Scanning incoming paper

Most agencies still receive some business information as paper documents. This business information may come from other government agencies, from suppliers, from clients or from the general public. It may be in many formats such as handwritten correspondence, typewritten material, completed forms or signed documents. For a variety of reasons it may not be practical to expect the suppliers of this information to provide it digitally, so it is likely that most agencies will continue to receive some incoming paper.

There is no compelling reason for the majority of incoming paper documents to be retained in their original form. If it is scanned, the digital information can be easily accessed by multiple users in different locations and the information can be incorporated into digital business processes. There are only a few circumstances where information needs to be retained as paper, usually due to specific legal or security constraints. In these cases you should investigate the benefits of having a digital copy available for business use while keeping the paper original for legal or security purposes.

The National Archives has authorised the destruction of most incoming paper documents after scanning, provided a number of conditions are met. General records authority (31) for source (including original) records after they have been copied, converted or migrated outlines these conditions. It also specifies the types of paper documents that cannot be destroyed after scanning.

Scanning options

Depending on the type and volume of incoming paper, scanning operations may be either centralised (for example, in the mail room) or decentralised (for example, in work areas) or a combination of both.

Centralising scanning is most efficient where:

  • the volumes are high
  • the number of business processes being serviced is small, and
  • the range of paper transaction types is known and/or limited.

Outsourcing may be appropriate for high-volume scanning.

A case for decentralised scanning can be made where:

  • the volume of paper is low and intended recipients are many
  • not all incoming paper is received via a centralised area (for example, it may be handed over in face-to-face meetings or lodged at different locations)
  • it requires judgement about what is appropriate to scan (for example, to filter junk mail from business information), or
  • paper from internal processes, such as signed documents, needs to be scanned.

Scanning standards

Quality assurance of the scanning process is essential to ensure that images meet business requirements. For more information on scanning standards, please see the Scanning Specifications (pdf, 124kb) (docx, 40kb).

Adding value to scanned images

In its most basic form, scanning creates an image of the paper original. Images rely on a person viewing the image to interpret the information.

Optical character recognition (OCR) is commonly used to create a text version of the information. The text can then be searched and used for other business purposes. Commonly available scanning software includes OCR capability and can interpret commonly used fonts. However, most OCR processes will not achieve 100% accuracy and, depending on identified business risks, additional manual review may be necessary.

Description of scanned images

Agencies need to determine the naming conventions to be applied to scanned image files and what other descriptive information (metadata) should be captured at the same time, such as the date and time of scanning, scanning resolution details or file formats. Metadata can usually be embedded within the image files.

Managing the images as records

For incoming paper, the National Archives encourages the destruction of the original paper after scanning and quality assurance processes have been completed, and subject to the conditions and exclusions in General records authority (31) for source(including original) records after they have been copied, converted or migrated. If the original paper is destroyed, the digital images must be maintained for as long as required for the original source records as specified in a current records authority. If the records are not covered by a current records authority, authorisation must be obtained from the National Archives before the digital version can be destroyed.

Scanning older paper records

For advice on scanning older paper records, refer to Digitising accumulated physical records.

Further information

For information about managing digital information and records, see the guidance on Digital Continuity.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019