Backfile conversions: Four approaches for success when scanning

By in

We’ve seen more and more clients lately coming to us with requirements to have their old paper documents and records converted into a format that is electronic. This could include paper, microfilm, or even microfiche. The organizations range from school districts with personnel records going back to the 50’s, cities with old historical data going back to the 1800’s or even a police department looking to convert their homicide reports. This blog post will sum up the various options an organization has when it comes to a backfile conversion.


Full backfile

A full backfile conversion is the most expensive and thorough of the four options below, though it’s not always the number one priority for an organization. This is when you focus on all your records/documents/fiche/film and have them converted so that when you start with your new shiny document or content management solution, everything is electronic and accessible. The documents are imported or made available to you as a common format like a PDF or TIFF, or you can go one step further and have it imported directly into your current/new document or records management system. This eliminates time spent in the future searching or scanning these older records. Staff can focus on the present and the future and time will definitely be freed up when it comes to accessing information.


Partial backfile

A partial backfile conversion is when you designate a range or a set of documents to be converted, while ignoring others. For example, you might only want to scan records from 2011 and 2010, but ignore those that are from 2009 or prior (for now). I say for now as it’s very possible you will address those in the future, but your priority is only around the most recent (last 3 years) documents in this case.

An alternative to this is when you focus ONLY on certain document types (for example, homicide reports). You can also convert only a specific type of record, saying “We only want to convert our microfiche” while ignoring all physical paper records. While helpful, the items still in physical format may need to be accessed and this will result in the same time inefficiencies.


Day forward

A day forward conversion (like it sounds) focuses on all documents going forward. The idea here is that we are going to implement a technology solution to manage the records/documents and as our business goes on and new documents/records are created, we then have a strategy in place to address these. This could be having someone internally scanning fulltime (depending on your volume), or you can outsource this and have us pick up a box or two every month. Some of our clients do this now, even having staff primarily responsible for this preparation and making the docs available to us for pickup. Of the four, this tends to be the most popular as most organizations generally get started with technology first and then look to revisit their old paper docs/records and come up with an ideal strategy to address them.



Finally, an on-demand conversion is when there is no plan to scan or digitize older documents and/or records. However, when a document or file is requested or someone actually goes to the filing room, and finds the record, it’s then scanned. While this may be a common practice, it’s generally the least popular of these four as the challenges still exist with the paper records needing to be sought out and many resources are spent. Imagine if the document or record was offsite, and you had to pay a staff member to travel out there, search for it, and finally retrieve it. How likely is it that the same document or file will be requested again in the future? In other words, is it valuable to have such an ad-hoc approach compared to the other strategies available?


So while these methods all vary, there is generally always one that will be best for your organization. Some may go for the full backfile while others might focus on a set of years, a specific type of record, or perhaps just scan everything going forward and leave the past alone. Whatever you decide on, and whether you are in Fresno or Sacramento (or really anywhere in California) we are here to help.


Contact John-Paul Sansone at to learn more.

Leave a reply