Dec 08

Every year around this time people focus a bit more on planning, all part of that New Year’s Resolution thing.  While planning should ongoing and not be restricted to the last month of the year, I too kick off the beginning of every year with a “big” project with the intent of fundamentally changing some aspect of our business.

This is the first of a handful of ideas that you could use to make 2010 more productive than 2009.

Document Imaging / Scanning instead of paper files

One of the biggest changes in the operation of our business occurred at the end of 2007 when we went from paper filing systems to full document scanning and digital storage.

The scanning project is so cool that I couldn’t help but share it with the readers of the ApartmentAssoc email list.  It is a project that a mom and pop operation working from their kitchen table to large multi person offices.  And it’s relatively cheap. You can get into it for under $200 and quickly save more than that in time and aggravation.

By the time 2008 was done we had imaged 16,000 receipts, 21,000 job pictures, 11,500 pages of tenant documents and 8000 pages of property documents.  Today we have 35,000 receipts, 45,000 job pictures and 15,000 pages of tenant docs and it still backs up onto a 16 GB keychain drive. This was one of the best organizational projects we’ve ever undertaken. All this with a few $350 scanners

Here is an updated version of that original 2007 post:

Paper documents are always a problem for businesses. They get misfiled. Some documents really belong in more than one place. They get lost. They take up a lot of space. They can be stolen. If something happens to your office, like a fire, a pipe breaks above your storage area or…, they are gone forever. Worse than the fear of loss is the time paper records consume. Before they can be misfiled, they must be filed. Filing takes time. Searching for even properly filed documents takes time, especially in a multi person office where there is a central storage away from your desk.

Document imaging is a solution, but it is expensive and reserved for the big guys, like law firms and banks, or at least that is the perception. With the cost of the equipment starting under $200 this is doable no matter what size your business is, from the mom and pop working from their kitchen table to the large company with big office staffs.

Back around 2005 I started to become interested in the idea. I looked into imaging using consumer grade scanning equipment. The test failed. The scanners were painfully and impractically slow, indexing and searching the results were difficult.  The commercial grade equipment appeared to work but cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Too much for our little company

Fast forward to 2008 when a friend and fellow AASEW member, Jeff Chitko, bought a Fujitsu sheet feed scanner. The machine held a lot of promise. I read a bunch of reviews and the Fujitsu looked like the scanner of choice.  In December 2007 I decided we would integrate imaging into our management software and purchased a Fujitsu S510M ($365) scanner for a test run. It arrived just after I came back from the Christmas holiday. A day into the the test I ordered two more.  They were that good.

I set a goal of having all receipts and current tenant docs entered by the end of January 2008 and then stay current thereafter. Things went so much better than expected that by the end of our first month we had not only scanned and indexed receipts and tenant files but also insurance papers, WE energies letters, owner files (we do some management work for others), maintenance workers daily work sheets… We used to photocopy rent checks before depositing them. Now they are scanned and can be instantly looked up by deposit.

16,000 plus pages, most entered and indexed by a single staff person starting on the 4th of January.  By the end of that first month almost every piece of paper had left our office and placed in secure storage.

I anticipated that there would be a slow down in the ordinary processing of receipts and invoices due to scanning. To my surprise the process is now faster. The staffer that enters these items likes having the receipt image right in front of her on the screen rather than looking down at a stack of papers, looking up, then entering the data. Filing the paper copy is done by scan date, rather than property – so there is almost no time expended there.

We import the images into image  fields in the database that we run our companies on, but there are many ways you can use this equipment even with off the shelf software. The computerized storage is easily password protected, something that the $15 file cabinet lock can’t achieve. It really limits who can steal your information in a useful form. The paper records are archived by date, rather than record type and address, and moved to secure storage.  To date we have only pull a handful of originals and in every case it took only minute.

It is great to be able to look up a record from any workstation rather than having to get up from your desk and dig through paper files. Anything that reduces the barrier to doing something helps insure that it gets done.

The Fujitsu scanners are very fast, scan both sides of a two sided document at the same time with very few paper jambs. I bought my scanners at They delivered the units within a couple of days, even though I opted for the free shipping rather than pay for faster shipping. Scantastik also had the lowest price. The “M” model is Mac specific and includes Adobe Acrobat Professional 8.0, a product that sells alone for $259 at Amazon. With Acrobat Pro you can convert scanned docs into searchable pdf text. Fujitsu also makes a S510 for Windows users with similar spec, but different software. Both scanners are rated at 18 pages a minute, color or black and white. Although we have XP and Vista machines, we have not tried the Windows version of the scanners, so I really can’t vouch for the performance on that platform but the online reviews seem comparable to those of the Mac version.  Fujitsu also makes a highly rated portable version, which is a bit slower but also highly regarded.

2009 Update: The latest Fujitsu scanners are the S1500 and S1500M selling for $432. The speed has been increased to 20 pages per minute and the paper handling is even better than before.  There is also the portable, but slower S300/S300M for $258

You may be saying to yourself  ‘Yea, that is good for Tim. But, his business is a lot larger than mine. He has office employees. Here it is just me and my husband.’  To that I would say ‘ You may be wrong!’ Given the cost of the equipment and the great improvement in efficiency I think that even part time real estate investors whose kitchen table doubles as their desk could benefit from this technology.

A scanner… a few hundred dollars. Having all your documents instantly available without leaving your desk and backed up safely offsite … Priceless. (Apologies to MasterCard)

Leave a Reply

preload preload preload