Document Imaging: Improving Records Management at Ultracom

Cory T. Brandt

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.


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.
  2. 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 the original retained by the customer service administrator, the pink version is taken by the field technician who adds notes on work performed, and extra parts and materials used, and the yellow is used by the dispatcher in coordinating technician activities. Total labor time, technician name, installation date, and a customer signature indicating that work was received are written onto the pink form. A notes field is included for any additional information needed. Also stapled to the Sales Workorder is a handwritten form to indicate additional equipment utilized in installation. A series of Workorders may coexist in the file if initial installation was conducted in stages, or if modifications were made shortly after installation.
    Sales and Installation Invoice
    - Invoices are generated by accounts receivable using information from the annotated pink copy of the workorder. The date paid is written on the invoice and notes regarding warranty information may be included. Some invoices are stamped with the date "Entered" and the date "Paid".
  3. Maintenance Records
    Warranty and Maintenance Worksheet
    - This form is used to calculate the maintenance contract charge. All information is entered by hand. A version of the form for each year of coverage is evident.
    Maintenance Agreement
    - Included here is typed information regarding dates covered under the agreement, system name, location, charge for the period specified, date payable, and the equipment covered under the agreement. The date the agreement was executed is handwritten on the form and signatures of the Ultracom representative and the client representative are at the bottom of the form. This form is duplicated for each year covered by a maintenance agreement.
    Maintenance Agreement Invoice
    - Invoices are stapled to the corresponding maintenance agreements with date paid handwritten on the lower right corner of the invoice.
    Problem Reported
    - Problems reported shortly after installation are logged on this form and acted upon.
  4. System Documentation
    Extensions List
    - A handwritten list of all extensions in the telephone system at the time installation was completed.
    Jacks and Cables List
    - A handwritten list of all jacks and cables used in installation.
    Floor Plans
    - Annotated floor plans of the clients workspace are included in the file if they are not oversized. Larger rolled floor plans are stored separately.
    Vendor Quote Sheet
    - A vendor specific quote sheet is used to develop the specific system implementation. These forms vary by vendor.
    Customer General Information Sheet
    - Stapled to the back of the file folder, this form includes connecting information (i.e. PIN and extension numbers).
  5. Miscellaneous Records Various other materials may or may not be included in the CSR File. These include: correspondence between the client and Michigan Bell authorizing Ultracom to act as an official agent in placing service orders with the utility, a copy of Michigan Bell service request forms for the client, copies of checks received by Ultracom in payment for the system. Various other ancillary information created through system design or modification may be included.

Maintenance File

Maintenance records in the customer file are either contractual in nature or pertain to maintenance conducted as an integral component of system implementation. In contrast, records in the Maintenance file pertain to all maintenance activity performed on existing telecommunications systems.

Customer General Information Sheet
- A copy of this form is stapled to the inside front cover of the folder.
Maintenance Request Form
- Generated by the Customer service representative at the time the order is placed, this is a handwritten form including customer information and the nature of maintenance required.
Work Requested/Work Performed Sheet
- The customer service representative enters information from the Maintenance Request Form into the database to generate the Work Requested/Work Performed Sheet. A pink copy of this form is signed by both the client and the field technician at the time maintenance is performed. As with the Sales Workorder, various copies of this form are utilized for administrative tracking. All copies are reunited at the time accounts receivable generates the invoice. These are filed at the time payment is received.
Maintenance Invoice
- An invoice is generated by accounts receivable from the pink copy of the Work Requested/Work Performed Sheet.

MAC File

Records in the MAC file are similar to the contents of the maintenance file. Handwritten Workorder Requests, computer generated Workorders, and Invoices relating to moves, adds, or changes to an existing system are filed as a unit.