What’s Your Name? Assessing Document Conversion Projects

Vince Pingel| March 19, 2021

Letty Gonzales joined Acme Company back in 2015. Her HR file shows what a great employee she was from the moment she was hired, including a promotion and a pay raise within the first year of her employment. The problem is, some people can’t find that information in Acme’s employee records archive because they know her as “Letty Walters.” She got married and changed her name a year after she was hired.

It’s not that her name change wasn’t recorded by the Human Resources department. In fact the records in Acme’s HR database have incorporated her new name across the board. But her original HR file – the collection of paper documents that were scanned and put into the database – was scanned with a folder tab that listed her maiden name – so her early successes are easily missed.

While scanning paper records to create a digital archive might seem easy, without careful planning to keep information searchable and avoid being lost, a lot can go missing that can hinder a company, a project or a person.

It’s the kind of thing that turns a great idea about digital access into a frustrating outcome. Afterall, what’s the point of turning paper documents into digital documents if you can’t find them when you’re done?

Talking through file naming and search protocols before you start scanning is very important. It distinguishes the difference between how end-users of the system search for documents, and how data entry staff captureinformation is critical to success.

Conducting a thorough pre-project assessment always proves to be the first and best step in creating an archiving and information management system.  Many inexperienced vendors might think of the assessment as a way to estimate the quantity of document boxes/folders/pages to be captured.

But what’s far more important is to determine the best means of enabling an easy search and retrieve method for the documents once they have been converted into digital files. This means that the provider has to gain a complete understanding of how the customer uses their documents; how their documents are currently organized; understand which documents should be searched and which documents should be destroyed; consider how their paper documents can be revived to be more useful to them in a digital form.

Once those critical elements are understood, then a provider can develop a system that will not only pay dividends to the customer, but will build new value for documents that have been locked away for years.

It’s surprising how often the assessment process opens up new opportunities for end users of the documents. Big eye-openers almost always include discovering how much time people spend searching for documents and how little control is exerted over information. For example, many users make copies of original documents for their own use, add information to them, and email them to others. It seems harmless, but it steals efficiency from almost every process, and can compromise protected data.

By contrast, what happens if a document can’t be found, or lost? What does it take to re-construct such a document, or what is the liability (legal and/or financial) if the information is lost?

Answering questions like these have an impact on designing a retrieval system, certainly, but such answers also tend to put the value of information in its proper perspective.

A thorough AIM Assessment may take several hours or even a couple of sessions with customers to gather the information needed to develop a strong solution and a healthy ROI.  But taking shortcuts or rushing will only increase the risk of missing critical information, add unanticipated costs or work, or simply lead to a failed conversion effort.

On the other hand, if a thorough assessment is completed, paper documents will gain new life, information will be better protected, finding information will be easier and faster, and workflows will likely become more productive. In many cases, document owners also will be relieved of unwarranted liabilities from documents not otherwise discovered, or by disposing of documents that have outlived industry retention mandates.

So, when considering the possibility of having critical documents converted to digital form, be sure to allow time for an effective and thorough assessment. It almost always proves to be enlightening, and you can be confident that your new system will do exactly what you want it to.

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