One of the most imminent job threats for many records managers is the expected conversion of paper records to digital documents or data when a new document imaging system is to be procured by an organization. The need for records managers to be involved in the design and management of computer systems has been advocated for many years (mostly by records managers). However, poorly designed computer systems that ignore records retention guidelines or store data indiscriminately have been common in companies for decades. It is the actual disappearance of the physical paper records when an electronic document management system is implemented that most threatens the livelihoods of many records managers.
Without the existence of a physical report, form, document, or piece of paper as documentation of a business activity, two dangerous situations occur. First of all, records managers are locked out of the business processes in which records were formerly sent (eventually) to a records center. Valuable information may not be properly protected. In addition, the very items that they were to manage, the paper records themselves, actually disappear. Without paper records to manage, who needs the managers? Records managers must therefore be ready to participate in the transition to a work environment not dominated by paper documents. They must also be willing to acquire new job skills that will enable them to assist their organizations as they try to make a transition from a paper-dominated workplace to a computer-based digital work environment.
After all, who is better positioned to support the transition of paper documents to electronic objects or files? Records managers understand the information management principles that must be implemented in electronic environments. They already know record types, formats, and often their contents. They are presently managing many of the records. Records managers simply need to learn the new technology issues and techniques so that they can be uniquely able to assist in these transitions. For these reasons, we will explore the present market for converting paper to digital documents and see what techniques might be useful to know or what skills might be good to cultivate.
BACKFILE CONVERSIONS ARE BIG BUSINESS
One of the major activities in implementing any electronic document management technology is often the conversion of an existing collection of documents to digital format. Although occasionally users of a new system simply begin to enter the only data that will be used, most often a backlog of information already exists and must be imported into the new computer system. No department or organization really wants to operate for long in dual mode with both paper documents and electronic files. Dual mode operation would entail a slow manual search for any document older than a certain date and a fast electronic search for anything newer. The increased information retrieval speed and improved operational utility of the computer-based document retrieval almost always drives an organization to place as much of their information as possible within the computer system.
For these reasons, many records automation projects start with scanning or importing documents or data into the digital environment. A number of companies presently offer these services commercially - Dataplex, Docucon, Image Conversion Services, First Image Management, Scanning America, and others. Often called "service bureaus," they can assist in many ways to speed up the transformation of paper documents into digital formats. They can also assist with conversions of paper documents to microfilm and microfiche, and some firms have special areas of expertise, such as aperture card or engineering drawing conversions. They may employ sophisticated optical character recognition software for converting images to editable indexed text files. Data entry services are often available, and other services may include moving data between media formats such as CD-ROM or other optical disk formats. …