Steps to transition from a paper-based filing system to electronic records

By Glenbeigh Records Management, Monday, 14th March 2022 | 0 comments
Filed under: Document Scanning.

Transitioning from a paper-based filing system to electronic records can yield many benefits for an organisation including reducing storage costs and records management overheads, streamlining access and control to specific information, and making it easier to share information with colleagues. A full list of benefits is outlined in our blog post Top 10 Benefits of Document Scanning.

Having decided to convert frequently assessed paper records or a whole paper-based filing system in your office to an electronic document alternative, it is important to formulate a plan that addresses the key steps involved in making the transition successful. These steps are outlined below:


Standardising Naming Conventions

Different departments or offices may take different approaches to indexing documents. The goal here is to devise a naming convention that can be adopted by all parties the files relate to. This naming convention should be concise but descriptive and avoid special characters or spaces in the file name.

File elements to consider using in a naming convention include the creation date, file number, project name, and a short description. Getting this part of the project right is an important part of organising, sharing, and keeping track of electronic records.


Preparing the Records for Digitisation

Paper records can be organised in numerous types of ways including in plastic sleeves, lever arch folders, or hanging files within a filing cabinet. To scan paper records accurately, they need to be singular pieces of paper prepared correctly. Preparing the records for scanning can therefore involve tasks such as unbinding, removing staples and paper clips, or moving post-it notes to areas on pages that do not cover text. Understanding all the tasks involved in prepping the paper records for scanning will allow you to assess the time and resources required for this aspect of the project.


Digitising the Paper Records

The next step is to choose a suitable document scanner. Whilst multi-function devices can scan small batches of documents, it might be worth investing in an industrial device with higher throughputs if you have large volumes. Other considerations include the capability to capture both sides of two-sided documents, the quality of the image output, the output format, and whether it can be in colour.

To complete any digitisation project the scanned images, typically PDF files, will need to be named as per the details on the file while adhering to your agreed naming convention to be retrievable in the future. This can be streamlined should you have a file listing available but can be a considerable manual overhead if not and should be carefully considered as small errors can make retrieving specific records difficult.

While considering the retrieval of scanned images in the future you may also consider retrieving specific information from within those records through text search functionality. This would require the scanned images being processed through optical character recognition (OCR) software to make them text searchable. The cost of this software and the time required to process the scanned images would also need to be taken into account.

Deciding whether to digitise your paper records in-house or outsource a project will depend on the number of paper records to be digitised, how they are currently organised, and the availability of space, infrastructure, technical expertise, and time to digitise them.


Choosing and Implementing an Electronic Document Management System

These days there are numerous solutions for storing electronic records, whether in the cloud or on-premise. Deciding where to store your electronic files is a critical factor in the transition process and the elements of each solution that need to be reviewed include security, access management, and cost.

If there is robust and well-maintained on-premise infrastructure already in place then storing the electronic records there could be preferable and setting up a restricted shared drive could work well for controlling access to key staff. If there is no on-premise infrastructure available, a secure cloud solution could offer a quick setup with minimal recurring expenses. Access here can be managed using login profiles and upgrades are looked after by the cloud solution provider.

With either option, you should be able to set up your electronic filing system just like your paper filing system, with folder and sub-folder structures for the records. It would be important to develop a system for naming folders with keywords that give you information about the documents contained within them. The naming of these folders in combination with the naming of the files as per your chosen naming convention will allow you to carry out electronic searches to find the exact documents you are looking for quicker.


Managing Organisational Change

The next step is to ensure all staff are using the new electronic document management system correctly and can take full advantage of its features. It is therefore important to think about what is involved in communicating with, educating, and supporting employees during this organisational change. These tasks will be influenced by the type of electronic document management system chosen.

Once employees become comfortable using the new filing system, they will soon realise the benefits for themselves.


Incorporating Future Records

Finally, if paper records are still going to be generated it is important not to overlook how they will be incorporated into your new electronic document management system. As part of a wider digitalisation strategy future records may be created digitally going forward and your electronic document management system for paper records may only form part of the digitalisation of your business. Whatever the case might be, thinking about it now will ensure you don’t end up with a backlog of paper records that have not been incorporated into your new electronic document management system. Options to address this include digitising records when received and digitising in batches for example weekly. The chosen timeline will depend on the urgency of having electronic access.


Glenbeigh Records Management specialises in document scanning and can assist with large and small scanning projects alike. We have encountered all types of file organisation and have scanned all paper sizes to numerous types of output requirements. For live files, we offer a digital mailroom solution.

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