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A Guide to Preparing Your Paper Documents for Electronic Document Management

     

Transitioning to an electronic document management system (DMS) offers numerous benefits over an old-fashioned, hard copy storage system. Improved safety, searchability, and efficiency of document access and sharing are just a few advantages. One critical challenge to implementing an electronic system, though, is the labor involved in making the switch.

Even if you know your company or department would benefit from going digital with your documents, it can be tough to know where to start transitioning to the new system. That’s why we’ve prepared a guide to help you prepare and upload documents as smoothly as possible.

Step 1: Assign Employees to the Task

The process of preparing, scanning, and indexing documents into an electronic DMS will likely involve multiple employees. Certain manual aspects of the process (such as running documents through the scanner) may be best suited for a clerk or entry-level administrative employee. Other tasks, such as organizing documents by type or importance, may require input from a higher-level employee.

Assigning specific people to take ownership of this project clarifies who will be accountable and ensure the job is done properly.

Step 2: Determine Document Management Schedule

In offices that deal with large volumes of documents, planning to deal with documents in waves may be more manageable than attacking the entire project at once. Depending on your organization’s needs, you might start by transitioning the most pressing or sensitive documents first (such as current client contracts or medical records) and scheduling later dates for archived contracts or other less-critical documents.

Attacking electronic document management in several waves can give employees a chance to learn the ropes of the new system. Concentrating on a narrower selection of records can help you stay organized, and help employees find a more natural work rhythm, since many files within one type will require similar handling. You may end up with greater efficiency than if you ask employees to learn different processes for too many types of processes simultaneously.

Step 3: Make Strategic Document Storage Decisions

It’s understandably tempting to move everything from traditional filing systems to the new electronic DMS unread. We’re not suggesting you read every sheet of paper before adding it to the system--that would be absurd! But a major shift like this is a cue to conduct some reviews and weed out documents you don’t need.Different industries, and even different document types within one organization, are subject to different rules about how long they should stay on file. Audits may require records from the last three years, the last seven, or another time period. If you don’t need certain physical files anymore, plan to dispose of them in a secure way rather than hold onto them in the new system.

Managers or other decision-makers may feel more comfortable handling certain document classification tasks personally, rather than assign this task to an entry-level employee. Organizing records by type or value may feel like a somewhat higher-level responsibility, as can deciding how to handle auxiliary materials. For example, how will you plan to store emails related to a contract, or sticky notes attached to drafts? How should employees save voided checks, note cards, blueprints, photographs, and other materials associated with a document? A manager may also want to offer input into document naming conventions, DMS organization structure, and best practices for tagging documents. If you’re planning to include a work processes guide (even something as simple as a numbered checklist), this is a good time to draft it if you haven’t already.

Step 4: Handle Administrative Preparation

Once you’ve determined which documents need to be catalogued in your electronic DMS, and which documents will make up the first wave, you’re ready to turn over physical document preparation tasks, likely to an administrative person or team. Some important steps to scan and upload documents without damaging them include:

  • Remove staples, paper clips, and other obstructions from documents. These fasteners can damage a scanner. In some cases, a stapled document may go through the scanner fine, but then you lose a page that could contain essential information.
  • Repair damaged documents if possible. Torn pages tend to cause paper jams and come out of the scanner in even worse condition. Any ripped document should be carefully taped, or possibly scanned via a laser scanner if the paper is too delicate.
  • Assess documents for quality. Flag any documents that will need special handling to create a clear electronic file. Ideally, your electronic DMS is capable of searching for characters in scanned documents so that you can perform full-text searches. To make optimal character recognition possible, uploaded documents need to have good image quality.
  • Separate documents by size, shape, color vs. black ink, and other characteristics to consider while scanning. Missing information because edges are clipped off can cause problems later. So can scanning documents grayscale when color was needed to distinguish between areas on a chart or image. This organization step helps maintain optimum utility of the documents when you transition between systems.

How many hours of labor you need to prepare and scan the documents in your case depends on a number of factors. Hopefully, preparing documents will help employees develop a more precise estimate of how long it will take before all files in a category are available in your electronic DMS.

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