• Darren Edwards

Wish you'd scanned that document?

Updated: Apr 30

Where are my documents? I wish I could see that contract!


Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the last few weeks has seen many businesses struggle to work effectively under unprecedented circumstances. In truth, businesses that can carry on with employees working remotely from home are the lucky ones. I have talked to many businesses that have had to shut up shop and had to furlough their staff.


For the ones that can continue and allow their employees to work from home, many have found out that they weren’t ready for a crisis like this. I know of companies that don’t have enough laptops to go around, so employees have had to carry desktops and monitors home on trains. Many have IT infrastructures and servers in offices so, if anything goes wrong, administrators need to make the journey into the office to reboot servers. Many others rely on paper documents, client files, contracts or forms for their critical business processes and with remote working no longer have access to these.

Even for those businesses with staff working from home and accessing the computer systems remotely in order to provide ‘business as usual’ if the discussions I have had over the last few weeks are anything to go by, then many are struggling.Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the last few weeks has seen many businesses struggle to work effectively under unprecedented circumstances. In truth, businesses that can carry on with employees working remotely from home are the lucky ones. I have talked to many businesses that have had to shut up shop and had to furlough their staff.

For the ones that can continue and allow their employees to work from home, many have found out that they weren’t ready for a crisis like this. I know of companies that don’t have enough laptops to go around, so employees have had to carry desktops and monitors home on trains. Many have IT infrastructures and servers in offices so, if anything goes wrong, administrators need to make the journey into the office to reboot servers. Many others rely on paper documents, client files, contracts or forms for their critical business processes and with remote working no longer have access to these.


Even for those businesses with staff working from home and accessing the computer systems remotely in order to provide ‘business as usual’ if the discussions I have had over the last few weeks are anything to go by, then many are struggling.


Scanning and capture of documents should be a key component of any business process, in lots of cases it is the cornerstone on which to build digitised business processes.

I am going to write a series of articles over the next few weeks to try and help businesses come up with an action plan now, but also to prepare them for the future. Lockdown restrictions may be eased soon but there is a likelihood that we may have to go back into lockdown in the future to help fight this virus.


One of the biggest frustrations I have heard in the past few weeks is “I wish I had access to that document!” Many organisations still use paper documents, although over the last two decades their use has declined. But many organisations’ business processes are still paper driven: contracts are still printed, signed and then filed away; correspondence via letters and even emails are printed off and stored in client files. For instance, many charities rely on donations they receive via paper forms that people have filled in and then send in the mail. They then need someone in the office to collect the mail and distribute the forms to be entered into a system. This is often the main source of donations so they continue to do this.


The typical problems that have arisen are:


  • Lack of access to customers’ contracts as they are physically filed away in the office

  • Inability to process the forms and letters coming into the business and difficulty sending them out to remote workers

  • No access to the customer files in the office


If companies have worked out efficient ways of getting paper-based documents to remote workers, they then have the issue of how the remote worker appropriately stores the documents until they are back in the office.


This raises risk and compliance issues, such as GDPR. Remote workers need to have access to their documents, contracts and client files, so they need systems that will allow them to access the information as and when they need it.I will look at how companies manage their information in my second article.


The first step to ensuring that you get access to the information you need is to have an effective scanning strategy in place.

Scanning is the process of taking your paper documents and digitising them. It can take many different forms but they key tasks it performs are as follows:


  • Taking a simple copy of a document so it’s available in pdf format to distribute across your organisation

  • Reading a form and all of the information on it

  • Capturing data from unstructured documents such as invoice data, or more advanced capture such as terms and limits from a contract


This is the first stage in improving your business processes and making them more robust to handle events such as the one we are now facing.


The approach to scanning in your organisation needs to be well planned, as there are several ways it can be achieved and it is dependent on the processes you have, the volume of documents that need scanning and the timeframes that you need to turn things around. For example, an organisation that has a customer SLA that requires them to respond to a letter within 48 hours of receipt, it will be key that the document is scanned and dealt with quickly.


Another consideration is how to decide what to scan? Do you perform a “back scan” whereby you bulk scan all historical documents and client files? or do you just go from a point in time and scan in real-time moving forward? The answer to this is dependent on your business and the requirements of each department to access business critical documents and information.


Organisations need to consider how best to achieve their scanning objectives, Some of the key ways are as follows;


  • Network – many larger offices have network scanners connected to their network that allows any employee to perform ad-hoc scans of documents and letters.

  • Departmental – having a scanning solution in a department or small office that allows employees to scan either in bulk (for example processing forms) or scanning documents on an “as required” basis.

  • Post Room – this allows for all your organisation’s post to be scanned as it enters your mail room and then distributed electronically to the person or department that it is addressed to.

  • External Scanning – for larger companies with many sites, there may be a central location where all post, forms, correspondence are sent where they can be scanned and processed and then distributed electronically to the relevant office or remote employee.


Once you have identified the key types of scanning solutions that will help your organisation - and in many cases a combination of the above may be necessary - you then need to decide if it’s something you want to do in-house or to outsource.


The decision on whether to outsource has generally been around the volumes being processed and the associated costs. For example, many financial institutions outsource the capture of data for forms (such as new accounts, or loan agreements) as it makes sense to pay per job or throughput, with outsourcing companies having the ability to scale up or down to meet demand.


However, the current crisis has also made organisations more aware of how they use paper documents and how this affects their business continuity plans. Many have realised that they are reliant on having access to their incoming paper mail and documents, such as contracts. Outsourcing the capture of these documents would help alleviate these problems.


Many organisations have their mail sent to a PO box number set up by their outsourcer whose team then opens all the post, scans the documents, sends the client electronic versions and can also keep the originals (in case needed) in storage for a defined time before destruction.


Whichever method an organisation chooses, scanning and capture of documents and information scanning or data capture should be a key component of any business process. In many cases it is the cornerstone on which to build digitised business processes.


Whilst in the middle of the current crisis, it may not be possible for many organisations to organise in-house scanning solutions it is still possible to outsource some of your processes.


I know of a few organisations that have outsourced their mail room function by re-directing their mail and within a week or so are now receiving electronic documents from the outsourcer, allowing them to work remotely and continue their business.


Whilst no one knows what the future holds, now is the time to start planning for the possibility of further periods of lockdown or restrictions due to the virus. Businesses may have only a small window in which to prepare for it, so identifying what your business critical documents are and how you can continue to access them is going to be crucial to any organisation going forward.

Download our Scanning White Paper

Whitepaper - Scanning -V1 (IF Final).pdf
Download PDF • 1.05MB


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