By Steve Irons, President of DocSolid

Scanarchy (noun, new):  1. The unmanaged scanning of paper documents across an organization, using isolated multi-function printers (MFPs) and scanners with disparate methods, and without established controls, security, or support.  2. A paper scanning free-for-all.

As in: Scanarchy reigns at most law firms today, because paper-laden knowledge workers have access to various scan devices, but they lack a uniform best practice to make this information management process simple, productive and secure.

A best practice implementation to scan paper into a law firm’s electronic information system provides work efficiencies, process improvement, cost reductions, security, audits, and a lowered carbon footprint. To optimize the scan capture benefits and minimize associated risks, a firm must standardize on best practice methods for managing, profiling, scanning, and capturing information from paper. But instead of a best practice approach, most firms today suffer from Scanarchy™.

Scanarchy or Best Practice Enterprise Scanning:  What is at stake? What is the ambition? 

Scanarchy is what happens when different practices and departments employ different scan devices, different software and different procedures for scanning. Scanarchy assaults the Help Desk. Scanarchy defies integrity and process controls. Scanarchy causes extra work, and produces uneven results. An incorrectly scanned document creates a permanent digital misfile, and the loss of a valuable information asset – the document.

Today’s law firms recognize the business advantages of standardization, on office software, new client intake procedures, and supported mobile devices. The same is true for scan capture. The difference between Scanarchy and Best Practice Enterprise Scanning is about ambition:  does the firm simply want to make utility scanning available, or does the firm have specific ambitions to improve business process through paper-to-digital capture?

Before proceeding we’ll establish two other term definitions from our industry dictionary… Scanning is the physical activity – the machine-based function – of taking a digital picture. Capture extends beyond scanning to make the document’s information (profiling and/or OCR’d content) available to a structured repository or a business process.

Conditions are ripe for Scanarchy

Scanarchy happens in today’s law office because of these common conditions:

  1. MFPs are deployed throughout most firms today, and most MFPs are scan-enabled. Typically a firm has MFPs from various vendors, and differing models within each vendor portfolio. MFP vendors like to replace devices with their ‘newest’ offerings, extending your lease in the process. They like to build business process related features into the device panel to lock in future dependency on their machines. Instinctively firms want to use the devices they have, and correctly try to build business processes outside of their machines, but the MFP vendor community often pushes in the other direction. Though printing and copying are now simple, machine-independent functions, MFP vendors build and deploy proprietary, complex login and keypad entry solutions for scanning.
  2. The computing environment in today’s law office is scan-image inviting. PDF viewers and bigger monitors are on every desktop, and network storage and bandwidth now accommodate the larger file size of scanned image files. MFP makers tout their readiness for a firm’s technology infrastructure, pushing the ability to integrate into the network and security systems. This entails procedures to login to the network and network software applications at the MFP device panels. Some MFPs actually come with full keyboards now for this purpose. But logins at common office machines are tedious, error prone and can create significant security exposures. And CIOs cringe at the bloat in the email system when users scan to their own inbox to get images back from an MFP. Still, lacking an alternative, these inefficiencies persist and grow.
  3. Firms are attacking the ‘remaining’ paper in their work process. After implementing document management, ERP and workflow software solutions, the remaining physical paper is more overtly problematic, and now more addressable. When the client bill can be generated and sent electronically, it becomes imperative to be able to scan and attach related paper backup invoices. When clients expect more of their legal matters to be handled by email, they are less patient if related paper isn’t scanned and sent by email. And as attorneys get used to electronic client matter folders, it becomes unacceptable that some of the client matter content is still sitting in the file room, separate from the electronic matter. Demand is up, and users will find a way to get scanning done.

In the face of these trends, impatient users and practices discover and adopt scattered scanning techniques, outside of the stewardship of the IT Department. They use whatever software came with the copier. They bring in small desktop scanners. Attorneys tell their secretary, “Scan this,” without a process that applies security, productivity, or that pulls it into the document management system. Scanarchy spreads.

Scanarchy hurts

Some symptoms of Scanarchy are:

  • Calls to the Help Desk for support on lost scans, different image file formats, MFP device panel instructions
  • Inquiries of how scans to outbound email recipients are secured, and how they reflect the email address of the sender, not a machine
  • User complaints about having to login at the MFP to scan, when this login is unnecessary for copying or printing activity at the same device
  • IT department concerns about internal scan to email image attachments, copied to various parties and stored redundantly and abundantly in the email server
  • New small scan devices appear on users desks, connected directly to the user’s PC, because the network scanning system doesn’t accommodate their needs
  • Lack of firm wide process and standards for scanning into the document management system

From Scanarchy to Best Practice Enterprise Scanning

Scanarchy starts with the premise that scanning is gaining use, so the adoption challenge is somewhat diminished by a widespread desire to capture paper. Now the challenge is to implement standards for enterprise scanning activity, and to apply those standards into a comprehensive, optimized Best Practice. This involves the implementation of one or more scanning solutions that  combine software and physical process and can be adapted to different devices, practices and departmental needs. The solution should be MFP and scanner independent, and should integrate with the key business software applications with related paper (document management, accounting/ERP, HR, etc.) But picking the best solution and implementation strategy isn’t enough. The firm’s executive staff needs to commit to the enduring adoption cycles and cultural change of Best Practice Enterprise Scanning. You can’t just ‘take away their paper’, but you also cannot allow backsliding to reliance on paper files once an integrated image alternative is made available.

As I travel to meet with our law firm customer CIOs, I am struck by the various advancements and challenges DocSolid faces in providing Best Practice Enterprise Scanning. These are customers who have tackled Scanarchy and are in varied stages of moving to Best Practice Enterprise Scanning.

  • The CIO of a 400-user firm is ready to roll out to the next major practice area after successfully removing paper from the largest practice in the firm. The remaining practices still have scanning methods that IT “…can’t see and can’t help with. We can’t support islands of scanning. We need to get IT involved and in control, and provide regimentation for scanning into the document management system.”
  • A 100 year –old firm with 500 lawyers in 15 offices across the country needs better reporting on its managed scanning activity, to analyze and sell internally, so that all new scanning activity can be channeled into their selected scan capture solution for consolidated support and user productivity.
  • DocSolid recently expanded its software functionality to incorporate alternative methods of scanning, adding cover sheets and MFP keypad entries. When presenting these product extensions at different meetings with CIOs at three of our largest firms, all said the same thing: “I don’t want another use profile because I already have your system’s single best way to do scan capture in the enterprise. By introducing a fringe use profile with only occasional value, I’m endorsing different and unproductive methods and diluting the ability to support the broad user base.”
  • A new customer in New York City finally gave up on his MFP vendor’s solution for scanning to the document management system because they couldn’t get the integration to work reliably through support from the MFP vendor. Now they are working efficiently and reliably, and they resolve never again to be dependent on a hardware company for their software integration.
  • After maximizing the utility of a solution to scan and profile at the MFP panel, an IT Director at a 75 attorney firm found himself supporting two other primary solutions to tackle the diversity and volume of firm-wide scanning needs. He sought us out to consolidate into one capture solution, noting that they’ve learned they can only reach their goal of removing paper from the process by focusing on a single optimized method for capture that is hardware independent and integrated into their existing document management system.


The best way to overcome Scanarchy is to avoid it from the start. But most firms today are experiencing some degree of Scanarchy, and recognizing Scanarchy is the first step to fixing it. Quantify the firm wide needs for paper capture. Then make a project of these key steps:

  1. Establish executive management commitment to the project. Start by quantifying the costs and risks of existing paper and problematic scanning methods, and establish an ROI for Best Practice Enterprise Scanning. Ensure that executive management will back the investment and change necessary for enduring adoption of enterprise scan capture.
  2. Select a software and process combination that maximizes productivity and integrity for enterprise scan capture. Choose from solutions that work with any MFP vendor’s machine, and with standalone scanners, using the simplest possible process at the device. The solution should have integration to the firm’s critical software solutions, and it should have the ability to develop additional integrations as needs arise.
  3. Implement with adoption in mind. Make it easy. Ultimately, most users prefer to work with images instead of paper. But the methods used for capture of the paper must fit or improve existing workflows, and be simple and productive, so the upfront effort of scanning activity doesn’t become an overwhelming impediment to adoption.

Steve Irons is the President of DocSolid, a market leading provider of scan capture solutions for the worldwide law firm market. He has founded three document capture ventures, holds 6 patents, and is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Northern Arizona University.

DocSolid Scanarchy White Paper

Originally published in FindLaw’s Legal Technology Center, © 2010 DocSolid

Michael Herzog
Author: Michael Herzog

Marketing Director at DocSolid. Professional storyteller and wordsmith. Producer of creative content and business video for legal tech. UX/CX innovator.