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Document imaging management missteps: Problems and pitfalls

Companies embarking on document imaging and scanning programs often skip key fundamentals and end up in trouble with their document management processes. Here are the pitfalls to be aware of.

It really is magic: Push the paper through the scanner and watch it appear on the screen!

Document imaging actually can be that easy when the process is properly planned for and executed. But document imaging management initiatives are often not as carefully planned or executed as they should be, for issues that are – or should be – readily avoidable.

Perhaps the most basic problem is that people can get so excited about the electronic path they’ve embarked upon that they skip right over certain key fundamentals when they look at improving their document management strategies. As a result, they run into trouble and often find that the cost of getting back on track proves to be substantial.

In fact, it has been estimated that 40% of all document imaging and scanning work is rework. That’s a significant proportion when you consider the efforts that go into deploying document imaging systems, so it’s well worth avoiding the major pitfalls in the first place.

Here are some of the common mistakes that can derail implementations of document imaging software and scanning equipment:

Having poor document naming conventions, or none at all. One of the most significant issues might be the simplest to understand and correct. “The biggest sin is failure to name the document properly,” said imaging expert Arthur Gingrande, a Lexington, Mass.-based partner with Imerge Consulting. “People tend to use any handy name that comes to mind instead of one that logically locates the document so it can be easily found later.”

This particular pitfall speaks to so elementary an issue that you don’t even need an imaging system to be tripped up by it. But automating the scanning process can go far toward avoiding it by applying naming conventions to documents according to their function, department or type.

For instance, why not set things up so incoming forms – for vacation requests, say – are automatically given names in the format of “vacrequest-username-datereceived,” with the username and date received information pulled straight from the system? This is the kind of tagging computers are good at, and yet the result is still readily understood by humans – and it’s further applicable to documents that live outside the system.

Having unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations are common within organizations with regard to optical character recognition (OCR) is another frequent issue within organizations. In truth, there is no magic involved in the prototypical next step in the imaging process. “People still think it’s 100% accurate, and it’s not,” said Ralph Gammon, editor and publisher of the Document Imaging Report newsletter and website. “But some people then junk it, and that only makes the mistake worse.”

Extracting text by scanning documents can be anywhere from 85% to 95% accurate, depending on how much, if any, fine-tuning the OCR system has received. However, those accuracy rates are far higher than what is typically achieved by humans retyping content to get documents into an electronically searchable database, so scrapping a system simply because it doesn’t get everything right is short-sighted.

Failing to define needs. It may be that the biggest pitfall is rushing out and buying a document imaging and scanning system – or hiring a scanning service bureau – without first figuring out what the company’s needs are. Knowing how many documents need to be “electronified,” what kinds, paper sizes, whether they’re multicolored and who’s responsible for managing them – those are just some of the critical issues that should be factored into a technology purchase decision. Overlooking company needs could lead to catastrophic outcomes, financially as well as operationally.

Say, for instance, your documents contain text that is highlighted in places. A black-and-white scan will likely turn the highlighted areas black, and thus make them unreadable, while using gray scale should leave them readable and also require much less storage space than a full-color scan would. These are the types of scenarios that need to be sorted out well before any money is spent to ensure that it is being put toward capabilities that actually meet business requirements.

Forgetting the physical parts of the process. The corollary to the previous point is the tendency to forget that much of the work associated with document imaging is still quite physical. Paper will need to be prepared before scanning by unfolding it where necessary, removing staples and paper clips, smoothing badly wrinkled pages, et cetera. The good news is that this step is virtually impossible to skip and that it takes only a matter of minutes to perform at the scanner. The “gotcha” is that the process takes longer – and, usually, costs climb – because of the sudden need to do more work than anticipated.

When all is said and done, document imaging and document scanning systems can be beneficial to any paper-laden organization. Getting all that information on to the computer screen makes it immediately more findable, searchable and shareable and ultimately more valuable to the organization – but only if the proper preparations are made. Otherwise, it is yet another great way to spend lots of money to little effect, and nobody wants that..

Steve Weissman
is a certified instructor in enterprise content and business process management, president of the AIIM New England Chapter and principal consultant at Holly Group, where he advises, writes, teaches and speaks regularly on strategy, needs assessment and RFP development. He can be reached at


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