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Costing in-house scanning systems

Setting-up your own scanning system and running it in-house can seem an attractive option. After the necessary hardware and software has been purchased, running costs (usually time), appear relatively low as staff costs are accounted for elsewhere. To help you decide whether this is the best option for you, or whether outsourcing your scanning partially or completely is better, here are some guidelines on the processes and time involved in running an effective in-house scanning system. 

By working out how much staff time you think each stage will take, you will be able to make a precise judgement about the true cost of in-house scanning and whether you have the staff time available to dedicate to it. Alternatively, you may decide that outsourcing would be more beneficial. 

Hardware

Your choice of scanner is critical. Too small and you’ll be frustrated at the slow scanning speed. Too large and you’ll have spent an awful lot of money on something you don’t need. Things to look out for include: 

  • Does the scanner have an automatic feeder? 
    Cross-off the list anything without one immediately. Nobody has time to hand-feed a scanner with paper all day.
  • How many pages does it scan per minute? 
    Work out how many sheets you need to scan a day. Take the manufacturer’s scanning speed and halve it to give the speed a person doing scanning and nothing else will achieve. Compare this with the number of sheets you need to scan a day to give an idea of whether it is the right speed for you. 

  • How variable is the thickness of the paper you will be scanning?
    A rotary scanner will have a more limited range than a straight paper path scanner, but will be cheaper. 
  • Will you normally be scanning single-sided (simplex) or double-sided (duplex) documents?
    Duplex scanners cut-out having to feed documents through twice and reduce the opportunity for errors which that introduces. But they are more expensive.
  • What paper sizes will you normally be scanning?
    If you have a lot of A3 or larger format documents to scan, look for a scanner that can accommodate this. 
  • Do you want to be able to scan in colour, greyscale (colour converted to shades of grey) or just black and white?
    If you want to scan in colour and greyscale, check the scanner speeds carefully, as some scanners are a lot slower when doing colour or greyscale. A basic software programme to control the scanning process may be supplied with your scanner. This may control factors like contrast and brightness, skew correction, multiple page documents, indexing, paper colour and many more. 

Software

Software can get very expensive, so decide what you actually need to do first. Compare available software with your needs to avoid paying for complex functions you may never use. Whether you need to buy a more advanced software programme, will depend on:

  • The type of paper and print you want to scan
  • The volume of paper to go through (applications have an impact on how efficiently the scanner speed can be used)
  • Whether you will be using folders and file names based on indexing or a document management system to retrieve your files.

Document Preparation

Before scanning, all staples, plastic wallets and other binding devices must be removed from documents. There may also be post-it notes, odd-sized drawings or items that are not to be scanned (e.g. brochures etc). This process needs to be completed first in order for documents to be fed smoothly through the scanner. Sorting through and removing bindings can be relatively fast or extremely slow, depending on the documents. To get an idea of how long it will take for your documents, try doing a sample batch and see how many you can prepare in say, 30 minutes. 

If you are doing a lot of scanning, you should also batch the documents at this stage and keep a log of all documents prepared. Generally, the quantity scanned in a day or one box of documents will be counted as one batch. This allows good quality control procedures to be followed. 

Typically, a person working on preparing documents and nothing else can do around 1000 sheets per hour, depending on the amount of bindings, etc to be removed. 

Scanning

As a rough guide, a person doing scanning as part of other office duties will scan at around 20% of the scanner speed. For example a scanner with a maximum speed of 25 pages per minute (ppm) will actually be producing 5 ppm.

Somebody dedicated to scanning will achieve around 30-40% of the scanner’s maximum speed i.e. 8 ppm for a 25 ppm scanner, depending on the software used and the type of documents. A mixture of paper size, font brightness and paper colour can seriously reduce the speed if settings have to be changed every few pages. Speed also increases as people develop ‘tricks’ to speed up the process, so someone who regularly does the scanning will be faster than someone who does it infrequently. 

Indexing

This varies greatly depending on factors such as the person’s typing speed and accuracy, length of file names and dedication to the task. You can reach an estimate of time taken by indexing a sample batch. 

Quality Control

Although preparing the files and scanning is relatively easy, it requires excellent organisational skills and must be quality checked if you want to ensure that you’ll find the pages you are looking for. The total number of pages checked varies between 5% and 10%, depending on the quality found in the sample for each batch. A particular batch will “pass” if it has a higher accuracy level than that set (e.g. 99.5% of the pages or more are present, clearly visible, straight and without specks). If a batch fails at 5%, the sample size should be increased to 10%. If this fails, then the whole batch should be checked.

Approximately 500 sheets can be checked in 1 hour. The time taken to re-scan any failed batches must also be accounted for. To start with, you may find this takes a considerable amount of time, but as staff become more practiced, quality should improve. 

Through scanning consultancy services we can help you assess your scanning needs and help choose a scanning system that is most appropriate to you, or set-up a partial or full scanning service for you.