Digitizing is the process of converting paper and physical records to digital files. In business, it refers to both the process of moving old files to digital and to the process of moving future records and files to digital, so that no more physical copies are created.

Digitization can save companies money while reducing your environmental footprint. Considering statistics like the average office employee using 10,000 sheets of paper per year, of which 50-70% is waste, or the fact that the median cost of employee-filled forms is $2 per form but up to $75, doing so can significantly reduce your environmental footprint.

Digitizing can help you reduce costs by cutting paper usage across your organization. While it does require taking drastic and sometimes expensive steps upfront, reducing printed files by even 30% could save you a considerable amount, especially considering you’re likely paying 2-5 cents per printed page and sometimes as much as 15. If you print 100,000 pages per month, a 30% print reduction could save your organization more than $20,000 per year.

These 5 steps outline where to start and how to move forward with digitizing.

Identify and organize what you have

The first step to any digitizing process is to identify all company records and files and to organize them. Simply having all your paper and costs in one place will give you a good idea of what’s there, how problematic it is, and what you can do about it.

  • What is handled on paper? Why?
  • What is kept or stored? Why? For how long?
  • What is printed? Why?
  • What happens to printed documents?

It’s always a good idea to conduct a full analysis of print usage across your organization, including employee usage, usage for records, and outgoing processes such as mailed checks.

Choose a starting point

Once you have all your files and data including costs in one place, you can choose where to start. Most organizations prefer to start with processes that cost the most. You may also want to look at processes that are currently experiencing bottlenecks or that could be optimized when digitized to save time and therefore money. In most organizations, the following processes result in the most paper waste:

  • Payroll
  • Bookkeeping
  • Customer record management
  • Invoicing and receipts
  • HR processes
  • File management and records

Eventually, you would most likely want most or all of your business processes to be digitized. However, it’s important to start slow, take one at a time, and make sure that each process is fully digitized before moving on to the next. Attempting to do too much at once can result in confusion, poor quality results, and likely lower adoption than assigning a single team to handle full digitization and training for each team.

Create a digitization policy

Once you know what you want to digitize, it’s important to create a digitization policy. This policy should identify what should be kept, why, and where. It should also set data security and privacy standards for retained files, create storage locations and backup policies, and create access to those files.

For example, if you were to digitize payroll, it would be important to encrypt files, ensure that only approved HR employees had access, to back those files up, and to otherwise prevent loss or unauthorized access.

A digitization policy should also create policies for digitizing files moving forward. This should include data such as what is being kept and why, how it is being kept, approved tools, approved processes for creating and storing data, and so on. These policies will change depending on the process and type of data.

Select software and tools

Digitizing doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t happen without tooling to make it possible. Most digitization teams will need a series of tools including file management, servers, backup tools, and scanners to properly digitize files.

Scanner – Consider scanner quality and options, such as scan to text, image quality, and speed. The larger your team and the larger the files, the more scanners you need.

Servers – Consider physical storage points and backups. Most files should be stored in a primary secure server and then backed up separately offline to reduce risk of loss or damage.

Software – The more files you are digitizing, the stronger your file management system needs to be. You also want a print management system integrating into file management, allowing for queueing, digital file storage, and file backups from the scanner.

Begin the process

Starting the process of digitization is a big step. You want to gain buy-in from affected employees, introduce new software and tooling to affected employees, and create standards to help everyone meet goals. This may include introducing training to help individuals utilize new software, introducing print and file management systems to force digital file storage, and offering training or workshops to help individuals understand the value of going digital.

People are often resistant to change, so helping individuals understand why digitization is happening and how it affects them will improve results. You also want to ensure that everyone understands new programs, even if they are as simple as digital file management.

Nearly every organization runs numerous processes that could benefit from digitization. Once you do start to go digital, you will notice dramatic reductions in print volume and print costs. Most organizations also see increases in efficiency as digital files are transferred more quickly, updated instantly, and don’t have to be printed and reprinted as new versions are made. While your exact results will vary depending on organizational size, industry, and current processes, you will see improvements.