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Document Scanning Services Buying Guide

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After more than one hundred years in the business of helping clients store, manage and protect their information, Vanguard Archives has developed a deep understanding of our clients, our competitors and the industry we operate in.

Oftentimes our clients or prospects will ask us questions about our industry and about what separates us from our competitors. This Document Scanning Services Buyers Guide is intended to help buyers of our services better understand how our business works and what types of things they might want to look for when selecting a vendor.

When considering whether or not to spend time and money scanning your documents, it is important to distinguish between your company's existing "back-files" and new documents that will be created or received by your company "day-forward."

Day-forward files

For the day-forward variety, scanning almost always makes sense since the amount of time it takes to scan documents is roughly the same as the time it takes to file documents away physically - and there are quite a few advantages to a paperless filing system.


Document scanning often does not make sense for existing back-files. In addition to having already done the work to physically file these documents away, you also may have made them more difficult to scan by adding staples, separating them into folders, etc. Scanning these existing files usually only makes sense if:

  • The documents are accessed frequently
  • You require distributed and/or simultaneous access to the documents by different people sitting in different places
  • The documents need to be retained for a long period of time
  • The documents are vital to your business and you need backup copies to prepare for disaster recovery

If you are considering back-file scanning solely for the purpose of freeing up office space, then you may be better off storing the records offsite. An offsite records storage vendor can still help you transition to a paperless workplace, but in a more cost effective way: as you need to access individual documents, your vendor can scan them "on-demand" and make them available to you online or via email.

If you decide that it does make sense for your company to digitize its documents, your next question may be whether it makes sense for your company to do its own scanning - or whether you should outsource to a scanning service. Factors which could influence your decision may include the volume of documents to be scanned, and whether or not documents will need to be scanned on a regular basis going forward.

Ongoing scanning required

For low volumes where documents will be scanned on a regular basis going forward, you may be able to easily incorporate document scanning into your workflow by equipping users with desktop scanners or using multifunction devices already in your offices. For higher volumes where scanning will be an ongoing requirement, setting up an in-house scanning operation will most likely require you to dedicate office space to the operation, staff up accordingly, and invest in high volume scanners and scanning software.

One-time scanning jobs

If scanning will be irregular, or if it is a one-time job, outsourcing to a document scanning service may be your best option since it will save you from having to purchase equipment and hire and train temporary workers. If you decide to do your scanning in-house, some document scanning service providers will consult with you to help you select the scanning equipment and software that best meets your needs.

Turning paper documents into digital format is a labor-intensive process. Running documents through a scanner is often just the tip of the iceberg; document preparation and indexing/data entry can add significantly to the amount of labor required to complete a scanning project. As a result, document scanning services can be costly, and prices can vary widely typically from 5 cents to 15 cents per image. The main factors determining how much it will cost to scan your documents include:

  • The volume of documents being scanned
  • The dimensions of the documents - for example, oversized documents will be more expensive to scan as special equipment is required and the scanning process takes longer
  • How much preparation work is required before documents can be scanned (for example staple removal, removal of documents from binders)
  • How much preparation work is required after documents are scanned (for example re-stapling)
  • The number of pages per document, as well as the number of index/search fields per document
  • Whether or not you want your documents to be free-text searchable which will require Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  • Whether the documents are to be scanned in black & white or color
  • Your required scanning resolution
  • How soon you need your project done

If you decide that you'd like an outside document scanning service to digitize your documents, you may want to meet with and interview several vendors in order to determine which one is the right fit for your company. Some steps you may want take with each vendor are:

Conduct a demo scan

Ask your prospective vendor(s) to provide a demo/sample of your own documents prior to commencing work so that you know what quality to expect and to ensure that the vendor knows how much work is involved in your project and won't have a good argument for changing the quoted price after scanning has begun.

Understand how pricing works

Be sure you know whether each quote you receive is a comprehensive per-image quote or whether document preparation, indexing, quality control, etc. will be billed separately. Also find out if any minimums apply.

Get quality assurances

Determine whether or not human quality control (QC) will be performed on your job, and find out if QC will be done using a sampling process or if each page will be individually checked. Ask for references, and follow up to find out if they check out. Find out if your vendor offers a quality guarantee on their final product and how long you have to identify any quality problems.

Consider your vendor's facilities and staff.

Find out if your documents will stay local, or if they will they be shipped out of the state/country for scanning and indexing. If they will stay local then visit their facilities and look for things like alarm systems and video monitoring. If your documents contain any sensitive information, make sure your vendor's employees sign confidentiality agreements and are required to undergo background checks.

Before you select an output format for your documents and decide how you want your digitized files delivered to you, you will need to know what you plan on doing with those documents after scanning.

Output format

If you plan on uploading your scanned images into a document management system, then you will likely want your scanning vendor to return you TIFF documents in a format that allows you to easily upload the documents into your system. On the other hand, if you plan on putting your documents out on a shared network drive, then you will most likely want your documents in the PDF format, since this format is more familiar to most end users. You will need to decide in advance what the network folder structure and file naming convention will be. Both the folders and file names should be based on the index/search values of your documents. Generally, the folder structure should mimic your physical filing system.

Delivery method

Regardless of what you plan on doing with your documents after scanning, your vendor can return your scanned documents on CD or DVD or, alternatively, transfer them to you via FTP. If you do plan on using a document management system, your vendor may also be able to directly upload your documents into that system.

A final consideration for scanning your documents is what to do with the physical papers after they have been scanned.

Securely destroy originals

In most instances, a scanned document is as good as the original – unless there is a legal, regulatory or business reason that originals must be kept. As a result, it is not uncommon for physical documents to be shredded after scanning. If you do not want or need to keep your physical documents after scanning, most vendors will offer document shredding services – be sure to ask if there is an extra cost for this service.

Retain originals as backups

Some companies feel more comfortable retaining their hardcopy documents as a backup. If you need or want to retain your physical documents after scanning, your vendor can return the documents to you after scanning. Many document scanning vendors also offer offsite document storage services if you don't have extra space available in your offices.

Companies use document imaging systems to convert paper documents into digital format. Of course, all companies choose to go paperless for different reasons. Oftentimes there is a particular challenge that needs to be solved- such as providing numerous people simultaneous access to a single set of documents. Other times, a combination of factors come into play - such as convenience, cost savings and better operational control.


Digitizing documents allows instantaneous access to documents throughout the organization - for example, access to client contracts by the customer service department, the sales department and the billing department. If permitted, users may also access documents remotely while outside of the office. Digitizing also improves document search capabilities - for example, the ability to search for and quickly aggregate all documentation related to a particular vendor including invoices, contracts, correspondence, etc.

Efficiency and Cost Savings

Going paperless requires scanning documentation upfront, but it results in many efficiencies as well. It reduces manual filing and retrieval activities and frees up employees to focus on value-added tasks rather than administrative tasks. Digitizing also frees up storage space and reduces costs associated with shipping/mailing documents among company facilities.

Control and Compliance

Converting to digitized documents can also improve compliance in a number of different ways. It allows the creation of a master repository for all corporate documents, eliminates "silos," and reduces the likelihood of lost or misplaced documents. Most document management systems offer better control through customizable user access rights, workflow programming and activity tracking, allowing companies to control the flow of documents and keep an auditable history of what was done, when, and by whom. And for vital records, digitizing makes it easy to make backup copies for disaster recovery preparation.

When companies go paperless, there are generally two ways to manage the digitized documentation: store and manage the documents on a shared network drive, or store and manage the documents in an electronic content management (ECM) system. Storing documents on a network drive will almost certainly be a cheaper option, and may be sufficient for your company. However, an ECM system gives you the ability to do some things that will be more difficult to accomplish if you store your documents on a network drive.

Index and search capabilities

ECM systems allow for easier enforcement of consistency in indexing and file naming conventions. In addition, these systems can allow for more powerful search capabilities - for example, the ability to search simultaneously on a number of different search criteria and locate all documents matching those criteria (in a network folder structure you are generally limited to the ability to "drill down" through the folder structure or conduct a general search for folder or file names).

Access control

An ECM system allows you to control individual users' access and activity rights in many different ways. If you allow it, users can access documents while outside of your offices.

If you decide that an electronic content management (ECM) system makes sense for your company, you will be faced with the challenge of reviewing and comparing different systems to determine which one is right for you. As you go through this process, in addition to finding out the cost of each system, you may want to ask the following questions as you review each one:

What type of system do I want?

A hosted system offers lower startup costs and lowers the burden on IT resources. However, these systems also have a higher long-term cost and typically involve giving up some control as your documents are stored in "the cloud." An in-house system requires a higher upfront investment and a higher IT burden, but offers a lower long-term cost as well as better overall control.

What features and functionality do I need?

Just about all ECM systems will provide you with basic storage, search and retrieval functionality. For more advanced systems, workflow functionality will also be available, although often at an added cost. Workflow modules are used to automate business processes; documents are automatically routed online from user to user, based on existing business rules, as transactions are processed. If you have other specific needs or requirements, make sure to see a demo of your desired features before making a purchase.

Is it an open system or a closed one?

Find out if the software uses open architecture and non-proprietary file formats. Also find out what the process and cost is for transitioning your documents to a different system should it become necessary in the system. If you will desire any points of integration between your ECM system and other business systems used by your company, make sure it can be accomplished and find out if extra costs will be involved.

Is the system scalable to my potential future needs?

This will be important if you plan on rolling the system out to other departments within your organization after the initial implementation.   Some systems are designed more for departmental use, while others are better suited for enterprise-wide deployment. If you have an IT department, you may want to involve them early in the process in order to provide guidance as to a) what software your company already owns that may help you accomplish your objectives, and b) what ECM system will work best with the rest of your IT infrastructure.

How much you should expect to pay for an ECM system will depend primarily on the volume of documentation you process, how many users need to access the system, and what type of functionality you need. You will likely find that the pricing structure is different for each system you look at, so apples-to-apples comparisons can be difficult. The best advice may be to select the system that you are most comfortable with and make sure the pricing is not out of line with other available products.

Hosted systems

For a basic low-volume system with the ability to store, search and retrieve digital documents, you may expect to pay about $150 per month plus some startup costs. For a more advanced system with work flow and integration with other business systems, you may expect to pay $1,000 or more per month plus startup costs. You could almost certainly find less expensive systems, but you will want to do some due diligence to verify things like quality of customer support, robustness of the data center where your data will be stored, etc.

In-house systems

For a basic low-volume system with the ability to store, search and retrieve, you may expect to pay about $5,000 plus installation and training costs. For a more advanced system with work flow and integration with other business systems, you may expect to pay $25,000 or more plus installation and training costs. Most vendors will also charge 20% or so for annual maintenance and support on in-house systems.

Other notes on costs

With most systems, both hosted and in-house, your costs will increase with your usage - generally based on the amount of information stored or the number of users, or a combination of both. Find out if unlimited phone support is included with your software or if support costs extra. Prevent creeping costs. If possible, put into writing how you plan to use your system and have your vendor confirm in writing that the system you are buying includes all required functionality.

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