Retrieving documents used to be a lengthy process for Federal White Cement employees. It meant they had to get into their cars, drive to an off-site location, look through old files, bring them back to the office and then drive back to refile them once they were done.

Now employees can retrieve

old documents by typing keywords into their computers.

The new system — achieved by scanning a year’s worth of documents with a high-volume Canon Inc. scanner and indexing them using software from Digitech Systems Inc. — has saved the almost-monthly trips to the storage facility. This translates into increased productivity, says Tony Lopes, vice-president of finance and administration for the Woodstock, Ont.- based Federal White Cement Ltd.

Various statutory requirements force the cement manufacturer, which does business both in the U.S. and Canada, to keep financial documents on file for several years. The company stores payroll documents even longer. Federal White keeps documents stretching back 15 years.

But its offices weren’t large enough to store the paper in-house, Lopes says.

And employees were spending too much time going back and forth from the off-site location. Federal White considered building an addition to its existing facility as well as acquiring additional off-site facilities, but soon dismissed those options. Instead, the company decided to go digital. Using a high-volume Canon DR-9080C Color Production Scanner in conjunction with Digitech’s PaperFlow scanning and indexing software, Federal White scanned everything it needed from the previous fiscal year. The project took a couple of months, Lopes says.

The company continues to scan in new documents as they come along. This has required a change in the way employees carry out their daily routines, Lopes says. He estimates that Federal White handles at least half a million documents a year, and each day employees set aside an hour or more for scanning.

“”It saves them filing the documents,”” he says.

Employees used to file documents alphabetically by company name. Now they scan them in and file the documents sequentially.

“”I think there’s definitely some changes that needed to occur to make the process easier,”” he says. People had to get used to not putting staples in documents, he says.

Emulating people

The documents are indexed in a variety of ways, Lopes says.

“”That was really the critical element of the whole task. Our way was to try to emulate how a person would try to find the document if they were searching for it manually. So we have a number of indexes.””

Employees use Digitech’s Paper-Vision Enterprise, a search and retrieval application, to find documents.

“”If we had to go off site to retrieve and refile, it’s a couple of hours of someone’s time. Now it’s less than 30 seconds to retrieve and there’s no need to refile the documents either. That’s a big savings that will pay for itself.””

The initial investment was approximately $15,000, Lopes says, and he hopes to recoup it in a couple of years just with the time saved in retrieving documents.

Though the electronic documents can be read by optical character recognition (OCR) technology, Federal White hasn’t taken advantage of that possibility yet, as it’s been scanning back-office documents. “”As we roll this out to legal documents, contracts, (and so on), we can see the value of using OCR for searching.””

Going digital with documents is becoming more commonplace, says Mississauga, Ont.-based Sam Russo, Canon Canada’s channel marketing manager for the Imaging Systems Group. “”This is certainly a growing trend,”” he says. “”Industry sources such as Dataquest say this year up to 72 per cent of all information is stored in digital formats. So people are used to storing and finding and sharing information in electronic form.””

Organizations are going to have to find better ways to do records management, says Jan Duffy, a Toronto-based associate with IDC Canada. “”Records management used to be a common and honourable profession, and then it went out of style. I think compliance (will) drive the requirement for more structure.””

Federal White may be entering the digital world, but it’s also keeping one foot in the paper world. “”Maybe in a few years, after we grow and mature, we’ll feel comfortable enough to shred our documents and save the expense of off-site storage.””

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