The wildfire spread of document imaging, replacing file cabinets and microfilm with electronic data storage, has created a new service industry-the imaging service bureaus, which convert old paper files into nearly-indestructible, pocket-size disks. It’s not only new data that has to be scanned in to the new systems, but old historic documents as well. This raises some questions among new users of the technology: how far back should conversion go? A year? Five years? Back to the company’s (or government agency’s) founding in the 19th Century?

Thrifty managers argue against converting all those old records to compact disk storage because of cost. But according to Laserfiche Document Imaging, Long Beach, Calif., developer of the most popular document imaging software, converting to the new system often costs less than clinging to the old.

The State of Nevada recently completed a study advising local governments on record retention, and published a handbook on the results. Among its findings:

  • Thirty per cent of paper handling in local government office is useless and could be eliminated.
  • Eighty-five to 90 per cent of paper records filed are never referred to again.
  • It costs $2,150 a year to maintain one five-drawer file cabinet in a government office.
  • Between one and five per cent of all paper records in a typical government office are misfiled.
  • The average cost of one record being misfiled is $95.
  • A typical office worker spends two hours a day hunting for misfiled records.
  • If paperwork handling could be reduced by 20 minutes a day, it would save two weeks of personnel time a year.

“Sometimes,” said Chris Wacker, Vice President of Marketing for Laserfiche, “It costs a lot more to stand still than it does to move forward.”