5 step game plan to digitise your documents

The paperless office has been a dream for a long time, and there’s many reasons why we should pursue it. But the real benefit comes from gaining access to knowledge that comes from data.

The paperless office has been a dream for a long time, and there’s many reasons why we should pursue it. According to Forbes, by digitising documents and records companies can save up to 20% on storage space, and benefit from a 40% increase in office productivity. But the real benefit comes from gaining access to knowledge that comes from data.

If you think of most organisations they have accounts – invoices and bills, supplier receipts and delivery dockets; they have personnel records, and they have projects – service or product records.

All these forms of record, provide information that is valuable if it is accessible to the business owner or manager. Do I have the team with the skills I need for this new project? Can I reduce the cost of processing my accounts payable? Are we able to deliver this product or service at the same quality for a lower cost?

The answers to many of these questions are in thousands of unrelated pieces of paper that float through our organisations.

However, despite a global pandemic moving many organisations to roll out cloud systems across their businesses, storage vaults and garages are full of paper records that remain to haunt and taunt us. So to help you adopt digitisation, we’ve developed a 5-step game plan for you to tackle those dust-collecting boxes.

  1. Assess your challenge
  2. Develop your solution
  3. Allocate resources
  4. Leverage your hardware, software and people
  5. Plan for a digital future

Your digitisation challenge will differ depending on whether you are a SOHO (small office, home office), SME (small to medium enterprise) or large organisation. What ever your size, you will use the same approach; what will differ is the resources you need to throw at your problem.

You also need a plan for keeping the data that you now have available for your analytics. This process is the same for all size businesses:

  • Scan (or convert)
  • Store
  • Leverage
  • Strategise

Say you run a small home-based business. You have a multi-function printer; hopefully a Canon, or at least one that has optical character recognition (OCR) capability. What that means, is that when you search for content within a document, your computer reads the text and doesn’t just see an image. By “reading” the text, your search results will show you the documents that relate to your search topic.

Your first step is to go into the garage and count all those dusty boxes. Let’s say, you have seven years of tax records in standard archive boxes.

Step 1

Assess if you need to keep all the paper documents you have. Establish criteria for keeping records –compliance or completeness of records. How long do you have to keep your records, must you keep paper back ups, or can you move to a completely digital future? What laws apply to the keeping of your records (if you turnover more than $3 million annually, the Privacy Act may apply).

Step 2

Develop a plan to scan or shred your documents. For example, in Australia, the Australian Taxation Office states that you generally need to keep tax records for five years from the date you lodge your tax return.

In your first week, quickly examine the content – if any can be shredded, set it aside. If not, plan your scanning regime. You will need to plan to shred most of your documents later, but for now consider what must be digitised and kept, and how they must be kept.

Step 3

If you are a small business owner, allocate 20 minutes a day to spend scanning material. Set aside the same amount of time each day, first thing, to get the job done. It’s a dirty job and it’s tedious, so don’t attempt too much. Yes, it will take you longer but you will be less likely to abandon your task part way along.

If you are in a medium or larger organisation, you can invest more in hardware and software to make the solution less time consuming and return greater productivity. You can invest in equipment that can scan hundreds of images per minute, integrates with cloud storage and is environmentally friendly.

Step 4

Once you have your plan and schedule, review your existing hardware. Is your shredder up to the challenge? Would it be more productive to take it for secure disposal?

It will cost around $60 per archive box to have someone else securely shred your documents. Or you can order a 240L secure bin for a one-off price of less than $100. This could be money well spent on shredding, particularly if you have large amounts of material to dispose of.

Then start your scanning schedule – this may take weeks or months, depending on quantity and your allocation of resources. However, once you have a good idea of how much material you need to scan, next you need to ensure you can process it.

Is your multi-function device able to process your images with OCR (optical character recognition)? If not, it’s time to upgrade your hardware. While you are at it, ensure your new hardware is networked (to your computer system) has cloud capability (it can scan documents and send them straight to your preferred cloud storage service like Google Drive or Box), and it has a high image per minute (ipm) capability. When scanning, the IPM measures how fast your device will scan basic text, and you will know that graphics and pictures will take longer.

If you are a larger business, you can invest in systems that help you to be more productive by using dedicated scanning equipment that can scan, store and leverage information automatically – from accounts payable to almost any document storage requirement.

At enterprise level, a managed document system will ensure that you reduce costs and increase productivity. No more relying on Tim, from IT, to resolve print issues.

Step 5

Now that you have a plan and you are implementing to deal with your past non-digital production, the next step is to plan for a completely digital future.

You need to ensure that attachments to emails can be added to your storage system and that you can leverage the information they provide to ensure you are getting the business intelligence you need.

If you get paper receipts for anything, have a system for scanning them and sending them straight to your accounting system. Most popular accounting packages, like Xero, have integrations with today’s scanners. For larger organisations, Canon devices allow employees to send invoices to the accounts payable department while Canon software validates calculations and ensures taxes and totals are correct. This can reduce invoice processing costs from more than $6 to less than $1.50 per invoice, which can make a big difference over 100s of invoices a month.

Even as a solo operator, you can scan your receipts and email them directly to your accounting program, thus reducing your manual handling. Apart from receipts, ensure all your recurring statements such as rent, bank or supplier invoices are supplied digitally and set up workflows to automatically send PDFs or other attachments directly to your cloud storage or accounting system.

Whatever the size of your organisation, digitisation can save you time and resources. It can improve integration for your business systems, you can select equipment that aligns with your sustainability goals and you can safeguard information through document and hardware control.

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