As you embark on your paper scanning project, it’s essential to anticipate potential hurdles. It’s not as straightforward as feeding paper into a machine. From preparing the documents to handling digital formats and the appropriate storage solutions, there are a number of challenges that might come your way (or your scanning partner’s way!).
This article describes the top five challenges commonly experienced in paper scanning projects so you can ready yourself with the knowledge to tackle them head-on, understand what they entail, and ensure your project goes smoothly!
Challenge 1: Material Condition & Quality
The first challenge with paper documents in a digital conversion project pertains to the quality of the original materials. Paper, due to its natural tendencies, can be categorized into good, fair, or poor condition. The condition depends on how the materials were handled while in storage or during use. This condition will eventually determine the scanned output.
Good condition paper is clean, with minimal tears or rips—thus requiring less preparation before scanning.
Fair condition indicates the need for some corrections, such as taping or unfolding, or removing bindings like staples, paper clips, rubber bands, etc.
Poor condition, on the other hand, means many repairs will be required; for instance, rips, tears, soiled, or crumpled pages. Such papers require significant preparation and can present challenges in scanning.
The condition of the material is critical to a paper scanning project. The poorer the condition of the records, the longer it will take to prepare for scanning. In severe cases, some pages may not be scannable at all, or they might require a different method of scanning than planned initially. For instance, if you’re scanning office-size documents such as HR records using high-speed scanners, and some materials are in poor condition, they may require overhead scanning, which is more time-consuming, manual, and labor-intensive, thereby increasing costs. So, it’s clear—it’s not just about slowing down the process; poor condition papers can also escalate the project costs.
Challenge 2: Image Capture & File Size
A common challenge encountered in paper scanning projects is managing the file sizes. When undertaking a digitization project, you have image format options like bitonal (black and white images), grayscale images, or color images.
Bitonal, or black and white images, are the smallest in size which makes them quicker to retrieve in the system, and they require minimal storage. This option is often best for high-quality materials that are simple and do not need any additional tonality, like you would get with grayscale or color versions of the file. However, one downside of bi-tonal images is they capture purely black or white colors. Therefore, if there is light handwriting on a file, the software might not recognize that pixel as black because it does not meet the threshold, causing it to be invisibly present on the black and white image.
With grayscale images, you can capture gradation and tonality from the images, allowing for more nuance. For instance, if you have a lot of handwritten files or documents with variations in presentation, grayscale could be beneficial due to its ability to capture such nuances. However, grayscale does produce larger file sizes which could pose storage problems when dealing with larger projects. Traditional crop images, such as multi-page PDFs in grayscale, may be too large, causing the PDF to crash upon opening. Therefore, this should be carefully considered when scanning large amounts of microfilm or similar projects as they require substantial storage space and can potentially create operational issues.
Lastly, color scanning can be effective for replicating the original document in its exact form. As you may expect, color scanning produces even larger files than grayscale. If file size is an issue, you might want to avoid using color. However, for some records, like title official record books or lab notebooks, where different color notations may differentiate crucial information, the use of color could be essential to your project. In such cases, you need to be prepared for the larger file size and consider how the files will be delivered as the final product.
Challenge 3: Volume and Time Constraints
The third challenge in paper scanning projects is managing volume and time constraints. If you have a smaller project, say around 50 boxes or fewer, this may not pose much of a problem from the volume side. But when you’re dealing with larger projects, encompassing hundreds or even thousands of boxes, the resources required can be intensive. Add to that time constraints, like processing 3,000 boxes in a single year, and you have a challenge that will test both your team and the company undertaking the scanning. This is due to the need to allocate resources effectively amidst competing projects and other commitments. Most companies have finite resources and personnel to work on projects, hence it’s a constant juggle to maximize resources while delivering projects effectively.
To successfully complete a large-volume project within a given time frame, the initial stages of the project are critical. In our case, we use our Milestone 1 Proof of Concept process to build out the individual project flow, test it, and get your approval before moving on with the bulk of the project. By doing this, we can clarify any requirements, make sure everyone is on the same page, and confirm we are delivering the agreed-upon product stated in our contract and scope of work. This initial agreement mitigates the potential disaster of delivering a final project that doesn’t meet expectations and allows us to adjust the process and methodologies based on any nuances or anomalies that may pop up during the proof-of-concept stage.
When dealing with large-volume projects, you typically get a lower per-unit price due to the high-volume bulk pricing. However, adding a tight time constraint could potentially negate this bulk pricing. If you set a timeline for your project that doesn’t align with a standard project timeframe, for instance asking for a 500 boxes project which would usually take five months to be completed in two months, there may be additional costs. This is due to the need to adjust existing projects and rework commitments to dedicate the necessary resources to your project.
Challenge 4: Indexing & File Organization
The fourth challenge is indexing. In simple terms, indexing is the digital organization of your files once they’ve been scanned. The complexity of organizing and indexing files arises from the nuanced characteristics of your records that may only be known by you and your staff. During a digital conversion project, clients often attempt in-depth indexing, creating a sort of digital organization magic bullet that deviates significantly from the original physical format of the records. However, we recommend replicating the original organization system and employing a building block approach for your conversion project as well as for indexing your files.
If, for instance, you have a few hundred boxes of records containing student files organized in folders, a good place to start indexing is by the folders’ parameters. This could be the student’s name, date of birth, and graduation year. These variables can be captured, a file can be created from the pages within that folder, and voila! You have your digital deliverable. Starting like this is more strategic than diving into page-level indexing or creating subsections from pages that require identification and discernment by people unfamiliar with the actual files. As you replicate, you remain familiar with how to find these records; the method of retrieval does not change as you transition from analog to digital. Once you receive the files and use them in this format, you can decide whether to undertake a more in-depth organization later. Just like cutting hair, you can always chop more, but you can’t put back what’s already been cut.
The worst case scenario would be to undertake complex indexing, receive your deliverables, and then realize it’s difficult to locate files because the indexing system does not match the one you’re used to, which renders it counterintuitive. At this point, you’ve already spent money on the project, making it challenging and costly to rectify.
This is why we recommend starting with familiar, straightforward indexing and then moving forward based on your specific needs and understanding of how the files are organized; otherwise known as the “building block approach.”
Challenge 5: Security and Privacy Concerns
Lastly, but certainly not least, are the security and privacy concerns of your records. When conducting a paper scan project with any type of record, not just confidential or sensitive ones, it’s crucial to ensure they’re secure. You should check with the company you’re considering working with or researching and ask about their security processes. Do they adhere to specific rules and regulations? Do they hold any certifications? Are they audited regularly? These concerns remain relevant even for public information because these are still your records. It’s paramount that they’re handled correctly, both physically and digitally, to minimize any risks.
If you’re dealing with sensitive records such as medical documents, it would be behoove you to ask:
- Is your company HIPAA compliant?
- How do you protect these records during handling?
If you’re handling law enforcement or criminal records, you might ask:
- Are you a CJIS-listed company that I can work with
- Will you adhere to the FBI’s CJIS Security Policy?
If you’re working with student records or employee files, asking questions about FERPA compliance and data protection measures is equally important. These are critical inquiries based on the type of your project.
Moreover, it’s essential to know that security measures span both physical and digital domains. Understanding how your potential partner handles both of these realms is completely valid. While your records are in their physical form, they need to be protected against potential disasters such as water damage and unauthorized access. Once digitized, it’s crucial to ensure these records are segregated based on sensitivity, audited, and protected from both external threats and unauthorized internal access. If you’re not sure what to look for, you can also ask about the company’s recent audits; the SOC 2 audit is a solid standard.
To conclude on the subject of security, we always advise our clients, and those considering working with us, to follow their instincts. You may get all the right answers, but if something doesn’t “feel” right, do not ignore it. The key factor here is trust; these are your records, and you want to feel comfortable in handing them over to a third party for digitization.
Conclusion: Navigating Challenges for Successful Paper Scanning
Even though it may seem daunting, tackling the numerous hurdles in paper scanning projects is not an impossible task. The key lies in learning from the five common challenges we’ve discussed and developing strategies to overcome them. You might face setbacks related to document preparation, understandability of the content, choice of technology, dealing with large volumes, or keeping a check on the budget.
Remember, preparation is the cornerstone of any successful project. Investing time on document organization and comprehensible metadata can simplify your project to a great extent. Utilizing the right technology and software can not only accelerate the process but also enhance the quality of the scan, thereby saving resources in the long run.
If you ever encounter setbacks, recall these challenges. Stay adaptable, and don’t be intimidated by large amounts of paperwork. Once you crack the code, you’ll soon find efficient scanning becomes second nature. And lastly, always remember efficient planning is the most effective tool in resource utilization.
With these insights in mind, starting your paper scanning project could be less of an uphill climb and more of an enjoyable journey towards efficiency and productivity. Here’s to a successful scanning project!
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