If planned and managed properly, digitisation can bring a number of benefits to an organisation. These may include but are not limited to:
- improved security and preservation of documents/information
- improved accessibility
- improved efficiency
- cost savings and/or revenue generation
- improved information/data analysis.
It must be noted that this document concerns itself only with the benefits of digitisation and does not go into the planning and care that must accompany any digitisation project and the infrastructure and safeguards that must be put in place to manage and control the resulting images and data.
Further details of the fore mentioned benefits are outlined below:
1 Improved security and preservation of documents/information
Many cultures and communities have preserved rare and valuable manuscripts for hundreds of years. For example, the oldest document held at The National Archives of England and Wales is the ‘Domesday Book’ which was compiled by order of King William the Conqueror and completed in 1086. We do not however have comparable examples of digital records being preserved for any significant amount of time (due to the modern nature of digitisation processes and technology). Given this, it could be considered surprising to suggest that digitisation can be used to preserve records of the future.
Yet this is precisely the assertion being made in this document. Organisations can improve the safety and security of its valuable records, manuscripts and information by deploying a well-considered and fit for purpose digitisation strategy.
Each organisation has its own unique appetite and requirement for the safety and security of its records which can be influenced by such things as business needs, social and legal responsibility and cost benefit analysis. The type and nature of the records themselves might also dictate and define what elements of the record require protecting and how this can be done – or equally importantly, what must be avoided during the process.
Depending on the value an organisation assigns to the information contained within a document compared to that of the medium itself on which the information is contained, a digitisation strategy can be employed to either replace the physical record with a digital format, or to compliment it by creating a digital surrogate.
A digital record, or a digital surrogate, would have the advantage of being more versatile, easier to transport, require less real-estate for storage, reduce manual handling and potential risk of damage to physical hard copies and far easier to make certain parts of the information available while redacting the rest. Furthermore, if the right measures are taken then a digitised record or surrogate offers far better protection when it comes to business continuity or disaster recovery.
- Improved accessibility
When it comes to accessibility and information sharing, digitised records offer a number of benefits over and above physical paper documents.
Accompanied by an adequate storage, retrieval and deployment platform, digital records can be accessed anywhere in the world, simultaneously and across different devices. This can exponentially increase the target audience and for example, open new avenues of revenue generation, marketing and information sharing.
Digitisation also offers benefits of reducing the risk of misfiling documents as well as managing the flow of information to ensure that the right people have access to the right information as and when it is required.
In addition, digital records can improve engagement from social groups that could otherwise face exclusion. For example users suffering from visual impairment, dyslexia or reduced mobility.
In order to realise these benefits however, it is important that all of these aspects are carefully considered and appropriate measures are taken during all of the planning and development stages.
- Improved efficiency
Digitised records improve accessibility not just to users external to an organisation, but also internally. This increased accessibility can lead to higher levels of productivity as data retrieval can be reduced from a lengthy drawn out process which can often involve a dedicated person to perform the search, having to wait for the document collection to be available, referring to an index, visiting the collection which can be held at a different location and cross-referencing across a number of indices and sub-categories – to a simple search term and click of a button.
Previously, for example with microfilmed documents, it was difficult to know whether a given role of film would contain the specific information that a user is searching for. The user was forced to go through a long process of viewing each film on a film viewer to decide which film would be of use. This task can be carried out in a matter of minutes or seconds if the films were to be digitised and stored with appropriate indices and metadata.
- Cost savings and/or revenue generation
Digital records remove geographical restraints, save time and also allow multiple stakeholders to access and work with records simultaneously. This can save direct costs in terms of staff time, but also makes an organisation more adaptable and responsive to the needs of their clients and customers, hence increasing organisational impact and effectiveness.
In addition to this, digitisation can free up valuable real-estate. Storage, security, cataloguing and retrieval of physical documents can be a costly task. Physical documents often also need to be kept in a carefully monitored environment with appropriate temperature and humidity controls – without which, documents can be at risk of permanent damage.
With the correct infrastructure, technology and policies in place, an organisation can often realise huge cost savings and tap into new avenues of revenue generation by digitising their valuable records and archives.
At the same time, with effective risk analysis and management, a business continuity and disaster recovery policy can be implemented that can greatly minimise risks and help avoid potential threats to an organisations future capabilities, reputation and financial survival.
- Improved information/data analysis
Perhaps the most significant advantage of digitisation is how it can truly free up and unblock information that might otherwise be restricted and incomplete.
By digitising, we are not only able to disseminate information and make it available to a global audience simultaneously, but we are also able to present the information in a much more useful format and manner. The advantages of this to an organisation and to the wider community are boundless.
For example, in 2009, a joint research project was carried out in the UK by JISC, the University of Sunderland, the Met Office Hadley Centre and the British Atmospheric Data Centre. This project was to research climate change patterns by digitising and analysing ship logs from the 18th century (see: http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/newsevents/news/news/index.php?nid=734).
The project was able to use the information contained in these logs to carry out ground breaking analysis on weather patterns and climate change. A remarkable point to note of this project is the accuracy and consistency of these log books which were created manually and often in very challenging conditions.
This is an example of the power of information and big data. It must also be noted that along with this power, comes the necessity to manage and control this information in a responsible way and with proper planning and infrastructure in place.