Tim is a world-renowned specialist in the application of technology in the field of market and opinion research and is probably the most widely-published writer in the field. His roots are in data analysis, programming, training and technical writing. These days, as principal at meaning he works with researchers, users of research data and technology providers around the globe, as an independent advisor. He is quite passionate about improving the research process and empowering people through better use of technology.

In Brief

What it does

Secure document archiving from scanned images and additionally any electronic documents, offered as a hosted solution via a simple web-browser interface.

Supplier

Data Liberation

Our ratings

Score 5 out of 5Ease of use

Score 4.5 out of 5Compatibility with other software

Score 5 out of 5Value for money

Cost

Entry level £900 annually for 20GB storage and 5 named users. Other packages available.

Pros

  • Works with most browsers, Windows or Mac
  • Scan large volumes of paper documents very efficiently in batches
  • Scanned documents, Word or PDF documents are text searchable
  • All documents are encrypted and held at a highly secure UK data centre

Cons

  • Entry-level package assumes 5 users
  • Document retrieval is by batch process – retrieval may not be instantaneous
  • Does not provide a solution for email archiving

In Depth

A new and ingenious online document storage solution from Data Liberation could provide an easy way to get rid of all the paper cluttering up your filing cabinets or off-site secure warehousing as soon as it has been processed, and at a price that makes it cheaper than most warehouse charges. There are plenty of document management and archiving systems available on the market which allow you to scan in any paperwork – from contracts to invoices, job forms to manuscript notes. However, they tend to be very expensive to purchase, and they need a dedicated server. For security, this should be offsite, and that too adds to the cost.

Instant Intelligence Archiving is an inexpensive, self-service solution which you can sign up to with a credit card (or sign a contract and be invoiced). Your starter account will give you 20 gigabytes of storage and allow for up to 5 named users. The people at Data Liberation reckon that the scanned contents of a typical four-drawer in a filing cabinet will use up about half a gigabyte. What you don’t get is a full-blown document management system: but you can easily convert paper documents into electronic one, store them safely on the IIA secure server, and enjoy near instant access to anything you wish to retrieve.

Data Liberation are familiar with the issues of MR – they brought out a neat DIY Excel-based questionnaire design and scanning system in 2002 and they also offer bureau document capture services.
With IIA, there are just two parts to the system that matter – archiving and retrieval, and you use the same simple web interface for both.

The starting place is to plan out your filing structure, which is done online with a free-format file tree structure, with as many virtual filing cabinets at the top that you choose. Below these, you can create folders and subfolders in any structure you choose. In the slightly more expensive professional grade service, different users can be given access to different filing cabinets, which could be useful for, say, personnel records. With the structure in place, you can now populate it with documents.

To scan from scratch, a duplex sheet feeder scanner is essential. If you have a multi-function office copier/printer, this may offer duplex scanning too. However, as a duplex scanner can be purchased for as little as £370 these days. You can scan whole bundles of documents into a single file. If you wish to separate them, a barcoded separator sheet can be allocate a sheaf of pages into different files without having to stop and start the scanner. Once scanned, you give each file a sensible name, and upload them.

If you currently scan your questionnaires for OCR data capture, provided there are TIFF images available you would be able to upload these too – there would be no need to rescan.

Once uploaded, files can be renamed or moved, but not be altered or deleted. This is an important security feature – if a document such as a contract was subject to dispute, your timestamped scanned image would be accepted by courts in the UK as being as good as the paper version on the day it was scanned.

This is a highly secure system. The archive server is also in one of the UK’s most secure data centres run by BT at Cardiff and favoured by many of the big, security-conscious corporates. All documents uploaded are encrypted in transit and on the sever, so nobody except the account holder can see what the document contains.

Retrieval can be done by navigating through folder structure. Any document selected will be presented in a readable preview format on screen, which you can also print. If you want the document or entire folder back on your PC, you can request a download. To balance load on the server, this is a batch process, and there could be a delay while it is prepared. When it is ready, a link is emailed to you, and you have to log in again to download it.

When documents are scanned, OCR conversion also takes place, so there is electronic text to back up the image, and this text is also available for you to do text searches. The text can be a bit hit-and-miss, especially if the original document was in a poor condition, or used a hard-to-convert font.

If you need to convert space occupied by filing cabinets into extra desk-space, this technology is likely to pay for itself from day one, and it certainly makes getting documents out of the archive very easy.
The client view

Continental Research had already been using Instant Intelligence to scan survey questionnaires, before adopting Instant Intelligence Archiving this year, in a bid to reduce the amount of paper it was storing.

“We have probably cleared 40 to 50 filing cabinets so far”, claims Greg Berry, Technology Director at Continental Research. “Like most research companies, we have masses of filing cabinets everywhere containing everything from job sheets to personnel records.”

The company started by looking at document management and archiving systems, but was deterred by the high cost of ownership, not only for the software but also the servers and physical infrastructure needed too. “They were expensive and contained functionality we did not need,” observes Berry. “Essentially we need good quality electronic images stored in a format that we can retrieve quickly. “

Moving from physical files to electronic images has been more straightforward than Berry first imagined, as he was able to follow closely the existing filing structure, which was a structure that everyone understood. He notes: “We are still using paper for the live job, but when it is finished, we scan it, and we can then send the paper for storage, or, more and more now, we can send it straight for destruction.”

A dedicated scanner, with duplex capabilities is used, and three members of staff in the Quality Control department are tasked to look after the scanning. Unlike printers, scanners do require more supervision to keep them busy, though the scanner can be left for several minutes to process each batch.

“Because we have mimicked the structure of our filing system, it also means retrieval is very easy. We also use it for disaster recovery purposes. Holding all that paper on site is not ideal, for if we had had a fire or a flood, and the paper was damaged, it would have been virtually impossible to recreate those records. Now, it is offsite, it is in a secure data centre, and the images, as they are scanned, are encrypted and logged so they cannot be altered. That also means if we did have to relocate in a disaster, we would still have access.”

Several different departments have warmed to the system quickly. “Coding use it a lot to look up old codeframes: a lot of the notes they have by hand. Field use it to check on old jobs, when they think something has come up which is similar. And scanning questionnaires is very useful, even if you have already entered the data. We keep all paper questionnaires for two years. We have already cut down on our external storage too, so it has already saved money there.”

A version of this review first appeared in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, June 2008, Issue 504

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