Government agencies are the largest source of paper documentation and microfilm records in the country. This is because government agencies are responsible for the preservation of tax documents, business licenses, permits, financial documents, historical records, and more.
At one time, paper and microfilm were the gold standards of information storage. Not just in government, but in the private sector as well.
Of course, a lot of things have changed over the last few decades, and the low cost of digital storage has led many agencies to move away from physical data storage altogether.
For government agencies that generate a large volume of paperwork, the challenges of going paperless can be difficult to overcome.
Budgetary constraints, limited staff, and massive paper backlogs make the transition to a paperless agency nearly impossible.
The result? Millions of paper documents, stacked mountains high in records storage facilities and government offices, collecting dust and wasting space.
In an effort to reduce costs, consolidate information, and improve customer service, many state and local government offices leverage private sector document scanning companies to help facilitate the digitization of paper records.
This allows government agencies to take advantage of tried and true processes developed through experience, and eliminates the many headaches encountered when converting paper documents into digital files.
What are the benefits of scanning government records?
Digitizing paper documents enables government agencies to operate more efficiently, improving the quality of services provided and making it easier to keep up with demand. But that’s not all, below are 5 more benefits of leaving paper behind.
Document scanning makes it possible to store important documents in a single centralized file system. Government employees are able to access and share important data as needed, without taking a trip to the filing cabinet. This improves collaboration and makes backup, security, and records management simpler.
Identifiers are extracted from each scanned document during the indexing process and exposed as searchable metadata, making it possible for employees to locate any file with just a few keystrokes. This helps to eliminate time spent manually sifting through documents, decreasing the time it takes to perform document-centric tasks. The result is faster turnaround times, better quality of service, and reduced labor.
Storing paper requires physical space which often comes at a premium, making it an expensive option when compared to digital storage. The disparity in cost grows as more documents are stored, offering greater potential savings at high volumes.
Electronic filing systems help to reduce the total amount of paper that must be stored, offering long term cost savings for government agencies looking to maximize their budget.
Government agencies are required to adhere to all of the same data privacy rules and regulations that govern private sector businesses. For this reason, it is important that sensitive data is handled only by government representatives with the authority to access this private information.
Electronic document management systems allow government institutions to store documents securely in remote cloud storage in accordance with mandates established to protect private data. This makes it possible to control which employees can access a specific set of documents, and which cannot, ensuring data is only available to the departments that need it. It also provides IT administrators with the ability to track document usage throughout the department, providing an additional layer of visibility and accountability.
Preserve Important Data
Paper documents are vulnerable to a number of threats that lead to data loss, including deterioration, fading, or misplacement. Digitizing documents mitigates these issues by allowing the data contained in these documents to be accessed without the need to handle the original.
Storing files electronically also makes it possible to store multiple copies of the same document without posing a risk to security or drastically increasing storage costs, ensuring there is always a backup should any data loss occur.
What process should a government agency follow when planning for a document scanning project?
When government agencies plan a document scanning project, they must follow a structured and well-defined process due to the presence of sensitive information typically found in government documents. Below are the steps involved when planning a document scanning project for a government agency:
1. Plan Before You Scan
Before the digitization process begins, it is crucial to develop a clear policy outlining which documents will be scanned, which fields will be indexed, and how changes to these systems will be communicated to employees. Creating a timeline for the project and assigning roles and responsibilities is also an important part of this step.
2. Legal and Compliance Review
Government offices are expected to adhere to strict regulations that protect the privacy and confidentiality of those they serve. Be sure to review applicable state and federal laws in advance, and develop procedures that follow data privacy best practices to ensure compliance with these laws.
In many cases, government agencies are allowed to change the original medium to facilitate storage as long as legal requirements and regulations are satisfied, but that’s not always the case. Be sure to review these requirements for each type of document you intend to digitize.
During the scanning process, the original document must be accurately reproduced, including signatures and other written and graphic images.
3. Conduct a Risk Assessment
Identifying potential risks and developing effective mitigation strategies are central to the risk assessment phase. Constructing contingency plans for handling sensitive and classified information is also vital to prevent any unauthorized access or leaks of confidential information.
4. Budgeting and Resource Allocation
Allocating the necessary resources, such as staff and funding, is essential at this stage. Estimating the cost of the project, including equipment, labor, and software, aids in securing the needed budget and helps in monitoring expenditure as the project progresses.
5. Vendor Selection
If outsourcing is chosen as an option, a Request for Proposal (RFP) is developed, and vendors are selected based on their experience, cost, and compliance with standards. Contract negotiations must be clear, and legal and compliance requirements should be highlighted to avoid any discrepancies.
6. Document Preparation
Preparing an inventory of documents to be scanned is essential in this phase. Documents must be organized, categorized, and prepared for scanning by removing staples and repairing damaged pages to ensure smooth scanning processes.
7. Scanning Process
Quality control procedures are established to ensure the accuracy and quality of scans in this step. Adherence to established protocols is critical to capture all relevant information accurately, and a review of scanned documents is done to ensure clarity and completeness.
8. Data Extraction and Indexing
Relevant data is extracted from scanned documents using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Indexing documents appropriately is essential to facilitate easy retrieval and efficient data management in the future.
9. Data Storage and Management
Ensuring that scanned documents are stored securely and in compliance with relevant regulations is crucial at this stage. Implementing access controls and encryption is paramount to protect sensitive information, along with developing a robust data management plan including backup and recovery procedures.
10. Quality Assurance and Validation
Conducting quality assurance checks ensures that all documents have been scanned accurately and completely. Validation of data against the original documents is performed to maintain data integrity and accuracy.
11. Document Disposal
Formulating and following a compliant document disposal policy is crucial. Secure destruction of original documents, if permissible, is performed after validation to ensure no unauthorized access to discarded information.
12. Monitoring and Evaluation
The progress of the project is continually monitored against the planned timeline, and adjustments are made as necessary. Evaluation against objectives and deliverables helps in identifying areas of improvement and success.
13. Training and Change Management
Providing adequate training to staff members on new processes and systems is crucial for the smooth adoption of new practices. Effective change management ensures that the transition to new systems is seamless and well-accepted.
14. Documentation and Reporting
All processes, procedures, and outcomes are thoroughly documented in this step. A final report is prepared and submitted to stakeholders, summarizing the achievements, challenges, and lessons learned throughout the project.
15. Continuous Improvement
After project completion, feedback and performance data are analyzed to identify areas for improvement. Refining processes and optimizing workflows based on the insights gained ensures that future document scanning projects are more efficient and effective.
Each step mentioned is critical and interconnected, ensuring the security, accuracy, and compliance of the document scanning project, thereby enabling government agencies to transition smoothly to digital workflows while maintaining the integrity of their records.
Know your retention requirements
Government offices are often legally required to store the original hard copies of documents for a period of time. Documents digitized during this period must be refiled correctly to ensure the original can be produced if and when it’s needed. In situations where the physical copy is no longer required after scanning, documents should be shredded to further protect the confidentiality of data they contain.
Retention requirements also apply to electronic records, which often have different rules. However, with digital records, document retention can be easily automated, deleting old documents dynamically as they fall out of their retention period.
Understanding and planning for these variables is crucial for a successful scanning project.
Choose the right scanning provider
When it comes to choosing a document scanning provider for government records scanning projects, it’s important to find an experienced company that understands the special requirements of working with government offices and agencies.
Over the last two decades, SecureScan has had the opportunity to serve a variety of state and local government institutions, helping to re-imagine inefficient, outdated document management practices. With industry leading technology and a commitment to security, we help government agencies improve information security while modernizing antiquated record keeping practices. Get a free quote or get more information about our document scanning services.