Information Management, Going Paperless All Wrong

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There is this huge fad out there to have a paperless office. Some people are blindsided by the obvious benefits of going paperless (hey I have this entire room-full of boxes of paper, if I just scan them in, imagine all the money I can save on storage!!) that they don’t pause to consider the future ramifications of their ‘going paperless’ decisions. At this point, someone (usually a manager) decides that they NEED to go paperless, it’s the wave of the future, we will save so much money and time etc… at this point the only part of the ‘going paperless project’ they are focusing on is the scanning! It’s easy they decide, I’ll just go to the local stuffmart and buy me a $300 all-in-one scanner faxer, do-a-whatsit and start scanning away! I’m a genius! Red alerts should be going off in your mind about now! Never mind that having random people, buying random IT resources is never a good idea. But my manager friend, at this point you have successfully created the worst paperless system possible. There are numerous factors that you have not taken into account.

Lets start of with the easy ones. Chances are you didn’t get a multi sheet feed scanner. Chances are you didn’t get a multiside scanner. You will be single sheet feeding ’till the cows come home. Lets say your scanner doesn’t suck, do you know what DPI to scan at? You don’t want too high or you will have unmanageably large files, you don’t want too small or you will lose necessary detail. Are you going to run any sort of OCR (optical character recognition)? what your not? how do you plan to search and find these scanned documents? are you going to implement some sort of manual data entry, or tagging? Are you going to use any image pre-processing like Kofax-VRS that can make “difficult-to-read or damaged documents legible, auto-rotate documents” etc…

How do you expect to use the documents that you have scanned in? how do they fit into your workflow? what about searching for files. You just converted an entire room full of paper into PDF’s and they are named things like 01212007123A.pdf what are you going to do with them? did you individually rename them all and then place them into neat little folders? so you are going to use windows search to find the documents? have you ever seriously tried to use windows search to find one document among 20,000 PDF’s? It does not work well.

Going paperless is an expensive and lengthy process that can easily fail. You need real hardware in order to scan well. You need people who know what they are doing to do the scanning. You need some method of organizing the output, be it a content management system, a web portal etc.. you need some way of actually finding the document you want, you need some way of knowing what information the document contains, tagging, ORC etc… and on top of all of this you need to know the legal policies regarding the documents that you are storing. What are your data retention policies? Oh yeah and how are you backing up this paperless monstrosity?

A stuffmart scanner and hiring a mcWorker to scan is not the way to go paperless. Otherwise you will have 20,000 PDF’s that no one can find anything inside of. How’s that for improving your processes.



  1. I would tend to disagree. You get a Scanner with a ADF, copy of Acrobat pro and apply full OCR. You could also use Capio or a number of other filing scan apps.

    Scan, drop of network server. Map drive and your off.

    Plus it’s no harder to organize pdf of your paper than anything else you file in your system, or paper filing cabinets.

  2. OK, I can slightly agree with you. If you are a small shop and need a personal scanning solution then I could see using something like Capio. Hmmm it also appears that you used to work for Kofax, makers of Capio as a marketing director…. interesting… I’ll let that slide I guess.

    Anyways, Capio would at least be an answer on how to get a decent scan and how to be able to search on the documents. I’m not sure how it would scale up to a larger document set though, which is what I alluded to in the ‘room full of boxes full of paper’ and 20,000 PDF’s etc….

    What my topic meant to point out though, were the dangers of buying any old scanner, scanning it in any old manner, and dropping it to a file share and expecting your users to be able to find them. This “solution” will not scale.

    I disagree with your comment about that it’s no harder to organize PDF’s then filing paper into filing cabinets. It all depends on your system. If you a had a really well organized filing system and a really poorly designed PDF ‘solution’ (think scanned in by hand with no metadata) then you might easily be able to find something quicker in dead tree format then having to open and close each PDF looking for the one you want. This post was meant to caution against such an approach.

  3. I agree with you. You probably know the book ‘The Myth of the Paperless Office’? This book shows that the paperless office is a long ways away. I’m not saying it will never be around. There are all kinds of interesting developments like MS Surface. But the affordances of paper still cannot all be mimicked by digital (documents). Just try to make a pile of digital documents…

  4. I agree, just PDF’ing and storing on your hard drive is not a good idea.

    If you don’t think so, go to Google and do a quick search for “PDF viruses”, the last time I did it came up with over 14 MILLION hits.

    If you want to use that technology to information vital to your company, that has that a potential to get a virus and get corupted, go ahead.


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