Digitization Risk Management

How to Manage Risk During Record Digitization

This post isn’t about all the things that can go wrong when you convert records into digital files . Our goal isn’t to scare you by pointing out every pitfall — you already know the risks.

The key to successful digitization and risk mitigation is to begin with a plan, so we’ve assembled a list of common concerns that our clients raise when they’re undertaking a record conversion project.  

This post covers six common concerns — or risks — and what you should look for in a records digitization partner if you decide to outsource your record conversion.

Question 1: How Do I Know What Records Should be Digitized?

Most industries and government agencies have guidelines for how long records have to be kept. If you don’t know how to find that information, consult with your financial, accounting, and legal advisors. You should also ensure that you have the copyrights to digitize records.

Once you’ve established your requirements for data retention, you can create what’s called a “defensible deletion” policy. Defensible deletion is a term that refers to an organization’s approach to reduce storage costs and minimize risks associated with keeping electronically stored information. In other words, it’s a way of methodically and purposefully selecting records for deletion when they are no longer useful.

The bottom line: Don’t keep records that you don’t have to. Consult with your legal and financial advisors before you begin a digitization project. Work with a trusted partner who’s been in the business for decades and understands document retention best practices.

Risk 2: How Will Digitized Records Be Searched?

The best method for preparing for digitization is to match the way you currently search for records. This is the simplest way to organize your digitized records, because it mirrors what you and your organization already know.

For example, if you organize your records by category, then by date, and then alphabetically by name, follow this system for your digital records, at least as your initial phase of conversion. You can always restructure your index methodology later, but if you try to do too much too soon, you could find yourself in a mess and not able to locate your files!

Another option is to create text-searchable records when you convert to digital. By doing this you’ll be able to search your database for words, phrases, names, and other identifying information without necessarily knowing exactly where the record lives. Many organizations find that adding text-search to their record archive truly unlocks the information in ways they would not have expected. The quality of your existing archive can also determine how successful full-text search will be and if it an option (e.g. consider historical cursive writing on poor quality paper or microfilm – not the best candidate for full-text search). Work with your solution provider to determine if the records are good candidates for full-text search.

Question 3: How Do I Get Organization-Wide Buy-In?

When a company adopts any new process, tool, or resource, adoption can be slow. People can be resistant to change. Running a parallel system or a just-in-case physical paper or microfilm archive doesn’t typically facilitate the adoption of new digital systems. This causes confusion and introduces new risks to the process, such as version control and duplicate records.

A best practice is to work with a conversion service bureau (like us) and incorporate a policy for record conversion that may include:

  • Not bringing the physical records back on-site and instead sending them to a temporary off-site storage facility
  • Establishing guidelines to quality check digital documents as they return from the conversion bureau
  • Communicating policies from the top down that require moving forward with the digitization program

Question 4: How Safe Are My Records Before, During, and After Digitization?

When you use an outside vendor to convert physical files into digital records, you’re naturally going to be concerned about how safe and secure your records are throughout the conversion process.

Find a document conversion partner who puts security first, not as a policy but as a mindset in everything they do.

  • Facilities: Look for a partner that has secure physical facilities. For example, all of BMI’s buildings are free-standing, single-tenant structures. That means only our security-cleared staff members go in and out of each building.  Any visitors are logged at entry and escorted throughout the facility.
  • Transportation: If records need to be moved from your site to your digitization partner’s facility, how does this happen? BMI uses unmarked vans equipped with tracking systems and lockable containers.
  • People: Ask your records management partner how they clear and background check each of their employees. How many people will handle and have access to your records? Do they provide CJIS training to their employees?
  • Compliance: Look for a records management partner that holds the highest document imaging standards and complies with CJIS, NIST and HIPAA guidelines.

Related: Read this post on how to protect yourself from information loss during a natural, man-made or IT disaster.

Question 5: How Do I Ensure Quality of Converted Records?

You know that saying that goes something like, “Fast, good, or cheap — pick two”? You can’t have all three. If you want speed and quality, expect to pay more. If you want quality and low price, expect to sacrifice time. If you expect your project to be quick and cheap, then set low expectations for quality. You get what you pay for.

Quality control depends on a number of things, including the integrity of the original records, as well as how much you’re willing to invest in the record conversion project. Some companies opt for a 100% hard-copy-to-image quality check, while others opt for a lower percentage spot check. It’s up to you, your budget and your conversion partner to customize a quality control  process that fits your project.

Related: Read this post on what to expect (and not expect) during your digital conversion project.

Question 6: How Long Will Digital Records Last?

The life of a digital record depends on three things: its format, its host, and technology.

Paper deteriorates. DVDs can last up to five years before they start deteriorating; the more data one holds, the more risk.. Microfilm and microfiche can last 500 years. The life expectancy of any hard-copy-stored file depends on what they’re made of, where they’re stored, and, of course, how well they’re protected.

Digital records — that’s a whole other animal. They key to longevity of digital records is:

  • A file format that is universally readable, such as .pdf, .jpg or .gif  
  • The device on which it’s stored and backed up
  • Technological obsolescence

File format: You want to transfer your documents into digital formats that are easy to read and universally accessible. For example, BMI Imaging can produce digital images in common formats such as PDF, JPG, TIFF and GIF. These common file formats have existed for decades, and they work with a number of programs and devices.

Storage: When you move to a cloud-based document management system, you’re transferring your files to off-site servers and accessing them through the internet, hence the “cloud” name. The offsite locations are built specifically to house precious data files, so they are meant to mitigate factors such as severe weather, hacks, and other threats.

Make sure your digital files are stored in a safe and secure location, and make sure the conversion service uses redundant servers. Redundant storage systems ensure data is backed up so if one becomes corrupt or is affected in some way, there is a backup to restore information from a separate location.

Technological obsolescence: This is the risk that happens when a device, a technology, or type of hardware becomes replaced by new technology — sort of the way tape cartridges, floppy disks, and CDs have gone. Longevity of records depends on the currency of the technology that’s used to access it.  

Plan Before You Scan

If you have concerns about other risks that we haven’t covered here, get in touch with one of our experts. BMI Imaging Systems has been in the business of converting data and information since 1958 — more than 60 years — so chances are we’ve been there, done that with whatever concern you have.

Browse through our case studies from government, higher education, healthcare, nonprofits and private enterprises, all of whom presented unique circumstances.  

The key to successful document conversion is starting with a plan. Identify your goals, map out the process, and make sure you’ve got an experienced project partner.