Changing work patterns and technology use over the past 10 years has meant significant increases in the number of electronic documents being created. There has also been a shift towards the expectation that documents are readily available electronically. Home working trends have increased this expectation and this need has increased exponentially over the past year, with home working becoming the norm.
Most organisations that we work with still use numerous physical document repositories. This ranges from the mail room, through to records storage areas. This means that live, or semi-current records that cannot be retired in archives, still exist, and need to be accessed by employees for day-to-day work.
Coordinating travel and access to view physical records securely is time consuming and inefficient, compared with accessing electronic ready documents. This has become significantly more challenging with lockdowns and social distancing measures being enforced.
We’ve seen a clear trend in the last 12 months: increased pressures and needs for digitisation, combined with decreased timescales to implement.
‘Why don’t you Digitise Everything’?
Often, when the subject of a digitisation project is raised, the motives to simply ‘digitise everything’ are discussed. It regularly comes up in the context of the planning phase. The insinuation is typically that mapping out a process is irrelevant, if everything needs to be scanned eventually – why not just grab the first box and work your way across everything?
One of the biggest setbacks for organisations wishing to digitise their legacy documentation comes down to not knowing what the starting point for such a project is. Grabbing the first box, on the first shelf, and working across the repository is certainly a way to make sure everything is captured. However, projects need to be justifiable in terms of resourcing, and they need to prove cost savings, resource efficiency, or both. The approach, therefore, needs to ensure that any digitisation projects are done with business priority in mind.
When considering the, often huge, amount of physical documentation, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. This is particularly challenging when each user or stakeholder is validating the importance of their own work. The project can feel overwhelming, and therefore rather than a define a digitisation strategy and approach, organisations take an ad-hoc approach. This approach means picking and completing arears that have an immediate business need for the files to be available electronically. This is regularly seen as a solution to the problem of the scale of the project by breaking it down into manageable areas. When an area with a justifiable business need is digitised, the next can be tackled, making measuring targets and justifying resource use easier.
However, this approach can lead to information gaps, especially if proper investigation is not done beforehand, to understand which information is available in electronic formats and which connecting information may still be physical. Depending on the database or software used to hold information, this might need an additional process to make sure information is not missed – especially if an organisation is subject to SAR or FOI requests.
Tackling Digitisation Effectively
If you are an organisation holding legacy physical documents, that employees need access to, it’s clear there are significant challenges to address. Providing access, while remaining compliant has been a significant challenge over the last 12 months. Maybe this means that your conversations regarding digitisation have altered, with more of an emphasis to its priority – possibly having been something you never considered before.
The increased need for electronic working has meant digitisation projects have been prioritised, while timescales have been cut significantly. Within these reduced times, it is important to remember that corners should not be cut. Digitisation is a specialist ability and needs to be approached in such a way to make sure that documents held by the organisations maintain their evidential weight once away from its original format.
Without digital images being produced by specialist scanners, with high quality specifications the legal admissibility of documents can be diminished. Examples of this could be low quality scans of documents being used in a court case, where the reduced quality image leads to debate around the content of the documents meaning that they can waken an organisation case as they cannot be irrefutable evidence. The British Standards Institution has clear guidance for organisations to make sure that this does not happen, which needs to be incorporated into a digitisation plan.
For short term home working, it might be tempting to digitise work in the quickest method possible. However, long term, you’re more likely than not creating future challenges. For example, challenges around space resource, due to not being able to dispose of the physical copies as they hold the evidential weight, or by having to redo the digitisation process to capture the information correctly.
Over the past 12 months, we have seen an increased need for digitisation, alongside decreased timescales for making it happen. We take a holistic approach to digitisation projects, focusing on understanding current work practices and work cultures, while influencing behavioural change and change management throughout the project. If you would like to know more about how to tackle your digitisation project, or to talk about any challenges you may be facing, please get in touch.