Going paperless? Make sure you’re on the right path.

Going paperless? Make sure you’re on the right path

Successful paperless workflows depend on two critical pieces: excellent scanning and even better document management software. The crispest scans and most accurate data extraction in the world aren't worth much if files are hard to find and data can't flow easily into other applications and databases.

Here are five key questions to ask before you invest in any document scanning and management solution.

1. Does it control access?

Make sure the system protects sensitive files and information from the moment they are scanned. At a minimum, this requires software with multiple roles and permission layers for each registered user, plus robust encryption technologies to protect the data from unauthorized users. The best software can recognize a document type — an invoice for example — extract the data and load it into your accounting software and then save the scanned file in a protected folder where only accounting staff can access it.

2. Can it assign tasks?

Most scans are part of a larger business workflow. Expense reports need to be reviewed, verified and (occasionally) audited. Better document management systems allow you to create workflows that automatically assign tasks the moment a file is scanned.

For example, you could create an expense report workflow that routes each scanned report to accounting for review and then on to management for approval. Each employee would receive a task alert via email or text so they know there is work to be done. Management can see a dashboard-level view of performance including time spent on documents, documents flagged for rework and the number of rejected expense claims.

3. Does it capture accurate metadata?

Metadata — all the extra information about a file that makes it easier to find and use — is critical to the long-term performance of your digital archives. Imagine trying to pull up all the original invoice scans for customer X if all the archive records in metadata are only the scan date and invoice number.

With the right scanner-software combination, you can capture the bulk of the metadata you need (document types, customer names, zip codes, service descriptions) automatically. Data from invoices and expense reports automatically populate your accounting software, while the originals are archived alongside all the metadata you need for keyword searches, retrieval and efficient long-term storage.

4. Does it dovetail with your existing processes and software?

Integration is the most important variable in any document management solution. Any break in the chain, from scanning through digitization and routing to the final destination, undermines the utility of the entire system. Why scan a document if someone on the web team has to copy and paste the information to get it into QuickBooks® or your website?

Automation is a must. Make sure any solution you consider reduces as much labor as possible at every step in your workflow.

5. Do you have the right scanner?

Scanners come in a wide range of capabilities, from desktop scanners and multi-function copier/ scanner/fax machines to production scanners built to run around the clock. Be sure to evaluate your current and future scanning needs before you make a purchase.

A multi-function machine may be attractive at first, but if you're going to spend months digitizing a paper archive, the higher throughput of a dedicated production scanner could double your imaging speed. Scanners with hardware-based image processing can dramatically speed character recognition and digitization. They can also "rescan" files from memory, so you can change scan quality and reorder pages without physically re-scanning the paper original.