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