Our digital-first world leaves little doubt that digital transformation is the right move for any enterprise—public or private. 

Digital document management lays the foundation for a complete digital transformation. It converts paper content to digital, then automates processes through features that make storing, securing, editing and sharing information more cost- and time-efficient. Implementing a digital document management system will have lasting and far-reaching effects on how your organization operates. But getting it right takes the right implementation approach.

We’ve worked with hundreds of government agencies and companies to implement digital document management. To be effective, an implementation plan must align with an enterprise’s specific objectives, resources, and internal and external stakeholder needs, but we’ve found these four implementation best practices universally establish a foundation for success.

1. Establish Clear Goals

4 Steps to Implementing Digital Document Management

For your digital document management system to achieve your goals, you must first clearly define your goals. It’s important to approach digital document management within a complete digital strategy, including not just how you will transform paper to electronic files, but how digitizing content will affect all current paper-based processes. 

While there are clear benefits for any organization to digitize, understanding your specific needs—based on factors such as how your documents are used and your particular resource restraints (e.g., staffing, space, infrastructure, budget)—is critical to delivering results that truly improve how people work.

Get specific and be thoughtful. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish and build a strategy around those goals. Do you want a simpler process for sharing information internally? Quicker turnaround for external requests? Tighter information security?

Establishing clear goals is also when you should carefully consider how your documents are used. Set goals first and build out your implementation strategy from there.

2. Determine What You Will Digitize—and When

Taking Inventory

The next step in your implementation plan should be determining what you will digitize. Begin with an inventory of your paper content. Then, consider the needs of the people you serve and how digitization can improve service. For example, ask:

  • What documents are requested most often?
  • Which ones require the highest levels of security?
  • Which paper-based processes and workflows are the most time-consuming?
  • Is access to some documents limited because of storage location?

Digitize These Paper-based Processes First

In addition to service delivery, analyze and select documents to be digitized based on how conversion will free up resources. For example, will it save staff time or eliminate the need for physical storage? 

We know digitizing all content is rarely cost-effective or worthwhile. So, once you determine the content to be digitized, identify the content that doesn’t require digitization. This includes documents that should be destroyed, are close to their end-of-retention lifecycle, or aren’t used frequently.

Documents you’re digitizing should also be categorized. This will make the next stages of the process easier. Assess the volume of ongoing paper-based content you will need to manage and consider for digitization in the future. Also, determine how ongoing digitization will be handled. 


Review the types of documents you classified and prioritize them. This is the time to consider the need for backfile conversion, day-forward scanning or scan-on-demand. Here’s how each works:

Backfile conversion digitizes legacy documents associated with previous years’ activities.  It can be done in bulk to all existing files or for selected years.

If you have a backlog of paper records that are costly to store and manage, bulk scanning may make sense. Backfile conversion reduces or eliminates on-site physical records storage and makes records easier to search for, access, and distribute.

Day-forward scanning means documents that are currently active are converted as they enter the workflow. Day-forward scanning gives the flexibility to access paper files and transition between paper-based and digitized systems. Establish a conversion process that integrates smoothly with your existing processes. 

Scan-on-demand digitizes as the need for certain files or content types arises. 

In many cases, all three types of digitization are used. Day-forward conversion is always utilized because it increases efficiency. The initial effort to inventory your documents will help you determine which conversion option—or likely combination of options—is optimal. Those questions you answered about document use also will be valuable at this stage.

Planning and Change Management

It’s important to remember that new initiatives that change established systems and processes create disruption. You are likely to face resistance to new processes even when they provide benefits, simply because they change accepted ways of operating.

A thoughtful and inclusive approach to presenting the benefits of your digital transformation to all internal stakeholders will go far in assuaging resistance. Take time to address not only how digitization will solve problems but also review the change management plan. Ask for input.

A well-developed plan will be the most important document you create. The plan should address how going digital will affect:

  • Existing processes and technology
  • All departments and organizations
  • The people you serve
  • Employees

3. Choose the Right Technology to Support Your Implementation

During implementation planning, you will need to make important technology decisions that affect how your document management system operates and grows with you. These decisions include:

On-premises or Cloud 

Deciding where and how your digital content will be managed and stored is one of the first and most important considerations. The choice is an on-premises server or in the cloud.

A dedicated and secure cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based document management solution is a smart way to store, organize, and share digital files. In the cloud, information is protected with multiple levels of infrastructure and application security. 

Budget is also a key consideration. The total ongoing cost of managing and maintaining on-premises data storage is exponentially higher than a cloud environment. On-premises network storage for digitized data setup requires in-house server hardware, software licenses, and integration capabilities. You’ll also need internal IT resources for initial implementation, then on an ongoing basis to support and manage potential issues, maintenance, and upgrades. Cloud storage solutions deliver economies of scale and expertise for a faster return on your content investment.

Imaging or Digitizing 

Imaging vs. DigitizingBefore you start implementation, you will have to determine if you’re going to be imaging or digitizing your documents. Imaging and digitizing are often used interchangeably. However, there is an important difference related to how files can be used: An imaged document can’t be manipulated.

Even without the ability to manipulate and index, imaged documents mean cost savings, improved security, and better service delivery. Digitizing, though, extends those benefits further. 

Once digitized, content can be manipulated, edited, organized, and searched, further reducing the time it takes to access and use it. As a result, the value of going digital increases. Here are some examples of what you can do with digitized documents:

Document Redaction Systems. Digitized documents can be electronically redacted to better protect sensitive information. Electronic redaction systems are more secure because ink-based redaction methods used for paper documents are relatively easy to remove. 

Automated Retention Tracking. A retention program identifies records that need to be retained for legal and compliance reasons. It provides guidelines for how long records should be kept and when they should be destroyed.

Software Integration

How your digital document management solution integrates with other tools affects the value it delivers. Consider how digital document management will be part of your daily workflows and, during implementation planning, map out the necessary integrations with all other systems (e.g., accounting, reporting).

When choosing your digital document management vendor, ensure it offers easy integrations (some may be custom through application programming interfaces (APIs)).

4. Find the Right Partner

Pay Your Bills and Save Paper with an Entirely Digital Voucher ProcessA key decision in your implementation is whether to manage it internally or bring on an expert. Base your decision on factors such as internal resources, budget, timeline, goals, and size of the project.

Most organizations lack the equipment, software, and expertise to execute a major implementation alone. Expert vendors provide digitizing services, technical advice, and sometimes even long-term maintenance and support. They can also work with you to create new digitized workflows.

The advantages and disadvantages of an exclusively in-house digital transformation and one managed fully or partially in-house should be carefully reviewed. Attempting to do it in-house will mean:

  • Large initial and ongoing investments in resources, equipment, and training
  • Significant ramp-up time 
  • Variable/unknown costs
  • Opportunity costs related to reallocated resources

Bringing on an experienced and trusted partner ensures:

  • Cost containment and limited risk
  • Ability to contractually define timeline to meet objectives
  • Limited disruption to your operations
  • Broad range of service options 
  • Compliance with state and federal regulations governing information protection 

You’ll also have to decide if the work will be performed on- or off-site. Off-site processing may be less disruptive, but it will involve document transportation and security risk. You’ll have to weigh the costs, challenges, and advantages.

If you engage an expert partner to perform digitization, ensure the work is done in a secure on-site area or off-site facility, with chain of custody practices that enable document tracking through the entire process. They should follow strict security protocols and use ANSI/AIIM standards. 

We’re Ready to Help

To learn more about how Image API’s digital document management and digital process automation technology and services can help your organization achieve the full promise of digital transformation, we’d love to share our experience, results and technology with you

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About Image API

Image API is on a mission to fundamentally simplify the way people work–with the power and speed of digital.  Our team has been delivering innovative technology solutions that solve paper and process challenges for over 20 years.  We are ready–with the expertise, experience, and technology necessary to deliver your digital strategy.

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About the Author: Catherine DeStasio

Catherine DeStasio
Catherine DeStasio is a business writer based in Austin, Texas. She has been researching and covering B2B technology for more than a decade, focusing on how cloud solutions are elevating customer experience and driving successful digital transformation.