Businesses of virtually all sizes and across all industries face an important challenge: the need to better manage physical and electronic records. This due in large part to the explosive growth in the amount of data being created and stored, which is doubling every two years and has already reached immense proportions.1

One critical element in addressing this challenge is to convert physical records to electronic format. Some organizations simply allow physical documents to accumulate and eventually send them to an offsite storage vendor. Basically, the problem is ignored until lack of space mandates that something be done. Often in this scenario, someone is required to act quickly to resolve the issue, which involves managing a process with which they are not familiar. However, in my experience more organizations no longer want to follow this path; increasingly they’d rather hire experts to cull, purge, digitally image and then shred the appropriate physical documents. 

Let’s look at three critical key elements to consider for organizations that want to image existing and future paper documents but are uncertain as to what to include when crafting a Request for Proposal (RFP).

Critical Element 1: Where will conversion services take place — your house or theirs?

Many organizations are comfortable with shipping records to a trusted vendor’s processing facility where the records will be digitized. However, there may be some concerns with this process such as the possibility of critical records leaving the facility; the need to access important documents during the conversion process; apprehension about sensitive materials getting into the wrong hands; fear of transportation damage, worry about expensive shipping costs and more. To address these and other issues, there are key factors to consider that can help effectively shape the proposals you receive.

Assuming that the work will be done onsite at your facility, the most important factor is to provide the contractor with accurate space allocation details. This enables the contractor to more precisely determine how many people and related resources as well as the length of time that will be required to complete the project. Space allocation is also a factor in determining production workflow, which drives how document volume is received, handled during production and stored prior to audit, as well as how final disposition is performed. In your RFP, I suggest that you include a floor map or blueprint of the imaging workspace area including any equipment you are providing or expecting the vendor to do so, including electrical specifications. This will ultimately influence total project price.

Critical Element 2: Accurate terminology is essential to vendor cost modeling. 

Many RFPs for imaging services mistakably convey inaccurate volumes, which stems from a lack of understanding by the personnel crafting the RFP. As trivial as this may seem, most people (outside of the document imaging industry) confuse terms and definitions that are needed to properly present the scope of work. Here are the terms and definitions that, in my experience, are most commonly expressed erroneously.

  • Document is a written, printed, or electronic object that provides information or evidence and serves as an official record. A document can consist of one or many pages/images.
  • Page is a single unit of a physical sheet of paper, typically found in a collection of sheets bound together. There are two types of pages: simplex and duplex.
    • A simplex page contains information on a single side of the page; the other side is blank.
    • A duplex page contains information on both sides of the page, front and back.
    • Duplex rate is the percentage of total pages that contain content on both sides.
  • Image is an electronic rendering of one side of a page. A simplex page will generate one image, and duplex page will generate two images.

In order to compare responses between vendors accurately, properly state total document count, an average number of pages per document, and indicate a duplex rate.

Critical Element 3: Clarify document structure and searchability

How you plan to access documents in a post conversion state will determine the level of effort required of the contractor during the conversion process. In preparation of writing the RFP, ask personnel currently responsible for your records:

  • How are physical documents organized in their current state (shelved, boxed, located in employees’ cubicles)?
  • How are physical documents searched for and retrieved?
  • What information is critical in order to efficiently retrieve a record?

Document unitization (document structure) will provide a directive to the contractor on how documents are prepared for scanning. For instance, an employee HR file may consist of many documents including an employment application, resume, workplace agreements and performance reviews. It is your responsibility to direct the contractor on what the final structure should be. Do you want a single PDF file for each employee that is comprised of all HR documents related to that employee? Or, do you prefer a subset, such as combining the employment application and resume as an employee onboarding document file?

Once you have determined the document unitization, clearly define what index fields are required in order to facilitate efficient and accurate searching capabilities and to enable your Records Manager to craft an effective retention protocol. Capturing the right index fields not only plays a significant role in how your organization locates electronic files for version control and to clean data after conversion; it also directly drives the contractor’s cost. To calculate the balance between your organization’s needs and controlling costs, determine how files are pulled today in their physical state and mimic this in your desired electronic state. For instance, to stay with the HR example, if HR personnel are storing physical files by state or region, you may want to include location as an index field for capture as this information may be relevant to those searching for files in the future.

It is important to invest the time and research prior to releasing the RFP in order to attain comparative responses and to limit project scope once the vendor is engaged. 

1“The Digital Universe in 2020: Big Data, Bigger Digital Shadows, and Biggest Growth in the Far East,” IDC, December 2012

Reza Pazuki
Reza Pazuki

Reza Pazuki is a Solution Engineer for the Information Governance Division of Canon Business Process Services, a leading provider of managed services and technology. Learn more about the company at www.cbps.canon.com