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Document Scanning Vendor Selection

Here are a few helpful suggestions to aid in the selection of a document scanning vendor.

Prepare Imaging Specifications

Conversions are priced on the number of images and the number of documents.  A piece of paper may contain one image, or if information is on both sides, two images. Though a precise number won’t be known until the job is actually done, a rough estimate will let you and the vendor know the magnitude of your project.  Large digitization projects will have lower unit costs.  We recommend counting the pages in one inch of files, measuring the total number of feet and extrapolating to project the total number of pages.  Look at a random selection of pages to estimate the percentage of backsides containing information and project the total number of images.  If pages are not all letter/legal sizes, estimate the percentage of oversize.

A document can be a single page, a stapled group of pages, a file folder, an entire binder or some other set of images.  Since document naming and grouping can be a significant cost element, it’s important to project the number of documents and their naming (indexing).  Indexing can be minimal, such as Social Security Number, or extensive, including Date, Recipient, Amount, Department, etc.  If the indexing information is available in an electronic database, the cost of data entry may be reduced or entirely eliminated.

Modifying the approach above, will work for microfilm, microfiche, books, engineering drawings, photos, etc.  In determining the  time for completion, include sufficient time for sampling, testing, ramp-up, review and the possibility of some rework.

Scope the Imaging Project

To estimate cost, it will be necessary to contact a few vendors.  Give them the information above and ask for their rough idea of minimum and maximum total cost.  You can then decide if imaging is affordable.  If funds aren’t available in the current budget a costly conversion could be spread over several years.

Finding the vendors to call should start with internal resources.  Has a vendor done a project for others in the organization?  Does Purchasing have a list?  You can then try associates in similar industries to see if they can offer names.  Finally, Google and Bing will retrieve dozens of service bureaus.

Prepare the Scanning Proposal

Based on the responses to your vendor calls, select a limited number of companies from whom to request bids.  This will minimize your organization’s time for proposal review, reference checks, etc.  Unless required by your organization, a formal RFP isn’t essential.

Costs are frequently configured differently by each vendor.  There are so many variables that even standard price sheets have exclusions or additions for the specific conversion.  You should therefore include a template indicating how you want to see the costs.  This enables you to compare overall cost.  Here’s a sample (you should include quantities; vendors will fill in unit prices and extensions):

Price Template

Note that quantities 1 and 2 are the same in several rows.

Your solicitation should include a contact for questions, a cutoff date when questions are due and the date and time for submission.  If your policy is for paper proposals, also request a CD so the proposal can be easily distributed internally.

Commonsense Evaluation

Total Price is clearly a critical element.  Very high price is a non-starter, but unusually low prices should likewise be carefully examined.  The vendor should have a cogent explanation why they are so much lower than others.

You’re engaging a professional firm with many employees that will be physically handling your valuable documents, viewing them and manipulating them in their computer network.  Rigorously investigate how your documents will be controlled, company security and backup.

While references are important, remember that no one will submit a poor reference.  Written references are the least useful.  We recommend speaking on the phone.  If the contact didn’t deal with the nuts and bolts of the conversion, try to speak to whomever dealt with the conversion company on a daily/weekly basis.


All conversions should be a team effort between the client and vendor.  Plan on selecting the most-favorable vendor and mutually working through any issues that may arise.  Conversions that are conducted with the mindset of “I’m the client – You’re the vendor” invariably are not very successful.

Nevertheless, contracts are important.  Send the vendor your own Non-Disclosure Agreement rather than asking the vendor to provide theirs with the need for your legal department to review it.

Set a reasonable time-frame for your staff to inspect the delivered files.  Ask the vendor to return a few boxes so that the physical documents can be compared to the images.  Upon acceptance, advise the vendor to either hold the data within their network or securely erase it.  Similarly, have the boxes shredded or returned.  Any destruction should be documented with a Certificate of Destruction.