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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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>
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, firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.