Three ways to make your office truly digital
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Photo: Rae Ho
A great stack of banker’s boxes dominates the scanning room of Sterling & Tucker, a law firm that specializes in estate and financial planning. The neatly labeled boxes are packed with hundreds of legal files and financial documents – the lifeblood of a firm like this – but all of them are headed for the shredder. It’s a sign of the times. Sterling & Tucker is one of dozens of Hawaii companies – law firms, medical offices, accountants, architects – that are systematically converting from paper files to electronic files.
Indeed, over the past four or five years, tens of thousands of the firm’s paper files have passed through this room on the way to being scanned or shredded. That makes this as good a vantage as any from which to see how conventional companies like Sterling & Tucker reinvent themselves and gradually become examples of the fabled paperless office.
Leslie Ishimi says that going digital frees up valuable space
1. Outsource the Work
For Sterling & Tucker, like many file-laden professional firms, the easiest path to the paperless office was to hire a contractor. Several years ago, they chose Profitability of Hawaii, one of the largest imaging companies in the state, to begin scanning their old files and to create an electronic filing system that mirrored the features of their paper system. “We started slowly,” says firm administrator Leslie Ishimi. “We said, ‘Let’s try these five or 10 boxes and see how it works.’ ” Since then, a steady stream of banker’s boxes has flowed between Sterling & Tucker and the bulletproof scanning room of POH.
“The service is excellent,” says Ishimi. But the digital files’ utility is the best feature. POH delivers the files on a CD in a fully searchable, indexed format. “One of the things that POH does beautifully for us is bookmarking,” Ishimi says. “They scan the files in sections, so they’re already bookmarked for us. When we get the files back as PDFs, they’re already ready for our attorneys. They set that system up for us.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for Sterling & Tucker. No matter who does the scanning, there are hard decisions that have to be made in-house. “We’re still responsible for those documents,” Ishimi says. No doubt, POH, with its high-test scanners and proprietary software, could have finished digitizing the law firm’s files long ago. But Sterling & Tucker’s own procedures slow the process. “When we get the hard copy back,” says Ishimi, “we still have to make sure what’s on the PDF is what we sent them. Then we have to have an attorney approve whether that file can be shredded or not. So, reabsorption – the work process after it comes back – is one of the things that dictate the rhythm. We can only reabsorb so much at a time from POH without hiring more people, which would defeat the reason we’re using them.”
There’s also the question of what to scan. “Normally, we would recommend not to go back in ancient files,” says Keanu Bruner, a marketing and sales executive at POH. “Scanning can be expensive. To the company, it could cost $300 to digitize a single banker’s box. And in a four-drawer file cabinet, there are about six banker’s boxes.” For a law firm like Sterling & Tucker, with its prodigious files, that adds up. Clearly, choosing what to scan calls for a strategy.
“We use a three-pronged approach,” says Ishimi. “You don’t want to pay for things you don’t need; so, for the old files that we store off-site, you have to come up with a way to quickly weed them out.” For the other files, she says, “You have to ask yourself, ‘What might your client need later that you could be responsible for?’ And also, ‘What might you need later?’ ” Your imaging consultant can’t answer those questions for you.
For all its complications, though, Bruner believes the paperless office is inevitable. “There’s more than one reason to digitize and go paperless,” he says. “You might want to reclaim valuable office space. It might be for disaster recovery purposes. Or speed of access to documents might be the primary reason for going digital. But resistance is futile,” he says. “Going digital is not an option anymore. In my mind, the way you do it is softly, gently and slowly. But you’re going to do it.”
It helps, though, to have professional advice.
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