Film vs. Electronic: The Appropriate Document Management Option for Manufacturers

Jan. 4, 2011
Computer Output to Microfiche (COM) services are the most reliable way to protect against technological obsolescence while meeting legal retention needs.

For every business today, compliance standards must be taken into consideration at all times. Often when talking about compliance we are referring to retention of documents. Since the volume of data that needs to be captured, organized, indexed, and securely stored is increasing each year, it is important that every manufacturer seeks out the best method to manage this process. And the need, costs, risks, and reward vary greatly from business to business. Keeping important records viable for the required lifecycle raises the challenge of, "Physical or Digital?"

To determine the answer to this question, it is important to take the following points into consideration:

  • How many records need preserving and how big are the files?
  • How long is the retention period for each type of document?
  • How frequently will access to these records be requested?
  • How valuable/essential are the records and how much security is needed?

To answer these questions, it is critical to explore every alternative to ensure your documents and data will be accessible, protected, and in compliance now and in the future.

Film for Long-term Preservation Needs

Although the world seems to be moving more and more towards doing everything electronically, in the manufacturing industry there are various rules and regulations for selecting the best solution. Computer Output to Microfiche (COM) services are actually the safest and most economical way to produce and store information for long-term preservation requirements and are the most reliable way to protect against technological obsolescence while meeting legal retention needs.

For example, a major car manufacturer opted to use COM to record part numbers, detailed descriptions, and diagrams of each car make and model. The company provides its dealers the opportunity to purchase microfiche rolls for each car model to have in-house. In this particular case, the rolls only cost about $25 each and remain readable no matter how much technology changes.

Another example of microfiche and microfilm archiving being advisable is for airplane manufacturers which need to document every part that goes into to making the machine. Depending on the lifespan of the airplane, those documents may need to last 20 to 30 years. By being housed on a microfiche or film roll that is readable by magnifying glass and flashlight if necessary, the manufacturer does not have to worry about losing access to the data down the road.

Electronic for Quick Access

The one clear advantage that electronic storage has over film is speed of retrieval. Vast archives can be available in seconds without the complicated manual processes required to retrieve and load film or fiche from libraries. Electronically stored documents may be archived on CDs, DVDs, remote or local servers, or a web server. Because they are stored digitally, they can easily be converted to a standard formats (such as PDF), and shared and distributed from one business to another.

A good example of the benefits of electronic storage is a dealer who calls a manufacturer needing to purchase replacement parts for its equipment. The representative taking the dealer's call needs easy access to the catalog of all available parts as well as details on the machine the dealer is calling about in order to help in an efficient manner. It would be highly ineffective and time consuming if they had to feed a roll of film onto a reader and scan through the roll to locate the specific machine or part before they could provide any help to the dealer. With an electronic storage option, the representative, who can be located anywhere, can pull the catalog or description up on their computer and help in a matter of seconds. It is scenarios like this that make electronic archiving of documents with frequent access critical requirement.

The Best of Both Options

Once you determine the frequency of access required and retention regulations to meet, a technology service provider can help to develop a hybrid storage approach customized for your specific needs. The documents that need to be kept for long periods of time with little access can be placed on film only. Documents that need to be kept for long periods of time, but are still accessed with some frequency can be archived on film as well as converted to a digital platform.

A good example for doing both is a nationally-recognized equipment manufacturer of skid loaders that works with dealers in metro cities as well as remote and rural areas. The company must be able to provide every dealer it works with access to manuals for all equipment, records on each skid loader and its original parts, and parts catalogs for when something needs to be replaced. Recognizing that some rural areas do not have access to the Internet, the manufacturer developed a hybrid approach utilizing both electronic archiving and microfilm. The company offers electronic versions of these documents via the web or a CD for those dealers that want the efficient access, as well as microfiche rolls that contain the necessary information and do not require Internet access. By providing both options, the manufacturer is assured that every dealer, regardless of their geographical location, can easily access the records for the equipment and its parts as needed.

Should you choose to outsource your archiving to a third-party provider, it is important to ensure that you find a solutions provider that will store your documents in a non-proprietary format-a format that's readable with a standard viewing capability. Additionally, you will want to discuss the provider's ability to index and classify your documents. Classifying your data allows you to easily find it. When you store your data electronically, the classification and indexing becomes even more important because the data is stored in smaller batches and files. If you're storing the data electronically, it's because you need the ability to quickly access it. So an effective index ensures you don't waste unnecessary time searching your archives.

By using elements of both solutions, you can diminish legal liabilities that can result from compliance standards related to retention of documents. Using film, you are keeping a long-term, fail-safe alternative back-up, while incorporating an electronic element helps to reduce workflow barriers. These long term and short term methods can ensure your business is protected now and in the future while keeping your customers satisfied with your service -- ultimately improving your own bottom line.

Terry Wieczorek is president and CEO of DocuLynx, Inc., which is an information technology company that helps companies manage and add value to high volume transactional output (HVTO) and computer output streams.

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