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Document Scanning Outsourcing

Top 9 Document Outsourcing Considerations

There is not a simple answer for the best approach to convert documents.  Some of the outsourcing and in-house considerations:

1. Type of document – There are a large variety of items that may require scanning.  Most typical are, of course, usual letter/legal-sized pages.   They may be loose, stapled or bound, but are usually captured using an automatic high-speed scanner.  Documents such as maps and engineering drawings may be too large for an auto-feed scanner and therefore will require a specialized wide-format scanner.  While high-speed scanners can scan in color, they will not produce photo quality images due to the vibration and movement of the documents.  For superior quality, a book scanner or flat platen scanner is used.  Bound volumes that can’t be guillotined must obviously be imaged with these types of scanners.  Opened books are scanned two-pages at a time.  The two-up images are then cropped to generate individual pages.  Finally, micrographic media requires highly specialized scanners.  Scanner selection and costs are thus important and may point to outsourcing to a vendor that already possesses the specialized equipment.

2. Project Size – Small conversions might best be done internally if an existing copier/scanner is already in place.  Conversions of more than 5,000 images are probably best done using one of the scanners described above.  They have many capabilities that make scanning more efficient.  More sophisticated units are faster, have better document feeding mechanisms, produce more legible images, are more rugged and offer additional features.

3. Personnel – For in-house work, if there is sufficient volume, we recommend individuals be assigned full-time to the project.  Employees with other ongoing responsibilities may not be motivated to spend sufficient time or effort toward imaging.  This can be significant if their career path is in a different department.  Alternatively, companies may bring in temps who might do a competent job, but might also compromise the integrity of the files without tight supervision.  If a qualified in-house supervisor is available to oversee the work, temps or new hires could work out well.  A professional vendor would have available well-trained staff.

4. Frequency of project – One-time conversion of historical information is likely to be more efficient done by an outside vendor.  All of the systems, infrastructure and personnel are already in place.  This avoids generating a new project that would take resources that may be better applied to the organization’s primary business.  Ongoing and daily imaging is a different situation.   Some vendors offer technicians for ongoing scanning in-house (Facilities Management).

5. Complexity – Document conversion can be as simple as scanning a document (one or multiple pages) into an Adobe PDF file and giving it an appropriate name (index value).  Scanning could also involve changing settings, format, rescanning, dealing with intermixed sizes and Post-It notes that need to be correlated with a base page.  Indexing can just be one piece of data, such as Invoice Number.  However, indexing could include several metadata elements, e.g., Invoice Date, Due Date, Line Items, Discount, Net, Charge Department and more.  Other factors impacting complexity are delivery formatting, encryption, transmission and final inspection.  Sometimes, the nature of the documents is such that only internal knowledge workers can properly identify and index files, although processing rules are frequently documented and conveyed to an experienced vendor.

6. Document Confidentiality – The decision as to in-house or outsourcing may be predicated on who is permitted access to information in the documents that will be imaged.  Vendors generally work under a Non-Disclosure Agreement so most documents could be done either way.  As noted above, some vendors can perform conversions onsite.  This mitigates documents being moved out of the organization and allows for oversight by customer personnel.  Personnel files are often outsourced to avoid internal employees seeing other worker’s personal information.

7. Turnaround – For peak load volumes, contracting to a vendor could provide the additional resources needed to keep deliveries on schedule. In addition to personnel and equipment that likely exceeds in-house operations, vendors can schedule second and third shift operations to satisfy client requirements.  Often, internal operations may not have the same accountability standards that would apply to a firm contracted to meet specific turnaround times.

8. Operations – The ability of an organization to establish detailed operating procedures, either alone or with a consultant, is essential to efficient in-house document conversion. Similarly, it’s important to evaluate a vendor’s operations as they apply to the specific conversion.  Each type of document should be identified, recorded with detailed workflow specifications.  We recommend a 3-ring notebook is kept with sample documents, the workflow for each, standards, controls, turnaround, etc. for quality and exception handling procedures.  This would apply to in-house or outsourcing.

9. Document Imaging Quality Control

This most important factor is listed last.

Outsourced Scanning Inspector

Outsourced Document Scanning Inspector Comparing Images with their Indices

Unlike manual filing methods, where documents may be misplaced, but found with enough searching, improperly indexed information stored in a computer will probably become lost.  If scanned documents aren’t replaced in their original boxes and maintained, illegible or missing pages may never be retrievable.   Scanning is obviously done to preserve important documents.  If there isn’t meticulous quality control, the imaging project may major flaws.  There is no reason that inspection can’t be done equally well in-house or by a vendor.  However, we’ve seen numerous cases where conversions haven’t required 100% inspection of images and haven’t insisted on 100% verification of metadata to index files.  As an example, such emphasis may appear to be overkill, but if there 100,000 documents, each with 30 characters of indexing information, there would be 3 million individual characters.  An accuracy rate of 99.9% potentially still leaves 3,000 errors, each of which could cause an item to be lost within a database.  We strongly urge you to either develop an appropriate methodology in-house or confirm that your vendor seriously plans Quality Control.