The Essential Digital Records checklist

by Frank 10. February 2017 12:00

So, you have decided, or have been instructed, to digitize all your records. Now what?

Where do you start? When do you start? What do you need to get the job done?


Just as with all complex projects, you are best to start with a simple list.

List all the records that need to be digitized; by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Review this list with your peers first (double-check that you haven’t missed anything) and then with management. Ask questions of management like:

 “Do you want me to digitize all of these records regardless of how long it takes and how much it costs?”

“When do you want me to start?”

“What is the budget?”

“What extra resources can I call on?”

“When do you want this project to complete?”

 “What are the metrics that will determine if I am successful?”

These are the core questions, the ones you must ask. Your dialog with your manager will probably result in many more questions and answers depending upon the unique circumstances of your organization. However, as long as you ask these core questions and get answers you are well on the road to producing a project plan.

Management Approval and Ownership

Your project will fail unless you have a senior manager ‘owning’ and supporting it. You need a friend in high places covering your back and authorizing your actions if you are going to be successful.

IT Support

Ask your senior manager to select and appoint a senior IT resource to be your IT point man. You are going to need IT support throughout the project and you need to know before you accept the project that someone senior will be appointed as your IT liaison person. Without readily accessible and committed (to the project) IT support you will fail.

The Project Plan

All project plans begin with multiple lists, for example: a list of all the tasks to be completed, a list of all the people who will work on the project, etc. Most importantly, you need to sort the tasks in order of prerequisites – i.e., we have to complete Task A before we can begin Task B. You also need to have sub-lists for each project employee listing their relevant expertise or capabilities; not everyone is equal. Some people can complete a particular task, some can’t. Some will take a day to complete a task others may take 3 days to complete the same task. You need to be well aware of capabilities before you assign tasks to individuals.

You need a good tool to document and manage your project plan because project plans are complex and dynamic. Never in the history of the world has there been a static project plan. About the last thing you want to change however, is the agreed (with your boss) completion date. Your main objective should always be to complete on time and your second objective should be to complete on budget. If you don’t have a project management system, try Microsoft Project, it’s low cost and relatively easy to use and it can do the job.

Human Resources

If your boss expects you to be responsible for the new records digitization project as well as your normal job you have the beginning of a big problem. If the boss expects you to complete the project without having any assistance your problem is probably terminal. You will need help probably both from within your organization and outside your organization because it is unlikely that you will have all the expertise you need within your organization.

Make sure that your agreement with your boss includes the additional human resources you need to be successful.


It is unlikely that you will already have the software tools you need to be successful.  Basically, the software tools you need are required to capture, digitize, store and retrieve your records. Because records come in multiple formats you will need to ensure that you have the necessary software tools for each format of record to be captured. Refer to the initial list you compiled of records to be digitized by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Make sure that you have a software tool for each type of record. For example, scanning and indexing software to capture paper records.

Most importantly, make sure that you have a secure, scalable image and data repository to store and manage all of your digital records. This will usually be a structured database based on systems such as Oracle or SQL Server.

There is little point in digitizing your records if they can’t be centrally accessed, managed, searched and retrieved.


Software requires appropriate hardware. Make sure that you have permission and budget to acquire the prerequisite hardware such as servers, workstations, scanners, etc. You will probably need help from your IT department in defining exactly what is required.


Your job is to manage not facilitate. As project manager, you accept responsibly for both success and failure. Your job is to make things happen. Your job is to continually review progress, to identify and remove roadblocks. Your job is to keep all project staff focussed and on mission. It is a lot of work and a lot of effort and sometimes, a lot of frustration. You have to be prepared to regularly consult with both project staff and users. You have to be prepared to make tough decisions. You have to be committed and focussed on success but not stubborn. Sometimes it is better to give a little to win a lot. Always focus on the end result, completing the digitization project on time and on budget.

Success or Failure

There are absolutely no good technical reasons for failure. The expertise, hardware and software required to digitize all of your records is readily available from a plethora of vendors. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples both good and bad in the market for you to learn from. There is no record that can’t be digitized. The only difference between success and failure is you and your initiative, creativity and commitment.

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