ballpark idea of what it may cost you to have your records scanned, but to get an accurate price we’d need to chat with you about your project details and understand more before offering a price. 

Check out our page here for details on microfilm scanning prices, or click here for microfiche scanning price specifics.

How much will you pay for records storage?

Box storage prices seem to range from about $0.30 – 1 / cubic foot / month for off-site storage, though there’s probably a lot more that goes into it than that. We’re not in the storage business so we can’t get too scientific here, but the range above is generally an acceptable baseline.

Easy and Difficult Paths

Example Scenarios & Recommendations

Below are four scenarios that lay out a choice for either document storage or document scanning. For each four, we give our recommendation and reasoning. 

In Scenarios 1 and 2, the situation is that you have 500 boxes of office-sized paper records that are organized by folder. 

In Scenarios 3 and 4, the situation is that you have 100 microfilm rolls.

Scenario 1 – Lots of records, lots of access 

With 500 boxes under your care, you could have around 1.25 million pages of information. For this scenario, we’ll assume that the records are accessed frequently – something in around 8 requests per day. When a request comes in, one of your staff has to be assigned the request, go to the box and find the record, make a copy of the file (either photocopy or scan), send the file to the requestor, then re-file the document. Let’s use 30 minutes for this entire process. 

At 30 minutes per request and 8 requests per day, that comes to 1,040 hours per year fulfilling requests. And to make it simple, let’s use $20/hour as the labor rate for the folks fulfilling this job. That’s $20,800 per year spent on request fulfillment!

Now let’s look at scanning. If you keep the project scope simple, you could be looking at something in the $175/box range to get your entire archive scanned into digital. That’s $87,500. Yes, that’s not a number to sneeze at, but once you digitize your files, it’ll take your staff significantly less time to search, locate, and deliver record requests. Instead of 30 minutes per record, you’re looking at 5 minutes. It’s just an index search, download and save, and an email away. 

In about four years you’re breaking even (since you’re now saving about $20,000/year by not physically retrieving files), and after year four you’re in the black. 

If you decide to store, you’re paying about $1/box/month, so $500/month or $6,000 per year. But then you’re still constantly pulling files for requests, so you wouldn’t want it inaccessible to you anyway! Yes, many storage companies can fulfill your records requests, for a fee. Though it seems lower cost, the total price will go on for a very long time since you’re not getting the files scanned in bulk – it’ll take years for the individual requests to all be scanned and fully digitized. 

With so many requests, it doesn’t make sense to store the files – they’re too active!

Our recommendation is to SCAN.

Scenario 2 – Lots of records, minimal access 

We’ll use the same box count as in Scenario 1 here: 500 boxes, ~1.25 million pages. In this instance, our assumption is that you rarely need to access the files – maybe just a file or two per month. The effort to locate, copy, and send the requested file is still about 30 minutes per request, but it’s only once or twice a month. 

In this case, you’re spending maybe an hour per month doing retrievals. That’s twelve hours per year at $20/hr for a grand total of $240/year. This is so small as to be pretty much insignificant. 

If you figure scanning will be $175/box for a total of $87,500, it’d take 364 years to make the scanning investment break even. Not a very good ROI. 

Storage would cost $6,000/year until you can get rid of the files, so that seems the better way forward. 

Our recommendation is to STORE.

Scenario 3 – Not many records, lots of access 

Changing things up, we’re now assuming that you have 100 rolls of microfilm, which would be about 250,000 pages of information. And let’s also assume that these rolls of film are accessed a lot, about 5 requests per day. 

With microfilm, when a request comes in one of your team will be assigned the request, will have to find the roll, put it on a reader/printer machine, find the file, make a copy of the file (either scan or print), send the file to the requestor, then re-file the microfilm in it’s storage cabinet. Let’s say this cycle takes 15 minutes.

At 15 minutes per request and 5 requests per day, that comes to 325 hours per year fulfilling requests. Using $20/hour as the labor rate for your people doing this work, that’s $6,500 per year spent on request fulfillment!

Taking a look at a scanning project, if you keep the project scope simple then you’re going to be somewhere in the $40/roll range. That’s $4,000. Total. One time. And, once you’re using digital documents it’ll drastically reduce the time spent finding files – instead of 15 minutes it’ll now take 2-3 minutes per request. 

In less than one year you’re breaking even, and every year after that you’re saving $6,500. That’s pretty awesome and a clear financial and time-saving plan.

Our recommendation is to SCAN.

Scenario 4 – Not many records, minimal access 

Same set up as Scenario 3 (100 rolls of microfilm), but this time you’re barely accessing the data, maybe two times per month. 

The time it takes to fulfill the request is still 15 minutes, but at only twice per month that’s 30 minutes per month, only 6 hours per year. At $20/hour for your employees, that’s $120/year, pretty much nothing. 

If you decide to scan, you’re spending about $4,000. The return for scanning isn’t really financially appealing, but it’s not that large of a project sum to blow it off.

In this case, since the requests are so few, it makes sense to just store the records offsite (or even in your office). However, the price to get them digitized is also fairly small, so scanning is an option if you just don’t want to deal with microfilm anymore. 

Our recommendation is to either STORE or SCAN.

Next Steps 

Are you leaning towards scanning and imaging your records? If that’s a big yes for you, call us at 800.359.3456 or send an email to info@bmiimaging.com and you can work with one of our salespeople to create a project scope and see how much it’ll cost to scan. 

If you’d rather go forward with pure hard copy storage, we’re probably not the right fit but may have some recommendations for you. 

Further Reading

For more information about scanning and digital conversion, take a look at the articles below:

“How Much Does Microfilm Scanning Cost?” illustrates the 9 factors that affect the price you pay when you get your microfilm scanned. This is a great starting point to get a ballpark budget for your project. 

“Breaking Down The Box” is a short guide on approaching your paper scanning project. If you have records in boxes, folders, shelves, or cabinets, this article lays out some key considerations for you to review as you plan you digital conversion.

“The BMI Project Review Process” is our 14-step process to turn your project idea into a reality. If you decide to digitize your records with us, this is how we’ll help you execute the plan.