Do you plan on handing your records over to a scanning company?

Before you do, consider how they utilize the chain of custody throughout your digitization project. How are your physical documents processed and what happens once they’re converted to a digital format? These could be confidential or one-of-a-kind records, and it’s critical to know what happens once they’re out of your direct control.

We’ll go over the fundamentals of digitization and the chain of custody as well as why it’s important, how to choose a conversion partner, and an example of how the chain of custody works in a project.

What is Digitization?

Digitization is the process of converting hard copy data and historical documents into an electronic version. “Converting” is a synonym for “scanning,” and the two terms are often used interchangeably. The decision to proceed with a digitization project will be based on your specific requirements and wants, but after you’ve made the decision to scan your records and create a digital collection, there are a few things to keep in mind. The chain of custody of your records during a document scanning effort is one of them.

We’ll explain what chain of custody means in the context of digital conversion, why it matters, and what to look for in a scanning partner in terms of security and chain of custody processes. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear grasp of why the chain of custody is crucial to your project and a few things to keep an eye out for as you look for companies to partner with.

The Chain Of Custody And Why It Matters

What is the “chain of custody?” In short, it’s the order in which an item has been handled throughout a process. Chain of custody is usually used in criminal and civil law, but it’s widely utilized in other areas to ensure safe handling of records, whatever their purpose may be. 

Applied to digitization, chain of custody is the tracking of records throughout the digital conversion project, from time of transfer (such as a pickup or drop off) through final delivery (delivering the electronic end product as well as returning the original material). 

The chain of custody matters during a digital conversion project because without it, you won’t know if all of your documents were received, converted, and delivered. With many conversion projects, the records are one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable, so knowing where they are at all times during a scanning project is crucial to your peace of mind and overall goals of turning the data into virtual files. 

Also, it’s common that organizations believe they either sent records that actually were never sent, or that they didn’t receive files that they actually did receive (and many combinations of those two!). Having a chain of custody record ensures that there is no confusion over what was transferred, scanned, delivered, and so on.

Choosing A Digitization Partner

When you’re researching companies to partner with for your digitization project, ask them about their chain of custody procedures. How do they track materials and what’s the audit trail? What’s the process for digitization services? Who is involved in such a project and how is that decided

These are your documents, so questions like this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone worth their salt. In fact, they should be happy to describe how client materials are handled and tracked throughout their project process, and how digital files are stored and delivered. If you don’t ask these questions and find out how your records are handled, you’re putting your documents at risk. 

In addition to the chain of custody methodology, ask about other aspects of their services, too. This can include physical security as well as digital/network security, quality assurance methods, business processes, and logistics. Don’t be shy digging into this! Scanning organizations should be able to simply describe how they operate and protect their client’s data, and you likely can get copies of their security certifications and reports.

What Happens When There’s A Chain Of Custody Failure?

When there’s a chain of custody failure, the blame game ensues. Most people don’t want to admit that they’re at fault or made a mistake, so finger-pointing and looking for a scapegoat within the other organization could easily escalate. But the only reason it could get to this point is if there was a chain of custody failure – an item wasn’t handled, stored, or tracked properly. 

The chain of custody can be broken in multiple ways, the simplest being physically and digitally. In either scenario, sensitive data could be stolen, lost, or released. Even if the data isn’t sensitive (such as names, social security numbers, etc.), records can be lost forever if they can’t be tracked and located. 

Keeping a solid chain of custody is critical to maintaining the integrity of both physical and digital data, and should not be overlooked when you’re researching digital conversion projects.

Digital security breach

A Digital Conversion Chain Of Custody Example

We’ll illustrate an example of how the chain of custody could work in a paper scanning project. Using our 9-step paper digitization process as a guideline, each step will be described as it relates to the chain of custody and digital transformation.

Getting your paper documents is the first step in the chain of custody. If we pick them up, our driver will note how many records we’ve picked up and confirm (written verification) the total with you before leaving your location. If you ship them to us, we’ll immediately move to step two.

When your boxes arrive at our facility, they’re tagged with UID (unique ID) barcodes that we use throughout the entire project process. This ensures we know how many boxes we have in our possession, where they are, and who has “checked them out” for various project processes. These barcodes are tied to our Material Tracking System (MTS) application, allowing us to always know where records are located.

When not being actively worked on, the records are stored in our secure facility. Depending on the security level of your project, there are various layered environments for secure storage.

Your sales rep will create a job order using the contracted scope of work; this ties the records to a specific project so that every individual unit can be accounted for and monitored throughout the job.

Prep is the first step in the physical work in the scanning project. The paper needs to be prepared to go through our scanners, and when the boxes are selected for this step, one of our people will check out the specific boxes in our MTS application and begin the prep.

Once prep is complete, the boxes will be scanned. Again, MTS can monitor where the records are located based on the individual barcodes affixed to each box.

Once scanning is complete, the records will be “back prepped” and returned to their boxes.

Post-scan image processing doesn’t require the physical records, so they’ll be checked back in to secure storage. The digital records will be tracked within our Unity System, a project management application we’ve created to monitor all aspects of the projects we execute.

Digital tracking through Unity is also used during the indexing step so that we know where each piece of data and digital images are in our project process flow.

Once all of this is complete, the project is delivered to you. The physical records will be tracked through drop off and getting a release signature, and the digital files will be tracked depending on how they’re delivered (either a USB drive, SFTP, or our Digital ReeL hosting application). 

The entire project is one long chain of events and knowing where each record, both hard copy and digital documents, is located throughout the process is critical to ensuring the security of your data.

Next Steps

Reach out to us today! Click the “Get Your Quote” button below, fill out the form, and we’ll quickly reply to you to discuss your project.

Further Reading

Read some additional articles about digital conversion and the security of your records:

“Choosing A Partner For Your Secure Scanning Project” describes key items to consider when choosing a scanning partner including physical security setup, digital and network security processes, and security credentials (such as audits). 

“CJIS Digital Scanning” is our overview of how to scan criminal justice information (CJI) for law enforcement agencies. If your office is handling and processing CJI, this is a starting point for you to understand what CJIS means and why it’s important to you. 

“HIPAA Compliance & Document Conversion” relates to health records, which are rife with sensitive information. Read up on compliance and why digitizing your hard copy records can be a step in the right direction for your company.