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Simplify a Thorough Document Inventory

4 Oct, 2010 By: Laurel Sanders, Optical Image Technology imageSource

Simplify a Thorough Document Inventory

A lot has been written to help people get the most they can from their document management systems. Those who jumped in early on with a clear strategy and good solution are reaping measurable benefits. But if you’re just now planning to convert from a paper-based environment - or are using multiple electronic information systems without a way to centrally store, access, and work with your documents – you’re wise to review how to conduct a thorough document inventory. Some things shouldn’t be rushed. 

For example, consider everyday cooking. Most of us grab recipes we can prepare quickly due to hectic schedules, yet it’s those slow cooked meals that excites our taste buds and brings us back for more. Slow preparation has its pay off. Similarly, shipping companies are moving the world’s largest ships at speeds slower than 19th-century Clippers. Why? A 20% reduction in speed can save 40% in fuel consumption. Sometimes, companies gain momentum in a competitive marketplace by moving more slowly. With document management the same is true: moving deliberately delivers the strongest results. 

Defining Your Organizational Picture
The first action – unscientific, but revealing – is surveying staff informally about the documents that define your business and its transactions. A conversation with department heads can provide valuable insight into your project scope.


•  What are the primary document types your department uses?
•  Approximately how many documents exist?
•  How often are they accessed?
•  How much is the document volume growing annually?

The answers will help you to estimate resources required for the inventory process. Then you can decide whether allocating staff, hiring assistance, or seeking professional services from your consultant or vendor is the best way to proceed.

Why A Document Inventory Matters
Planning a conversion from a paper-based to an electronic environment takes time. It requires slowing down and meticulously analyzing your documents so you can improve how they’re used - not just storing them digitally.  There’s no question that electronic document management helps you to offer better service and be more competitive. However, unless you dedicate the necessary resources for careful analysis, strategic planning, and meticulous execution, you’ll get disappointing results. Shortcuts don’t pay.

What A Document Inventory Achieves
If a document inventory seems overwhelming, understand that it’s not a document-by-document analysis of business information. Rather, its purpose is to reveal three things about the documents your business maintains:

• Document type
• Function within the business
• Use

An inventory helps to define your business concretely. It prepares you for the process of scanning and indexing important business information so it can be retrieved, analyzed, and used by authorized persons on demand. It also provides the foundation you need to enable better information management, superior service, and smart decision making.

Appraise Each Document’s Business Value
Before you convert paper records (or capture electronic documents from other systems), you need a methodology to assess the importance of each document type. Each has value in one or more ways:


Appraising your document types will help you to identify which records are:

• Vital
• Ready to be archived / subject to retention requirements
• Confidential, requiring security measures
• Inactive, obsolete, and possible candidates for disposal

Understand Each Document Type
For each document type you should make sure that you thoroughly:

•  Examine its contents, recording essential information about the document type and noting its relationship to other documents.
•  Identify the custodians of its contents (which job function /dept. governs it).
•   Determine which information is confidential and who must access it.
•   Determine appropriate formats for storage: spreadsheet, PDF, TIFF, etc.
  Identify duplicated information so unnecessary repetition can be addressed.
•   Document fragmented files and how they will be handled.
•   Match each type to retention schedules. Identify how long
each must be kept.
Evaluate each type against existing documentation strategy and information needs. Develop a strategy if one doesn’t already exist.
•   Determine which information must be indexed to guarantee authorized persons can find what they need.

Documents That No Longer Have Value
If you don’t have a centralized information management system, you’re probably keeping information that could put your business at risk. Face it; daily business needs usually trump focusing on document retention and disposal; it’s easier to keep everything than to track and purge eligible documents promptly. Yet keeping documents longer than necessary creates costly challenges:

•  It encumbers staff when they need to search for pertinent documentation.
•  It puts your business at risk for penalties and lawsuits that could be avoided with timely document destruction.

Ask yourself:
•  Which documents do you no longer really need to keep?
•  Any policies for retaining, archiving & purging emails?

Can this be improved?

"If a document inventory seems overwhelming, understand it’s not a document-by-document analysis."

Create A Document Hierarchy
Responding quickly to disasters requires a document disaster recovery plan. This ensures files are restored in order of importance, helping you to maintain customer relationships while ensuring that the business runs as smoothly as possible. 

Ask yourself:
•  Which content is business-critical (info you rely on for daily decisions)?
 Which is less crucial (necessary for business but not accessed regularly)?
•  Which content is helpful for historical reference but otherwise
not needed?

Steady At The Helm
Most businesses have some level of electronic document management in place today, but if you haven’t migrated to the ease of a thorough
system, there’s no better time than the present to easily do so. Take the initiative now to result in the success you’re after in thoroughly managing your documents.

Laurel Sanders is the Director of Public Relations and Communications for DocFinity software by Optical Image Technology.  Contact www.docfinity.com or 814-238-0038.

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