Tuesday, October 11, 2005

I sell document management solutions for a living, and it seems to me that businesses are increasingly interested in migrating their paper documents to digital images. They perceive value in the potential space savings and workflow efficiencies, and are begining to respond more positively to the notion of investing in an archival system (at least).

The challenge lies in overcoming their fundamental ignorance of digital imaging concepts. This is particularly true regarding capture, or the methods by which paper is converted to an electronic analogue and transfered to some backend storage system. They seem to struggle with the notion that scanning and indexing (associating images with key values to enable efficient retreival) is an incrediby labor-intensive task, and often represents a higher cost in labor than the combined cost of the hardware, software, and implementation services.

Consider that, by industry standards, a single scanning operator who performs his own document preparation can be expected to prepare, scan, and index at most 25o pages per hour. In and of itself, this could be considered an unrealistic estimate, depending on the state of the documents being scanned. A simple scanning operation with one scanner would therefore take on average at least 4,000 labor hours to complete a backfile conversion (the process of scanning all existing pages) of 1,000,000 pages. That's a person working full-time for two years.

Most often, when presented with such statistics, potential customers are shocked. Their interest in the project understandably wanes, and in many cases they abandon the project completely. In some cases, the value of electronic storage and retrieval is high enough that day-forward scanning is good enough; eventually, documents in the backfile will go away through sheer attrition.

The point of this discussion is: technology itself is only one side of a sometimes very expensive coin. How technology impacts an organization, and the cost of implementing technology, is often more important than the cost of the technology itself.