Document Imaging Systems And Services

Every business must tackle the problem of document storage.

In the past, documents were stored in a physical location, usually in a filing cabinet or a basement with plenty of shelving.  But now, in an increasingly paperless world, a hard copy storage system has become the exception rather than the rule.

Businesses are moving to electronic document storage.  Finding the right document imaging solution can improve the efficiency of your business and save you money.

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The Basics

What is Document Imaging?

In many offices, documents are stored in several locations, in different formats.

Documents may be saved on an individual’s computer hard drive, on a network, backed up on a CD, in a filing cabinet, or even inside a desk drawer. An employee who needs a specific document may not have physical access to it. Document imaging provides a framework for organizing all your digital and paper documents — it’s much more than storage.  With the right document management solution, you can improve workflow, increase accessibility to files, and assure privacy through HIPAA compliance.

When paper documents are scanned, the images are stored online where they can be managed and retrieved electronically. Through scanning and management, your company can operate more efficiently, improve the bottom line, and strengthen your competitive position. When researching, you may hear the terms document imaging system, document imaging service, document management service, or document management system. These terms are often used interchangeably.

Types of Document Imaging

Remember to focus on the keywords, system, and service. They will steer you in the right direction.

Ultimately there are 2 options when it comes to document management:

  • Document Imaging System

    A document imaging system is self-hosted. All the hardware and software used to store and organize your files is located on-site. Using a scanner, multi-format printer and imaging software, all your files are electronically organized and managed in-house.


    • Always in control of your system
    • Always in control of your documents
    • One-time software cost


    • Storage is limited
    • May incur per-user licensing and installation fees
    • Software updates required
    • Back-up is required

    If in-house management of your files is a priority, then a self-hosted imaging system is for you.

    Self-Hosted = Document Imaging System

    YOUR Server, YOUR Software managing YOUR Files

  • Document Imaging Services

    If you choose to outsource the process of digitally storing and managing your files, then you will be using a document imaging service. . Document imaging services are typically cloud-hosted. This means the software is hosted by a provider and accessed online. The document management service takes care of transferring any hard copies into digital format.


    • Employees can login from anywhere on any device
    • System provider handles all upgrades and maintenance
    • No IT team needed for installation or maintenance
    • No large upfront costs
    • Worry-free backup


    • Must rely on someone else to keep system running
    • Even cloud solutions have limits
    • Monthly fee for each user

    If ease of access is a priority for your employees, then you need a cloud-hosted document imaging service.

    Cloud-Hosted = Document Imaging Services

    Off-Site Management. Ease of Access   

How Does Document Imaging Work?

  1. Scan. A paper document is scanned and converted to an electronic file, such as a PDF.
  2. Index. The scanned document is given a name with the date and “tags.” These tags act as identifiers so that files can be easily found with a title, author name, keyword search, or date. For example, if you were scanning a client’s invoice, you might tag the document with the name of the client and the word “invoice.” Some imaging systems have OCR (optical character recognition), which is software that is able to “read” the text on the page and convert it into digital text, storing the text as searchable tags within the system.
  3. Storage. Documents are connected to the management (workflow) server that is used to store, retrieve and manage all digital information.
  4. Retrieval. When you need to find a document that has been scanned into the system, you can retrieve it by searching for the words that were used as tags.


Document Imaging Software Features

When choosing to electronically organize your files, there are several features to look for when it comes to getting the most out of document imaging.

File structure

The system software should offer an easy-to-use file structure that makes sense to users.


A wide range of search options can help you quickly find files. Searches that allow access to files with a keyword or date search increase accessibility. Proper indexing allows for multiple methods of finding the proper document.

Ease of use

The system should not only be simple for employees to use, but it should also easily incorporate the programs you currently use. For example, quality digital imaging will function flawlessly with your current email system.

Mobile/remote access

Remote access to documents off-site via smartphones and tablets is necessary.

Remote Access–Remote access to files can be given to employees so that workflow can continue anywhere and anytime. Depending on your business’s needs, remote access will either require an installation of client software or web browser access.

Mobile Access—Increase productivity by making all your essential documents available with mobile document imaging software. Employees can create files, download, and search for documents, make edits and even view metadata properties of a file on their smartphone with document imaging software.


Good digital imaging software should allow you to restrict who can see specific folders and files.  You should be able to set access permission based on an employee’s security clearance level.

Whether you’re a hospital that deals with sensitive and confidential information or a small local business, security is essential. Security of your documents should be taken seriously. If your files are compromised in any way, it could damage your company’s integrity. Make sure you stay in compliance to avoid litigation. Standard security measures include password protection, encryption, and history of who has accessed/updated documents.

Version Control–If you have multiple people working on a document, version control restricts who can edit a document and when. There is also a “check-in/check-out” feature which makes sure only one person is working on a document at any given time.

HIPAA–If your business deals with providing health care to individuals in any way, then the rules outlined in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) likely apply to you.

Optical Character Recognition

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is something you do every day without noticing. When you read a sign or an email, you are using your eyes (optical) to recognize all the letters (characters). You are able to read them as words. (You are doing it right now). However, if a computer looks at a scanned document, the document is converted into an image file. To the computer, the image is just a bunch of pixels that have no discernible meaning.

That is where Optical Character Recognition comes in. OCR is an advanced software technology. With OCR, the image you scan is no longer just a bunch of pixels. OCR software is capable of recognizing the individual characters and converting them into a useful, editable format.

How does OCR software work?

The challenge of creating a software program that can “read” text is similar to the challenge we all face when trying to read certain people’s handwriting: everyone writes differently. Even with documents made on a computer, every font is slightly different from every other font.  OCR software reads text by using two methods.

  1. Pattern recognition–The software evaluates and reads the text by recognizing a character in its entirety. For example, OCR is programed to recognize all the different variations of “A” by each font.
  2. Feature detection–OCR software evaluates and identifies specific features–the lines and strokes–that make up the character. For example, if the software scans a document with an “A” that is a font it does not recognize, then pattern recognition will not work. Instead, the OCR can use feature detection. The software will look at the lines of the character and discern that it has the same lines as a typical “A”, and therefore correctly identifies the character as an “A”.

Can OCR software recognize handwriting?

While it is more challenging for OCR to recognize handwriting than computer designed fonts, some OCR programs are capable of using special feature detection methods to read handwriting. Success will vary, depending on the handwriting of the individual. For example, cursive is extremely difficult for software to read.

What if I need OCR software to recognize handwriting?

If you will be scanning numerous hand-written forms and want to use OCR to convert the handwriting into a text file, there are things you can do to increase the success rate of the software. Design your forms with comb fields where people have to write each letter in a separate box. This tends to improve peoples’ printing. Adding a dropout color (a special color different from the handwritten ink) to comb fields on the form, allows the software to easily separate the blue or black ink of someone’s handwriting.



Self-Hosted Document Imaging System:

The price of an on-site document imaging system is mostly dependent on the number of users at your company.

Actual costs will vary based on your specific needs, but a rough average cost estimate is about $1,000 per user. This price does not include the one-time payments associated with consulting and setup fees, which can cost thousands of dollars. If you need to add another server for data storage, plan on budgeting an additional $5,000.

Note: Consider your maintenance and support costs. The cost each year for maintenance and support is generally about 20% of the initial setup cost.

Cloud-Hosted Document Management Services

With a cloud-hosted document imaging service, you pay a monthly fee to use the service. Plans vary based on the number of users and the amount of storage you need. The more files you need to store, the higher the cost will be. There may also be fees associated with setup and training, depending on your supplier. Below is a rough estimate of the monthly cost of a cloud-hosted document imaging service.

average cost per month for DIS

What to Look For in a Supplier

  • Someone who knows your industry: The supplier that you choose should have experience in your industry. For example the legal and medical professions have very specific needs from their document imaging systems, and therefore require the supplier to know is ins and outs of that industry. Keep in mind, YOU are responsible for ALL compliance issues, not the supplier.
  • Someone who asks the right questions: Suppliers should not only be able to offer the latest technology, but also know which features benefit your business. Look for suppliers who ask real questions about your business and describe how their product meets your needs.
  • Someone who knows document imaging software: A reputable supplier can recommend reliable document imaging software publishers that are committed to regularly updating and improving their management software.

Ready to make a decision?

Now that you know about document imaging, are you ready to get prices on a self-hosted system or cloud-based service?  If so, fill out our form. We can put you in touch with up to 5 reputable suppliers that will give you free price quotes and answer any further questions you may have. There is no obligation to buy.

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