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November 2011
Taking a Byte Out of Paper
By Suzanne Fulton

     A quotation from motivational speaker and author Earl Nightingale rang true one day in 1999 for Shane Hunt: “You are, at this moment, standing right in the middle of your own ‘acres of diamonds.’” That maxim plus serendipity provided the inspiration to Hunt to form Records Reduction, Inc.

     Hunt, a Certified Document Imaging Architect, publicly recognized in his industry by AIIM for his score of 100 percent on their certification exam, has a business degree from UNC at Chapel Hill. He explains, “I was selling very expensive in-house imaging solutions at the time as an employee for Document Technologies, Inc. After I demonstrated a solution to Bissell Hayes Realty, Robert Hayes said he didn’t want to spend $30,000 on a system plus pay someone to prepare and scan the documents in-house. He just wanted to outsource scanning to someone else.

     “Regrettably, I told him we didn’t offer such an option. But it hit me as I left that office—there’s my new business! I had long been searching for an idea for a business of my own and the answer was right in front of me!”

     Now, desktop imaging machines softly hum at Records Reduction, located in an office park in Matthews—a far cry from its first location in a room of Shane and Allison Hunt’s home. Eight full-time employees and five contractors provide document imaging and pickup and delivery services to a variety of customers. About 40 percent are medical offices and accounts payable and human resources departments of other types of firms. For Hunt, repeat business and word of mouth recommendations have been sufficient to keep his company very busy.

 

Service With a Scan

     Every day Hunt’s employees prepare, scan and  index paper documents and slides, as well as convert or reformat scanned text to facilitate finding key words, phrases and sets of numbers. “Prepping” is the most time-consuming part of the process—removing any clip, staple or sticky note and determining if the document is two-sided. Scanners sit conveniently at each station, and these machines can scan two-sided in one action.

     The conversion service, dubbed OCR (optical character recognition), is part of an a la carte list of services from which clients may select. OCR enables the client to not only easily search a file, but also copy and paste selections of text into another document.

     As workers transform paper to PDF files, Hunt explains, “Our firm is unique because it is the only scanning company in the area that does not require its customers to install additional, expensive software to enable use of their new digital files.” His company produces files that can be used by Adobe Reader or the standard imaging program that comes with Microsoft Windows. One can view, print, fax and e-mail using either of these free programs.

     Records Reduction customers may select to receive the PDF files burned to CD, in which case workers prepare duplicate CDs. Hunt encourages customers to store one CD away from their physical site as a precaution against losing data in an office fire or from water damage.

     Customers then load the digital documents on CD into their own network. Having been custom indexed, the files are easily found in a few seconds by using familiar search terms. A bonus is that more than one staff member can open a file at the same time, a feature with multiple advantages.

     Customers may also select to have the PDF files put in Web-based file storage (“cloud” storage) on popular vendor site recordsreduction.box.net, accessible at any time, or off-site physical storage.

     Turnaround time for any given job depends on stated needs. The customer decides whether and how to dispose of the paper files. Shredding and recycling are among the menu of options. All processes are secure. All members of Hunt’s work force sign a non-disclosure agreement before they commence employment, and he routinely offers a confidentiality agreement to each client.

     Photo scanning, which appeals to individuals as well as businesses, is a newer service on the Records Reduction menu. Most folks have multiple albums or boxes full of paper photos and bring them to Records Reduction to have them photo scanned as PDFs on CDs or DVDs so they can upload them and share them digitally with family members.

     “While some businesses and individuals have scanners and can scan their own photos,” Hunt says, “we can do it on much better equipment with much better results, and because it is what we do, we can do it much less expensively in terms of time.”

 

Productivity, Continuity, Savings

     While the quest for a paperless office emerged more than 30 years ago, it has not been widely embraced until the last 10 years. In the late 1990s, then Coopers & Lybrand (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) reported that 90 percent of critical business information existed only on paper.

     In December 2010, records management organization AIIM published that in 39 percent of offices they surveyed, “paper usage was finally starting to fall.” These offices reported “investment payback within 12 months of implementing [scanning and capture] systems.”

     Rather than striving for paperless, which may be an impossible dream, using “less paper” has become a standard operating quest, driven by a variety of forces, the most important of which is productivity enhancement. While not as cleanly measurable as the cost of filing cabinets or the per-square-foot value of space, productivity influences profit.

     It takes a tremendous amount of time to file and retrieve documents using a paper-based system. This, of course, impacts productivity. Productivity is impacted by employee satisfaction as well, and scanning or paper filing and re-filing are unsatisfying tasks that are often low priority on the “To Do” list.

     “We all know the frustration of not being able to find a file. And it can cost you in many ways. If a file is missing during an audit, for example, many times there are fines,” says Hunt.

     Informational management industry organization ARMA International reports, “Companies typically misfile up to 20 percent of their records—thus losing them forever.”

     “Using Record Reduction, Inc., you will never have a lost file,” Hunt predicts.

     Other reasons for imaging files include: business continuity, the growth of the mobile work force, enhanced customer service, the legal acceptance images, and cost savings.

     Seventy percent of today’s businesses would fail within three weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records due to fire or flood, reported Coopers & Lybrand in the late ’90s. At the time, the U.S. Department of Labor predicted that one in four businesses would suffer a catastrophic loss.

     “It just makes good business sense to store records digitally—both on and off-site, both online and off-line—to provide for business continuity. Digital storage, including server and hosting fees, as well as fireproof boxes for storing CDs and DVDs are easy attainable and inexpensive,” says Hunt. “There’s just no reason not go digital wherever possible.”

 

As Times Change…

     Surely the most head-whipping influencer is the triple whammy growth of broadband, telecommuting, and innovations in mobile computing/communications devices with ever-larger screens.

     Hunt agrees, saying, “The mobile work force movement is a big reason why a lot of companies engage our services. More workers are conducting business from home or elsewhere. Management and sales people need constant access to their organization’s information when they are out of the office. Our online solution meets their needs for access at any time from anywhere.”

     Additionally, electronic files that can be accessed and searched almost instantly, allow businesses to provide better service to their customers, whether looking up information or providing them document copies, whether doing so from their office or mobile device.

     Images of documents do not fade over the years and, more importantly, they stand up in court. Since the 1970s, Federal Rules of Evidence have admitted images of business documents in court the same as the original paper, as long as keeping such form of records is a normal part of the activity of the organization. By 1995, most states had adopted the language in the federal rule.

     Physicians and hospitals have realized that transitioning from paper to electronic medical records is not only a cost-cutting convenience, but also can dramatically improve both preventative and critical care since medical professionals can access their patients’ records 24/7. In 2009, the federal government made available more than a billion dollars in federal grants toward helping hospitals and other health care providers implement technology to use electronic records.

     As for measurable cost savings over paper storage, consider that the per-square-foot rent for office space in the greater Charlotte area is typically more than $20. One filing cabinet takes up six square feet, which includes space needed to open a drawer. Filing costs to factor in should include manila folders and hanging files and tabs as well as time for filing and retrieval.

     Hunt has a favorite story he likes to use to illustration the cost comparison: “I was presenting a scanning quote to a prospective customer. When the gentleman made an unusual expression, I immediately asked if there was a concern. He replied that he was so happy he had called me. Due to the tighter HIPAA regulations, his medical facility had decided to invest in fireproof filing cabinets.

     “He was planning to buy 12 cabinets that week at $1,200 per cabinet for a total of $14,400. He realized from my quotation that we could scan in an entire cabinet for under $1,000. This would give him the security he was looking for and he’d be able to repurpose the office space that was being wasted on filing cabinets.”

     Delphi Group offered up some interesting results from a study, “Companies on average spend $25,000 to fill a typical four-drawer file cabinet, $2,000 to maintain it annually…Over its life span, a single sheet of paper ends up costing an average of $30.”

 

Sparkling Testimonials

     Of those customers who measure return on investment (ROI), all have realized or exceeded expected ROI in less than a year, Hunt says. He is proud of their customer retention rate of nearly 100 percent and they have received numerous accolades from satisfied customers.

     “Records Reduction does an excellent job storing our files on CD. The records are accurately labeled and easy to access. They take care of removing paper clips and staples, scanning the documents, labeling them according to my instructions and securely disposing of the originals. It couldn’t be any easier. Thanks, Records Reduction, for solving our file space problem!” says an office manager at Trane.

     “Records Reduction has assisted us in eliminating a lot of additional paper around the office,” says a director at Mack. “Using Records Reduction’s services has also allowed us to be able to present customer copies in a timely manner. They have saved us an enormous amount of time and space.”

     For Hunt, the future looks brilliant, as more and more companies get on the digital bandwagon and there seems to be a never-ending supply of paper records to be scanned. The company has enough work to warrant hiring a manager and even more staff to keep jobs flowing smoothly. For Records Reduction, some version of that old adage applies, “One man’s stash, is Records Reduction’s treasure!”

Suzanne Fulton is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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