Should I store or scan my documents?
Retention of important documents is not usually an option. Regulatory demands, possible future litigation and historical preservation are the main reasons that organizations maintain vital information. Historically, documents were microfilmed, captured in microfiche and/or maintained in paper form. While some archival rules still require microfilming, almost all document conversion is currently done digitally.
The decision thus is whether to scan documents and shred the documents, store the boxes or scan and also store the same boxes. The last practice represents having “a belt and suspenders.” It’s the safest, but also the costliest. If imaging has any flaws, the paper can be retrieved to locate originals. Apart from the dual costs involved, “best evidence” may require time-consuming and expensive retrieval of the original item when a question arises.
Box storage is less expensive than scanning. We’ve seen examples where the one-time cost of document conversion would have allowed for many years of box storage costs. The costliest aspect of box storage isn’t the monthly fee, it’s the manpower and transportation cost of box retrieval and then return. Obviously, the time necessary to retrieve and box and confirm that it contains the desired file, far exceeds finding the file in a computer database.
It would appear that rapid retrieval or space savings are the most cogent reasons for scanning, but our experience tells us that the major factor is actually safety. Almost every organization’s computer files are backed up with multiple copies of the same database at different locations. Should a disaster occur at one, the data can be restored from another.
One would think that a storage warehouse with proper fire-suppression obviates the problem of security; however, we’ve seen several examples of conflagrations that became out of control, causing major losses. In one case, Mobil Oil lost more than $7 million of documentation for tax deductions. Examples Some of the fires were suspected of intentional destruction.
In a 2013 article in the New Yorker, Joshua Rothman noted “In 1997, fires swept through three Iron Mountain facilities in New Jersey; in 2005, they struck warehouses in Ottawa and London. Iron Mountain invested in better fire-protection systems in some of its facilities, but there is always an irreducible risk inherent in the storage of any unique physical object.”
Does this mean that document imaging is a cure-all? By no means. Many aspects of imaging can be problematical.
As noted above, pages could be omitted in scanning, incomplete image inspection could miss illegible documents, improper divider placement will result in electronic misfiles and there is an critical need for completely accurate coding and indexing. Proper attention to imaging quality control is essential and may ultimately afford the safest and most efficient method of retaining vital documents.