Every microfilm system requires a method of
capturing input, a facility to store the film, an indexing system to make its
content retrievable and provision for enabling and controlling access.
Software is often required to manage these processes and to record changes,
monitor usage, impose controls on access to sensitive information, authorise
amendment or annotation and schedule eventual archiving or destruction.
It is impossible to plan a microfilm system without knowing the requirements of its future users, the
information they need to access, the volume of documents or films they have already
accumulated and the average additions per week or month.
It is then necessary to decide what metadata (indexing and
retrieval information) must be associated with each image or group of images, Thought must be given to how each document type will
be stored at each stage of its life-cycle and whether it represents a record
which must be held permanently or for a specified period. Security factors
must be considered - is the content confidential? If so who is authorised to
see it and who must be denied access? Is the information contained in the
document subject to controls specified by company rules, regulatory
authorities, the inland revenue or the data protection act?
Other factors include methods of monitoring the system to
ensure that it is meeting user needs and that all controls are working
effectively. Methods of disposal and certification must be established for
documents when they reach the end of their retention period.
When existing paper files will form part of the input to
the system, some estimate of the volume of existing pages is essential. It
will normally be impractical to undertake an actual count but a useful rule
of thumb is that when documents are held in suspended files each full drawer
will hold around 2500 pages - so a typical 4 drawer filing cabinet might
hold about 10,000 sheets. If the drawers are packed to capacity in manila
folders there may be as many as 14,000 sheets per cabinet. Transfer boxes
hold around 900 documents and a lever-arch file holds around 750 when fully
Document preparation for filming or scanning usually takes
longer than anticipated. Paper files that have been in use over a long
period will probably be dog-eared, dirty and out of sequence. Some pages may
be torn and mended with sticky tape, some pages will be stapled together and
others may still be with users and must be retrieved. This applies
particularly to legacy documents, but even current documentation can be
Once armed with the answers to these questions, it is
possible to start planning the new system. Software must be selected that is
capable of handling the anticipated volume of input, user requirements and
security considerations. If future expansion into other areas such as
business process management is a possibility it is essential to ensure that
the software provides for it or that suitable additional software is
available that will integrate with the system. Help will almost certainly be
needed by those who lack experience. If a bureau is to be be employed to
handle input and indexing it will probably be able to assist with software
selection, but may be limited to a narrow range of products with which it is
familiar. Independent consultants are a more expensive option but can be
justified if the project is complex or involves unusual requirements.
Selecting suitable EDM
This is the difficult bit! The novice should not attempt
it without impartial advice. Only general guidelines can be given because so
much depends on the actual application but there are four main options:-
1. Commission a purpose-designed system or design one
using available software toolkits.
2. Purchase components from several sources and combine
them with the help of a professional systems integrator.
3. Identify a commercial document management system that
closely matches your requirements and negotiate with its vendor for any
alterations or the integration of sub-systems needed to meet your needs.
4. Buy a self-contained EDM package that will run on a PC.
The first option is best avoided if possible because a
purpose-made system is difficult to cost or schedule, whether it is created
internally or by a software house. So much ready-made software now exists
that this method is seldom necessary unless the application is very unusual.
Some of the most dramatic failures in government document management systems
have been due to spiralling costs of software development and/or
The second option can be very effective if you are able to
locate the right integrator but nobody is an expert on everything, so it is
important to ensure that the selected components have previously been
successfully integrated and that they are ones with which the integrator is
familiar. In particular, a specification must be prepared which establishes
cost, time scales and clear responsibility in the event of failure, because
such combinations create an ideal opportunity for disputes regarding
The third option is the most common and usually the
safest, because the prime system supplier can be made responsible for the
entire system. In many cases any desired sub-systems will already have been
integrated for other clients and any problems resolved. This option is the
easiest to schedule and cost because all of the factors should be known, but
several suppliers should be contacted to locate the one with the greatest
experience of the combination required.
The fourth option is mainly for smaller users.
Shrink-wrapped packages exist which offer a wide range of document
management facilities straight out of the box. They are usually inexpensive
and well designed, but they do have limitations and claims that a
single-user package can be infinitely expanded into an enterprise-wide
application must be treated with caution. It may be difficult to integrate
software from other sources or otherwise modify the package as some agents
and re-sellers have limited experience beyond implementation of the standard
EDM systems can be entirely based on PCs but the majority
in current use adopt the client/server approach in which users run special
software on their desktop PCs while the database is held on one or more
servers. An increasing number of newer systems are web-based and users only
require simple browsers for access without special additional software.
An experienced bureau can greatly assist with system
design and implementation. Bureau assistance is particularly valuable for
conversion of current documentation prior to the implementation of a new
system and also the scanning of any backlog that requires rapid access.
If sufficient equipment is purchased to convert large quantities of backlog
in-house, it is likely to stand idle once the work has been completed. Most
bureaux offer high security to ensure the confidentiality of documents
removed for scanning but, if security is a critical factor, scanning can
often be performed by the bureau at the client’s premises. Some bureaux
offer a full facilities management service whereby they will supply staff
and equipment and manage the entire operation of an in-house document
management system - this is virtually essential if the bureau is to manage a
Because most bureaux offer both filming and document
scanning services, it is sensible to examine the advantages of having new
paper input filmed as well as scanned, sending the originals to be destroyed
after the film and data has been verified. Many clients are aware of the
danger of totally entrusting their records to electronic storage and send
original documents to remote archives after they have been scanned rather
than authorise their destruction. Storage on film is often a more cost
effective solution. It is important to remember that in England, Wales,
Scotland and Northern Ireland the “best evidence” rule requires that the
original document be produced in evidence unless a satisfactory reason can
be given to the court for the unavailability of the original. Strictly
applied, when originals are not destroyed, this involves a search through a
remote archive for the original paper document. Such searches can be
tedious, especially when the desired document has been filed as an item in a
large batch which has been well shuffled during previous searches.
There is a strong trend towards outsourcing all operations
outside the mainstream activity of organisations, but there is a major
difference between modern systems and the simple filing and retrieval
methods which used to be employed for document management. Early systems
were effectively electronic filing cabinets and the documents had often been
processed before being sent for filing - they were still important as
records, but a delay in gaining access to them did not bring the
organisation to its knees. Today a document may never be seen in its
original form by those responsible for processing it - typically, it may
arrive as an electronic file and pass automatically to all employees
authorised to act on its content. Such information represents the very life
blood of an organisation and any company entrusted to scan, index,
distribute and store it must be reliable and financially secure. However
large a service facility may be, it is necessary to establish how the system
could continue if the service supplier ceased trading.
In house production is not for the faint-hearted. Staff
will have to be trained and experienced managers will be needed to monitor
performance and keep the system synchronised with technical developments.
A bureau can usually quote a fixed price for specific operations but it is
often difficult to schedule and cost the planning, input and indexing
elements of a system when inexperienced staff will be involved. If problems
arise, an established bureau will probably have encountered them before and
will be able to propose a solution. If volumes are greater than anticipated
a bureau will have sufficient capacity to handle the extra workload.
As a general rule, a service house is the best choice for
a new system - once experience has been gained a change to in-house
production can be considered. If the project represents an extension to an
existing system, sufficient experience may already be available in-house to
go it alone.
Thorough planning pays dividends
A well designed and properly implemented document
management system can bring very substantial gains in customer service,
security and general efficiency - but careful planning and reliable
estimates of volumes are essential for success. As independent consultants G
G Baker & Associates have frequently been called in to sort matters out when
things did not go according to plan and the most frequent cause was failure
to estimate the workload correctly.
The problem of poor preparation and planning is
international as the following extract from a Spanish newspaper
illustrates... "Madrid's national high courts have over-run the last
government's 'zero paper' deadline. It was decided in 2009 to scan the
thousands of documents that reach the courts, after which they would be sent
via computer to the relevant departments. The new system would also be
connected to other Justice Ministry computer systems dealing with trials,
notifications and communications. But the changeover has been done badly,
too quickly and without sufficient resources according to the 600 employees
involved, who claimed that the courts were close to unprecedented collapse.
Misplaced documents, crossover data errors between files and loss of
chronological sequence between sentences has created a panorama resembling a
battlefield. The new system, which workers claim repeatedly crashes, was
originally to have been extended from litigation courts to all national
and supreme courts in Madrid, together with prosecution departments dealing
with drugs and organised crime.....With staff unable to cope, the project
has been outsourced to a subcontractor whose employees were, until only a
few days ago, handling documents which should have been seen only by
authorised staff. To complicate matters further this has since been reported
to the official Data Protection Agency. The situation is reportedly so
shambolic that similar plans for national criminal courts have now been
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