One question that comes up frequently with agencies we talk with about going paperless is what to do with existing file cabinets full of paper or electronic files that were previously scanned. I have even had a prospective agency say that the large volume of existing paper is a reason (excuse) not to take on document management! It’s important to consider this and I encourage new customers to plan for their transition from existing paper files as part of the implementation process. When speaking with successful paperless agencies I find that, when properly planned, this transition is not a barrier to success … and they find it to be a much easier job than converting to their agency management system!
Here are some tips my customers have shared with me about their conversion to consider:
- Use the conversion as a reason to ensure that existing files that are older than your agency’s written retention plan are destroyed.
- Remember that a comprehensive look at the documents you have retained could likely expose an issue or provide an opportunity to write or round business. Regular reviews should be part of the process.
- Many agencies set a conversion date, after which all documents will be found in their document management system (often called a “date-forward” process). This would minimize or eliminate the need to scan older files as long as you know the date of filing. You would continue to pull older files by the current method until they are no longer needed.
- Another common way to handle existing documents is by, when a legacy paper file is pulled, scanning the entire contents of the file. This gets files you commonly refer to into the system sooner. Put a brightly colored dot on the outside of the folder and, after some time has gone by, browse the file cabinet to find and scan the files without dots!
- If you decide to scan historical files (“backfiling”), don’t spend time trying to identify and enter detailed descriptions of old documents. If the paper file is only identified by what’s on the file folder label, the paper file’s file label information is probably enough to use as an index for the entire file and to find it in your electronic document management system. That’s how you’re finding it now!
- Recognize that if you do backfile legacy documents, you’ll have a higher volume of scanning than you will need after the conversion period. If you do it yourself, consider leasing or renting a higher volume scanner to use until the conversion is complete.
- If you decide not to scan the files yourself, there are firms who will arrive at your office with a handtruck and return with a handful of DVDs. A thorough quality control check of the scanned files is important to do before destroying the original files.
- Consider how you’re filing now to help plan the conversion. One agency we worked with that had individual customer files published a schedule by letter of the alphabet so the staff would know where to find legacy documents during the conversion process. If your documents have been T-filed, you could use a similar process to alert the staff where to find older documents by process date.
- If you are converting historical electronic documents to Docstar from an electronic system like Paperport, attachments in your management system, or another document management system carefully consider the “metadata” or index information that you’ve used to find documents in your current system.Most clients choose not to convert legacy documents, remembering that their agency management system’s diary has a record by date that lets them know where documents are without having to look in multiple places. Remember that the cost and time of having store or find older documents is part of the return on your investment that you will enjoy going forward!
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