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Why Small Businesses Need to Digitize Documents

Emily Watson
Emily Watson

Learn about the benefits of digitizing your documents and how to do it.

As your business progresses from a startup to an established business, the volume of paper documents grows exponentially, and that stockpiled paperwork wastes space and is difficult to manage. One solution is to digitize everything; you can use digital conversion techniques to convert all of your business's paper documents to electronic versions that are stored either on your own server or in the cloud. This allows you to manage documents more efficiently, without losing critical documents, thereby avoiding damage to your business's credibility.

What is document scanning?

Document scanning, also called document imaging, is the process of capturing digital images of paper documents. The images of the physical documents are then transformed into a digital format using OCR conversion software. OCR, or optical character recognition, scans document images and turns them into text documents. This intelligent conversion allows documents to be searched with relevant keywords.

Editor's note: Looking for the right document management system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

 

What is document scanning for small businesses?

As a small business owner operating on a shoestring budget, you need to slash redundant costs. Having to search through a vast volume of paper documents could result in lost productivity, as well as require additional space to safely archive it all, and those recurring costs add up.  

Document scanning can help small businesses avoid those challenges and, in turn, save money in the long run. You can entrust a document scanning service provider to have paper documents, microfilms, plans, maps, blueprints and other media converted to a digital format. In addition to saving space, converting documents to digital formats makes your documents more secure because you can save them as read-only files, decide who can access each file and encrypt the data.

Digitized files are also easier to access and navigate, leading to improved customer service quality, increased productivity, quicker retrieval of relevant information and alleviation of fear about damaging critical physical documents.

If you have sensitive documents, such as those with financial information, you can use a redaction service to remove sensitive data from the digital files after the paper documents have been scanned.

A data keying service may also be useful after your documents are scanned. This type of service verifies the accuracy of scanned documents and manually inputs information, assuring minimal errors. Data keying allows you to conform to digital data retention stipulations. You just need to specify your preferred layout or format for the data. Digital files can then be incorporated seamlessly into your company's database.  

After all of your paper documents have been scanned and rendered editable, the paper versions can be destroyed, with the exception of documents required for statutory compliance and other legal purposes. The service provider can shred sensitive documents in bulk.

What are the advantages of having scanned documents?

There are many advantages of digitizing your documents. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Share documents easily. It's faster to share scanned documents digitally than to mail, fax or hand-deliver paper documents. Digitizing also streamlines the document-sharing process, which enhances efficiency and productivity. Digitizing allows many people and multiple departments to access the same document simultaneously, thereby improving collaboration.

  • Store information safely. Scanned documents allow for the safe digital storage of records. Digital files can be safely stored or backed up on remote servers that have high-security protocols in place. In addition, unlike with paper documents, there is virtually no risk of losing or misplacing digital documents, and you can archive and manage digital documents in a structured way.

  • Incorporate digital elements. Scanning allows information to be captured from paper files, films, tapes and other media. Information can be read from barcodes, RFID chips, QR codes and other inputs that can be scanned. The scanned information can be transformed for use with document management systems, enterprise resource planning software, management information system software, customer relationship management toolsand other business applications.
  • Save money and time. You can access and use all scanned documents with just a few clicks, meaning you no longer need to search through heaps of paper files or have a warehouse dedicated to storing papers. According to a 2015 report from eFileCabinet, the average organization spends $20 to file a document, $120 to search for a lost document and $220 to re-create a lost document.

  • Improve customer service. Digitized documents can be indexed with different metadata, which makes it easier and faster for you and your staff to find information and provide it to your customers.

  • Minimize storage space. You no longer need to maintain a separate office space for storing documents. Expenses related to storing paper files can be eliminated.
  • Meet compliance regulations. Some industries have statutory compliance norms mandating that certain documents be maintained in a digital format. With scanning, you can achieve this quickly and inexpensively.

  • Reduce paper waste. As documents are scanned, paper waste is drastically eliminated, thereby discouraging deforestation and saving money. You also save money that would be spent on paper for printing and shredders for proper paper disposal.

  • Increase file accessibility. All scanned files can be uploaded to the cloud or shared. That means anyone with the right credentials can access them from on-site or remote locations, and any information can be searched within editable files in a moment.

What are the different types of document scanning services? 

Scanning usually involves using a scanner lens to capture digital images of physical documents. However, basic scans of papers aren't very useful; because they're just digital images, all you can do is view them. A reputable scanning service can help you build on the basic functionality of these files by adding the following features:

  • The ability to edit and mark up scanned papers
  • High-resolution images in both color and black and white
  • Different formats for storing at large or small scales

Here are the different types of document scanning services:

  1. Bulk scanning. With this type of document scanning service, high-quality devices scan large numbers of documents in one go. There is no need to handle each paper individually, so the time span of scanning is short.

  2. Large-format scanning. When the physical document is large, such as 54 x 72 inches, a large scanner captures superior-quality images. You can specify the color, size, resolution and file type of the scanned documents. Examples of such files include posters, maps and architectural plans.

  3. OCR scanning. You can get editable scanned files with support for edits using OCR scanning. The scanned file is not in an image format, so you can search for keywords. You can also edit text easily without affecting the original font style.

  4. Microfiche and microfilm scanning.This type of service converts data stored on tapes and microfilms to indexable digital files, making it easier to share, store, access and retrieve digital files.

  5. Off-site and on-site scanning. In off-site scanning, a service provider scans documents at its own location. However, if the documents are classified and sensitive, you need to choose a service that can complete the work on-site so that your documents do not get misplaced or lost during transportation. An authorized person can watch the entire process to prevent any information theft. However, on-site scanning can be slower and more expensive than off-site scanning.

What types of documents can you have scanned?

There is really no limit to the types of documents you can digitize. If you are starting from scratch to convert all of your paper documents to electronic versions, it's best to prioritize the following types of documents:

  • Official correspondences
  • Financial papers
  • Contractual agreements
  • Medical records
  • HR files
  • Bills and invoices
  • Survey maps
  • Other large documents

After you digitize the documents with a high-quality scanner, the next step is to enter the descriptive information needed to identify files. Using intelligent OCR, you can transform scanned images into readable text, and retrieve, read and share them using different apps.

What are some document digitization and management services?

There are hundreds of document digitization services you can choose from based on your business needs. At business.com, we researched document management services to find the best options for small businesses. To do so, we examined several important factors, such as cost, ease of use and storage capacity. Here are the document digitization and management services we selected as our best picks:

  • Microsoft SharePoint. We chose Microsoft SharePoint as the best document management software because of its familiar interface and tools, including team site, which allows users to organize documents by department. It also encourages collaboration, because with authorization, users from other teams can view or edit documents within other team sites.

  • M-Files. We chose M-Files as the easiest-to-use document management software because it has a very neat and familiar layout, similar to the Windows File Explorer interface. It allows users to do most tasks from a central dashboard and has offline access. Its workflow automation tools also help you organize and assign tasks to the appropriate users.

  • Dokmee. We selected Dokmee as the best secured-document management software because of its impressive safeguards, including audit log features and round-the-clock data monitoring. All user accounts are encrypted and password protected.

  • FileHold Express. We picked FileHold Express as the best scalable document management program because it's designed for growing teams. It can accommodate between five and 20 users, as well as larger companies through its FileHold Enterprise subscription tiers. Making the switch to these options is quick and inexpensive.

Here are some other popular document management systems:

  • eFileCabinet
  • Zoho
  • Templafy
  • DocuWare
  • Xait
  • Hightail
  • MasterControl

How to choose document management software

Before choosing a document management system, consider your business's requirements for storage space, sorting and search tools, and security.

Also, think about where you want the system hosted. Do you want an on-site solution or a cloud-based service that's managed by a third party?

Look for a service that allows you to set permission restrictions on certain files, because this lets you control which employees have access to certain documents. Additionally, a system that stores your documents in the cloud is ideal because users can access files from any device with an internet connection – an especially important functionality for businesses with remote employees.

The best document management software allows your team to work and collaborate seamlessly. You shouldn't have to use multiple programs to manage your paperless documents. Make sure your application has imaging tools that work with your scanner, customizable document-creation templates and tools that automatically format scanned files to match office or industry standards. Having a range of workflow automation tools is helpful, as these tools allow you to create, edit, review and approve all scanned documents for your business. You also want a system that lets you import a variety of digital documents, like PDFs, word processing files, spreadsheets and image files.

Additional reporting by Simone Johnson.

Image Credit: Tatomm / Getty Images
Emily Watson
Emily Watson,
business.com Writer
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Responsible for developing and maintaining commercially productive relationships with both new and old clients. Also in care of identifying every sales lead and of making the most out of every opportunity to increase revenue and profitability.