Driven by the changes thrust upon us by the pandemic, government agencies and private businesses are now either accelerating digital transformations begun pre-COVID-19 or rapidly adopting first-time digital initiatives. Identifying—then choosing—the right processes, approaches, and technologies takes time and effort. It means wading through an alphabet soup of acronyms, demystifying technology platforms and tools, and understanding concepts like imaging vs. digitizing.

Like everything in our new post-COVID-19 world, going digital successfully isn’t simple. 

As we talk to prospective and existing customers about navigating digital transformation, we are identifying where referenceable guides on terms and solutions can help most. Questions about imaging vs. digitizing come up often.

That’s why in this post, we’ll define imaging and digitizing, outline the differences, and provide clarifying context with real-world use cases to help you understand how each—or both—can benefit your organization. We’ll continue to provide similar content on relevant topics and solutions in the coming weeks as many of you finalize budgets for the year ahead.

If there are specific topics you’d like our experts to cover, let us know here. We’d love to hear from you.

Imaging and Digitizing Defined

The terms imaging and digitizing are often used interchangeably. However, there is an important difference related to how files can be used once they are either imaged or digitized. That main distinction is an imaged document can’t be manipulated, while a digitized one can. Let’s take a closer look at what that means for your organization.

Document Imaging

A scanned paper document is an imaged document. That means a digital picture is taken, and the text in the image is human-readable but isn’t machine-readable. So, computers and software programs can’t process the metadata. (The metadata is the information contained in the document. More on that below.)

Document Digitizing

Digitizing documents takes imaging a step further. The information in a digitized document can be manipulated, including indexed for searchability.  

Imaging vs. Digitizing: What the Difference Means for Your Organization

Document scanning and document conversion are two forms of document imaging. It’s taking a document and scanning it to a digital version or converting from another kind of media (tape backup or microfilm, for example) to a digital format. Document imaging takes an analog version of content and creates a digital, read-only copy that can’t be edited or manipulated.

Digitizing, on the other hand, converts a hard copy of a document—usually paper—and converts it to text. Digitizing typically incorporates an optical character recognition (OCR) program. OCR software recognizes text characters in images and converts them into machine-readable text.

Once processed by OCR, digitized documents can be indexed using the metadata. Metadata is information such as the date of creation, author, and one or more unique identifiers. Once digitized, documents are searchable. You can also use digitized documents for materials that require redaction.

Benefits Begin with Document Imaging

Imaging vs. Digitizing

The information contained in analog documents, microfilm, books, and maps is critical to any organization—and now more than ever because there’s never been more of it. When that information needs to be accessed, processed, and shared quickly and securely—often remotely—paper just isn’t up to the job. 

Even without the ability to manipulate and index, imaged documents deliver these benefits:

Time Savings

Once scanned and converted, documents can be accessed quickly and easily. There’s less time spent looking for information and no need to spend any time filing and re-filing hard copies. Staff time previously spent on filing and searching can be better allocated.

According to Gartner, employees waste 20 to 30 percent of their work weeks managing paper documents. Document imaging makes sharing, organizing, managing, and collaborating easier. Imaging also enables remote access to important information, which has proven to be critical to business operations post-pandemic.

After going digital, Florida’s Department of Health reduced cycle times for licensing applications and renewals from six weeks to three days.

Cost Savings

Transitioning from paper to digital nearly always results in cost savings, including fewer consumables and lower energy costs. Once your documents are scanned, you’ll avoid the costs related to physical file storage.

According to analysis conducted by Deloitte of a retail bank, eliminating paper can reduce operating expenses by as much as 25 percent. When the Texas Department of Insurance went paperless by scanning over 800,000 case files, it eliminated $300,000 in file storage and management costs. 

Client after client, we’ve seen firsthand how reallocation of staff and space previously used to manage and store paper-based documents drives significant cost reductions. New York State’s Nassau County freed up and cost-effectively repurposed an entire floor of office space when it moved from paper-based records to a digital system. Imaging case files freed up thousands of square feet of expensive office space for the New York City Housing Authority.

Better Security

Document imaging doesn’t just make work quicker and more cost-effective, it also makes content more secure. That’s because paper is inherently insecure. A printed sheet of data can go anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Once scanned, you have far more control over who can access your files. 

Mitigating risk through physical security measures for paper documents is costly, and enforcing security best practices by employees is difficult. Once documents are scanned and stored in the cloud, security authorizations can easily be set and enforced. When choosing a vendor, ask about multi-level security settings. 

Reduced Risk

Information stored in paper formats is degradable information, and it deteriorates further every time it’s handled manually. Document imaging ensures your most important data is saved and preserved for the future. Scanning and converting paper documents to digital files also reduces the likelihood of loss from fire, natural disasters, or age-related deterioration, eliminating recovery costs and downtime. 

Improved Service Delivery

Paper also falls far short in terms of today’s very important customer experience. Digital content is a more customer-centric approach to managing business records. In our always-on, digital world, consumers expect exceptional service—delivered at lightning speed. This applies to both private and public organizations.

Paper-based files can have a very direct, negative impact on customer experience. That’s because paper and paper-based processes are cumbersome and error prone. With paper-based documents and records, it often can take hours to days to fulfill a records request—falling far short in meeting today’s heightened consumer expectations. 

From Imaging to Digitizing: Extending the Benefits

Pay Your Bills and Save Paper with an Entirely Digital Voucher Process

Moving from paper to digital content through document imaging delivers clear and measurable benefits. Digitizing, though, extends those benefits even 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 digital increases with digitization. In addition to the above benefits, digitization includes: 

Enhanced Privacy & Protection

Complying with privacy requirements is much easier when you know exactly where and how your records are stored, who has accessed them (and when), and how the document was used. A digitized system provides a reliable, trackable audit trail. This is especially important for agencies and businesses bound to compliance with laws such as HIPAA and PPACA.

When the Florida Department of Safety and Motor Vehicles converted several million high-security images, it improved security and access to confidential records such as state drivers’ licenses. Digitized documents can also 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. 

More Accessibility

Digitization provides improved access and organization for documents. Capturing key metadata within your content provides easier access to organize and locate content. For the South Carolina Department of Transportation, deterioration due to age and environmental factors was a significant risk to delicate maps and drawings, dating as far back as the early 1900s. Through a careful digitization process, the historical documents were preserved and are now easily accessible to staff and the public.

Document digitization provides a safe and secure repository for information. It can be shared in the cloud or on a local document management system, which means locating a document is only a click away.

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.

When files like medical records are digitized, sophisticated document management systems can be configured to track retention periods for compliance. Look for a system that provides version control, remote retrieval, and indexing, which make it easy to track record retention times and retrieve documents remotely once digitized.

We Can Help You Navigate Your Digital Transformation

Digitizing your paper content is the critical first step in a successful digital transformation. Success, though, depends on a holistic information management strategy. A sophisticated document management system should be part of that strategy.

Document management systems include features beyond digital storage, including version control, permission-based access, backup, data protection, and workflow features for storing, securing, and sharing documents.

If you’re ready to start your digital transformation by digitizing your content, we’d love to share our experience, results, and technology with you. Download our Guide to Going Digital for insights on planning, prioritizing, and choosing a partner. For more real-world examples of the benefits of digital transformation, read our case studies here.