Document imaging (DI) technology is no longer narrowly defined as a digital replacement for the file cabinet. Today DI can also index, retrieve, and store a lot more of those files inside the same digital cabinet.

DI technology scans paper documents and compresses the images for storage on optical disks. This system reduces the time it takes users to locate, share, and transfer documents and also compresses storage needs by eliminating some paper documents altogether.

“It opens up the opportunities for improvements in work flows and efficiencies that would not otherwise be possible,” said Jim Ward of American Management Systems.

The popularity of DI is growing, especially in the health care, insurance, and finance industries. Yet, according to a recent TechRepublic IT Manager Republic survey, many organizations are not using DI.

Figure A

Almost 43 percent of the survey’s 2,813 respondents said that they use document imaging technology (see Figure A).

Figure B

Only 21.6 percent of the survey respondents said they had no need for DI technology (seeFigure B).

Figure C

The survey results suggest that implementing DI technology is on the horizon for many IT managers, with over 25 percent of the respondents indicating that plans are in the works (see Figure C).

Key benefits
Here are a few key issues that IT managers should consider before diving into DI.

While expense and equipment requirements may be a deterrent to adoption for some organizations (see Figure B), key benefits can be achieved and should be considered. According to ESI, a document imaging company in North Carolina, DI can reduce costs by:

  • Reducing the amount of time wasted locating documents.
  • Lowering the cost of replacing lost or misplaced documents.
  • Reducing the cost of long-term or off-site storage.
  • Speeding the document retrieval process.

Key challenges
DI also presents a number of challenges for organizations moving large amounts of data such as high-volume business transactions and customer profiles. IT managers considering the adoption of DI should be aware of these issues:

  • The technology can be expensive. While the price of DI has dropped since its introduction in the mid-1980s, Gartner said that $50,000 is an average price for standard imaging capabilities.
  • DI requires a lot of equipment. You will need a capable scanner, an image viewing system (Gartner said many vendors provide viewers free of charge with DI software packages), and the software and hardware to compress and display images.
  • Storage methods can change. The storage tools in use today (optical disks) may be obsolete in a short amount of time, according to Gartner.
  • The architecture of DI may change. What started as a client/server model for DI is changing to a more popular Web-centric, three-tier architecture, said Gartner.
  • Network infrastructure must be strong. DI technology compresses documents after they are scanned. A single compressed document of 50 KB may not tax a network, but transmissions of two or more pages as a single block of data can saturate a network, said Gartner.
  • Predicting growth can be difficult. You should consider how your organization will grow before you implement DI technology. “Sometimes people don’t plan for success.…They may outgrow the system, or a system that works on a small scale doesn’t necessarily work on an enterprise scale. They need to be aware of what the growth paths of the system will be,” said Ward. Ask yourself if the network can handle anticipated growth, he added.

Let us know how you use DI

This is the beginning of a series of articles on document imaging technology. If you have questions about DI or problems in your organization with a segment of the technology, let us know by sending us an e-mail or starting a discussion below.