Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000

Electronic Backups of Hard Copy Documents

Most data backup discussions focus on backing up information contained in files on your computer. This would include your work product generated on your computer and documents received in electronic format from others and retained on your computer. But this approach still leaves a substantial hole in terms of a complete backup strategy. For all the recent talk about paperless offices, the fact remains that we do still receive a substantial quantity of documents as hard copy. A complete backup strategy would include hard copy documents as well. Because electronic storage is much more convenient and saves considerable space, we would prefer to store backups of hard copy documents in an electronic format. Therefore, we need to address the issue of conversion of hard copy documents to electronic format.

The only way to convert hard copy to electronic format is to scan the hard copy into the computer and save it. Once saved, it can be duplicated by any of the storage devices discussed in this article. Scanners come in a variety of configurations, sizes, and capabilities. A review of scanners exceeds the scope of this article. As a practical matter, however, if you have any substantial quantity of documents that you want to scan into a computer format, you should consider investing in a scanner with document feeder capabilities. As you might expect, a document feeder will increase the price of the scanner considerably. Scanners equipped with feeders, however, tend to be better made "industrial weight" devices. Moreover, the time saved by multiple-page semi-automatic document feeding over single page manual document loading should more than make up for the increased cost of the scanner if you have any substantial quantity of documents to scan.

Scanning software will allow you to transfer a text document into an electronic format as a graphic (you can call the document up, read it and print it, but cannot alter it) or as a word processing document. Standard scanner programs will load the documents as a graphic. Conversion to a word processing document requires OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software. There are many OCR programs that are quite adequate and the industry standard gets better all the time. A word of warning, however-OCR software has not reached 100 percent accuracy. If you are going to use OCR software, you need to carefully review the output to ensure that you catch any errors. If you are going to use OCR software, you should also maintain a copy of the document as a graphic for confirmation purposes.

The combination of scanning and the use of the devices referred to in this article provides the ability to effectively back up your work and the documents that you receive in hard copy. It also allows you to consider replacing hard copy storage of certain types of files and documents with electronic-based storage and disposing of the hard copies entirely. Examples of this might include copies of older financial records such as invoices, statements, receipts, etc. It is also an option for storage of information from older, closed client files that are slated for destruction.

-Jeffrey M. Allen

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