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Document Imaging: Improving Records Management at Ultracom

Cory T. Brandt NOTICE

October 27, 1995

Imaging technologies provide valuable tools for the management of business records. From the point of document capture through disposition, imaging can facilitate workflow while providing significant improvements in the accessibility of records. The volume of records maintained to meet legal, administrative, and fiscal requirements in the commercial sector represent significant investments for storage. An accurate assessment of capital expenditures for records retention must also factor in the cost of staff involvement in file maintenance. The judicious application of an imaging system can provide value added information resources while decreasing operating costs and increasing workflow effectiveness.

Ultracom, a Detroit area company with approximately fifty people on staff, was established in 1981 to design, install and maintain telephone systems for business clients. The company has experienced a high growth rate since its inception. It is rapidly becoming clear to managers at Ultracom that continued corporate growth is dependent upon increased rationalization of information management. As a result, a study was commissioned to determine the applicability of imaging solutions to problems in records management. A first step in this process identified the salient problems to be addressed through an imaging program. At Ultracom, improvement of records management practices through imaging will result in improved utilization of workspace, elimination of redundant information, greater system security and accountability, and increased access to records while reducing staff inputs. A pilot project in imaging business records is proposed as a viable solution to records management problems at Ultracom.

Increased rationalization of records management at Ultracom is a bi-fold process. Existing information resources must be more fully utilized to provide electronic access and disposition for records already extant in digital form. Imaging can be concurrently introduced for records manually modified or created by external agents. Retrospective conversion of files is not currently recommended due to staffing constraints at Ultracom. A day forward approach to imaging is more appropriate given available resources. Imaging in conjunction with the maximization of existing information resources will reduce storage requirements for records while facilitating accessibility.

System specifications for imaging at Ultracom are proposed. A system satisfying imaging requirements at Ultracom and meeting all specified criteria is obtainable for $8,000-$10,000. This figure is for hardware and software exclusively. It does not reflect the significant associated costs of training, operation, and evaluation.


Analysis of Records and Recordkeeping at Ultracom
 

Storage Requirements for Records

Ultracom currently maintains approximately 600 cubic feet of records in 57 filing cabinets. These materials occupy nearly 250 square feet of floor space. The cost of floor space for physically storing files at Ultracom has been estimated at $25,000. This figure does not reflect staff costs for file maintenance which can be estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars per annum. Despite strict adherence to records retention schedules, the volume of documentary materials held in semi-active storage at Ultracom has exhibited sustained growth. This trend can be expected to continue into the future as new markets are tapped and the volume of business proliferates. Ultracom can ill afford to adopt a reactive stance in tackling the problems of space and records storage.

 

Pilot Project Proposal: The Customer File

Business records currently retained by Ultracom pertain to all aspects of corporate activity. They are physically dispersed throughout the office and serve a wide variety of functions. These include accounts payable/accounts receivable, purchasing, contracts, workorders, personnel data, payroll, tax reporting, and insurance paperwork. Nearly 50% of all records are maintained in a single series of customer files. The Customer File has been targeted as appropriate for use in a pilot project. Upon completion of the project, results can be evaluated to determine the applicability of imaging to other business records at Ultracom.

Customer File Use and Maintenance

The Customer File is used by a large cross-section of the organization's workforce. Administrators refer to the file to monitor account activity and substantiate disputed claims. Sales staff use the files as reference tools in proposing changes and improvements to communications systems. Field technicians may refer to the file before going out on a service call to glean information about the system to be repaired or modified. Accounting staff use the file to determine payment histories.

Maintenance of the file is largely the responsibility of the reception staff who cull inactive records on an ongoing basis. Disposition procedures are implemented for customer files inactive for three years. All materials are discarded from inactive files with the exception of contracts. Legal considerations dictate the semi-permanent retention of all contracts in remote storage. The labor intensive, manual procedures required for document disposition occupy an inordinate amount of staff time. As a result, the reception staff is not able to focus sufficient time and energy on other mission specific tasks.

Customer File Organization and Contents

Customer files are arranged alphabetically by client name. There are three sub-series within the customer file series, customer service representative (CSR), maintenance, and moves adds and changes (MAC). Customer files vary considerably in size from approximately 1" to 6" depending on the degree of account activity. Filing of forms for accounts which are not large enough to warrant the creation of a customer file (i.e. one invoice) is handled in an alphabetical "Miscellaneous" file kept at the beginning of the alphabet. If material is added for a client in the miscellaneous file, a full customer file is established. Customer files that have been inactive for three years are manually purged from the system and only the initial contract is retained in remote storage. A complete contents list of document types in the customer file is provided in the Appendix.

 

Barriers to Access and the Advantages of Electronic Records

Significant barriers to information access in the paper-based environment have been identified at Ultracom. The most frequent users of information in the customer file, administrators, receptionists, and accounting and sales staff, have to walk approximately 50 feet to access the files. A great deal of time is spent retrieving and refiling materials due to the differential between point-of-use and point-of-storage. This also reduces efficiency by creating workflow bottlenecks. Storage of materials in electronic form will provide access at the point-of-use for all workstation equipped staff members.

Reliance on paper-based filing systems also artificially limits frequency of use for information resources. Under the current system, one user at a time can access customer file materials for a given client. Materials are commonly removed from the file and replaced at the users convenience. There is no tracking mechanism for files in use. Electronic storage of these materials would provide concurrent access to a single file by multiple users. This would increase file utility and maximize staff time.

 

Redundancy and Information Overlap

Recordkeeping at Ultracom engenders high levels of redundancy both within the filing system and across information resources in varying formats. Within the customer file, multiple copies of many of the forms cited are routinely filed as a single documentary unit. This practice is reflective of an environment in which multiple copies of documents are produced to meet the needs of different users within the organization. These copies are reunited upon task completion through the accounting function. Eliminating this practice could reduce bulk significantly. Retention of single copies of duplicated material is sufficient to meet all recordkeeping requirements. The version containing the most complete information should be retained. This would be the pink version in the case of workorders. As previously noted, pink forms contain technician notes and customer signatures.

In addition, documents representing preliminary stages of activity need not be retained if later versions contain the same information in more condensed form. This is the case with a number of the worksheets in the Customer file. The information they are used to record is more succinctly stated in subsequently produced forms. These materials need not be retained beyond the period of initial installation.

While such intra-file redundancies contribute significantly to the problems associated with recordkeeping at Ultracom, a far more costly problem pertains to the lack of integration between paper based and computerized information resources. Workorders and invoices constitute the most prevalent document types in the customer file. Both of these document types are used by accounting for billing and tracking of accounts. The process used to generate records for accounting purposes involves entering the information into a centralized database. All day-to-day financial reporting and auditing functions are currently supported by the database management system. As a result, the paper-based Customer File is largely anachronistic. There is no need to maintain duplicate paper copies of information already stored on the file server. Increased utilization of digital information resources that are already in place could significantly reduce the cost of file storage and maintenance.


Imaging for Document Management at Ultracom
 

Rationalization of information resources at Ultracom involves two components: increasing the utilization of existing resources, and the introduction of an imaging system. An imaging system is appropriate for the management of records that cannot be generated and stored in electronic form through the use of office automation tools already in place.

Imaging for Records Retention

Record Input


Records currently generated in electronic form such as workorders and invoices can be effectively stored and utilized on the server without recourse to imaging. Only those records occurring in the customer file which have been manually modified, or produced by external agents are appropriate candidates for imaging. Records meeting these criteria include: pink forms containing technicians notes and customer signatures, customer floor plans, letters from Ameritech regarding account responsibility, and all contracts.

Task responsibility for day-forward imaging of records can be assigned to the reception staff. Receptionists will be freed from responsibility for filing and implementing retention scheduling for the customer file. This should free ample time for imaging records unavailable in the current electronic environment. Responsibility for imaging records can be presented as a positive move in developing marketable skills for the reception staff. Little resistance to this shift in task assignments is anticipated given the tedious nature of current reception activity in maintaining the customer file.

Access Requirements

Any system for the retrieval of imaged documents should support concurrent use by multiple users. Administrators, sales staff, field technicians, customer service representatives, and accounting staff should all have access to workstations equipped for image retrieval.

The imagebase management software should allow access by customer name and invoice number at the minimum. The potential for further indexing of documents by keyword or subject would be desirable, but is not essential to the fulfillment of basic retrieval needs. The costs associated with additional indexing mitigate against the development of subject or keyword indices.

System Specifications

Component Specifications for an imaging system appropriate to Ultracom's needs are enunciated below.

  • Workstation: The workstation should be sufficiently powerful to control the imaging system. It should be upgradable to allow for implementation of a general imaging project if the pilot proves succesful. A 17" b+w monitor should be included in order to view at least two full pages side by side.
  • Printer: A monochrome laser printer with resolution of 300 dpi will be sufficient. It should allow duplex printing of legal and letter size paper. A speed of 8 - 10 pages per minute is adequate to satisfy output requirements.
  • Scanner: A monochrome flatbed scanner with a resolution of 300 dpi is recommended. It should accomodate single-sided scanning of legal size paper.
  • Storage: Optical disks stored in a jukebox can serve as the primary storage medium. The system can be backed up to tape at regular intervals. Tapes should be stored off-site for maximum security. The system should be modular so that additions to storage capacity can be considered in the future.
  • Connectivity: Very few employees currently enjoy file server connectivity. A higher degree of internal connectivity will be required to support the use of document images. File server access should be extended to all employees with legitimate organizational needs to access records. Various authentication levels can be implemented to limit access to confidential records.
  • Software: It will be essential to ensure compatibility between existing database software and document management software . A value-added resaler (VAR) can be contacted to assist in the identification of appropriate software.


 


Appendix

Customer Service Representative (CSR) File

The CSR file contains records of sales, installation, and maintenance activity. These can divided into five functional categories: case history, sales records, maintenance records, system documentation, and miscellaneous records

  1. Case History A case history is stapled to the inside cover of the file folder. Information about sales and maintenance activity is handwritten in abbreviated form and tagged with a date.

Sales Records

Sales Worksheet

- The sales agent uses this form to record information about the nature of work desired by a particular client. Time and equipment fees are entered manually and tallied to generate a price quote.

Sales Agreement

- This contractual form is generated from the Sales Worksheet by the receptionist. It includes the following account information: system typology and location, total cost, and date payable. The date of execution and signatures of the Ultracom and client representatives are at the bottom of the form.

Sales Memoranda

- Correspondence relating to the sale may be included in the file.

CSR Package Checklist

- This form is used by the sales representative to insure that all required steps in the sales process have been completed.

Salesperson Checklist

- This form is similar to the CSR Package Checklist, but where the Package Checklist deals primarily with stages in system development, the Salesperson Checklist verifies the completion of forms required to insure the legality and proper documentation of the sales process.

Sales Workorder

- Generated from the Sales Worksheet, this form initiates the installation process. Three copies of this form are stapled together: white, pink, and yellow. The white version is>


Notice

In the (current) Internet spirit of resistance to the commodification of information, this paper may be freely reproduced for non-profit educational purposes. Any such reproduction must include the paper in its entirety (including this notice). Reproduction for profit and/or non- educational purposes require permission of the author (contact author directly or c/o Howard Besser, howard@info.berkeley.edu). Permission is also freely granted to reproduce short excerpts within the context of a review or other work as long as proper credit is given.

 

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