Box clever | ITProPortal

It ranks one of the biggest upsets in sporting history.  The 1974 Rumble in the Jungle world heavy weight championship fight in Zaire saw challenger Muhammad Ali beat the punching power-house George Foreman – and bookies bet to win – by hanging so far back off the ropes he avoided the  punishing blows until Foreman eventually tired out.  Dubbed ‘rope-a-dope’, it flew in the face of conventional wisdom as a boxing tactic with Ali finally knocking Foreman down in the eighth round to win.  It certainly was boxing clever. 

In the world of records management and physical off-site storage, there is a case to box clever, too.   Organizations in the UK are estimated to store around 200 million boxes of information off-site managed by third party operators, with the document management services industry – which includes storage – worth over  £1.1 billion in 2020.

But research by McKinsey & Company shows that managers waste 19 percent of their working week searching for and gathering information – that’s a whopping 39 or so hours per month.   Clearly some of this will be located in these huge off-site warehouse facilities.  Locating it, pulling it out of a specific binder or file and delivering this can be a time consuming, inefficient and ultimately costly exercise. 

GDPR has also upped the ante for organizations to have better information lifecycle management processes and procedures.  Gone are the days of adopting an iceberg approach where you might only know about 10 percent of the information you hold as a company and its location and scant little about the rest.  Today, you need to understand exactly what you’re keeping to safely meet retention and destruction rules and regulations.  Fines are onerous if you don’t.

Manual indexing has been the norm

Historically the outsourced records management market has relied heavily on the manual inventorying and indexing of boxes arriving at facilities, with the obligation very much on customers to take responsibility to do it themselves.

This – at best – has been limited to a storage box level rather than the actual logging of binder or folder contents contained so that a contract, set of notes or HR record can be found at a later date.

It has always been a cost versus benefit calculation as to whether to get into this level of granular detail.  Yes, records storage firms will do it for an additional fee but this quickly balloons into a substantial amount when you’re talking about thousands or tens of thousands of boxes and an army of staff required to catalogue everything.  Unless organizations pay their storage partners or accept the need for DIY – which clearly has a staff cost overhead too – the question has always been whether it is worth it given the number of times a file might actually need to be retrieved. 

Yet this creates an obvious problem for the future. Given GDPR rules now in force, what goes in must ultimately come out with the retention time scales for some paperwork measured in years.  Simply put, many firms just don’t know what they have in store. 

So, how can technology help with this storage-access-value for money conundrum and what is available on the market today that works reliably and securely to make the retrieval of physical records that much easier?

Mobile capture with mature crowd sourcing

One solution on offer allows the capture of information contained on the actual labels stuck on the spines of lever arch folders or box files. This then integrates with any ECM or back end system. 

Supporting Samsung and Apple devices, it combines an innovative smartphone app with real-time 4k video streaming as the capture tool with full-text OCR and barcode recognition engines built in.  It’s a new and innovative approach made possible as technology has evolved and matured.

It’s then a simple case for staff in storage facilities to open a box and hold a phone at the spines as they scan them. The phone ‘reads’ the text and information fields are captured automatically. Data is then populated in a customizable portal based on a client’s specific set-up requirements. 

To be clear, this not scanning individual pages of physical documents rather the scanning and reading of information on a folder’s cover.   So, this could be dates, invoice numbers, a client or folder name, barcode and so on.  This is then linked to the specific box and its ID number.  It means there is an accurate record of what is stored in each one to make retrieval and access a breeze later on. 

The clever bit of all this is what happens when the app cannot read the barcodes or writing on the covers because the legibility is poor.   A work item is then created to check the image and sent to the ‘public crowd’ – a global workforce of over 2 million people connected using the cloud – for quality assurance purposes.  It’s a touchless automatic process. 

Typically, the system is set so that the same image is sent to two data entry clerks who both check the snippets before finally keying it into the ECM system.  If there’s a mismatch, it goes to a supervisor to review which solves the issue of manual errors creeping in. This triple-check approach explains how impressive 99.9 percent accuracy rates are achieved.  That’s almost data perfection. 

These snippets of information are context-free so that the crowd clerks – who maybe based anywhere in the world – don’t become a worrisome security risk. Interestingly, if a user is big enough, a private crowd alternative can be established meaning that the workflow is only distributed to internal employees for their attention.

The benefits are clear. Such an automated approach removes the laborious, mundane and repetitive tasks of indexing and cataloguing high volumes of records at off-site storage facilities.  It drastically reduces the cost, it’s scalable, on-demand and doesn’t require expensive hardware, software or consultancy to get up and running.

As more meta data is captured when boxed information arrives, it makes it faster, easier and cheaper to later retrieve, access and manage in the long-run therefore fundamentally streamlining and enhancing document lifecycle processes with all the obvious commercial and compliance gains. Put another way, you manage your records better, retrieve them better and destroy them better.

And while some firms may find themselves on the regulatory ropes if they don’t do this properly, it could be a winner knockout approach for many to try.

Ashley Keil, VP sales, EMEA/APAC, IBML

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