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Keeping the documents in order

Oct 04, 2011
Document storage is nothing new, but here Steve Jordan talks to Glynn Humphreys about the state of the art for movers. It’s come a long way since the days of storing boxes on shelves.

W H Humphreys of Watford was one of the pioneers of document storage for the moving industry.  Even when I interviewed Glynn a few years ago, he was already pushing the boundaries of the technology and moving into the world of scanning and shredding too.  Today, the business has moved on to a whole new dimension.

The removal company was founded in 1918 and moved to its present location in Watford in 1940.  Forty years on the company’s commercial moving clients recognised that they had a problem storing archive materials and that W H Humphreys could help them solve it. After providing a basic archive storage service Glynn started Humphreys Data Management in 1986, a separate company created to look after the storage and retrieval of current documents and the secure shredding of documents that are no longer required. 

Glynn said that it soon became obvious that his customers needed much more than just a simple storage and retrieval service.  “In 1994 we won a development grant from the DTI to research what services were going to be required,” he explained. “It was the findings from this research that gave us our direction for the data management service.”

His first step was to develop his own bar code tracking and data management software. “Today the software from O’Neill Software has become the industry standard and I would recommend anyone planning to move into document storage to use their product.”

But a bar code system capable of tracking not only each box but each individual file is essential.  “When we started with a few hundred boxes we could control it manually,” said Glynn.  “Today, with five million files in store, we would stand no chance.”

Many of Humphreys’ clients are, for example, lawyers or banks.  They don’t simply store archive materials, they hand over their current files too for management.  Hard copy files are frequently called out of store, or even single documents, to support a single case or project, then returned for safe keeping.  Humphreys offers a next-day delivery service for all these files if called out of store before 4.00pm the previous day.  

Scanning technology has now moved the business on to another level. For Humphreys’ clients it’s not just an either/or option: customers don’t choose to either scan their documents or store them – they do both. “We call it a hybrid service,” said Glynn. “Customers choose to scan some documents and store others. Most documents that are created electronically are stored digitally anyway and never materialise as hard copies.  But others, some of which may date from before the digital age, are not.”  It’s often these documents that Glynn’s customers need to be scanned both for safe keeping and for easy retrieval.

In 2002 Humphreys started its "Scan on Demand™" service so that its clients can now retrieve their paper documents instantly via the web.  The scanning process is in two stages: preparation and scanning. Preparation separates all the files and removes paper clips, staples, etc.  The documents are then scanned at a rate of 90 pages a minute on equipment that is way beyond the means of standard office machines. The documents are then indexed and made available for clients online.

The whole process is managed by the company’s own electronic document management software that tracks everything, both scanned and in hard copy, through the company’s systems whether the documents are in store or on temporary release to the customer.  It’s a system that Glynn is happy to share with other company’s interested in moving into the world of document management.

The Humphreys service has now moved on one stage further.  Rather than simply meeting its customers’ needs it now performs consultancy services to help companies formulate their document management policies.  It is also prepared to share its experience with other moving companies to help them reap the benefits of this rewarding diversification from the traditional moving business. “One piece of advice is to sub-contract shredding and scanning services in the first instance,” said Glynn. “They are both specialised businesses and you are much better off going to an expert.”

He also recommends that you get the insurance right so that it matches your conditions of trading.  Glynn uses Basil Fry for his insurance.

Bob Tree from Basil Fry commented: “The standard insurance cover provided under a policy covering customers’ property in store limits the basis of claims settlement in relation to documents to the physical cost of replacement excluding the value of the information contained. However, most policies available to removal and storage contractors and self storage operators can be extended to provide specific cover in relation to documents. Where this cover is arranged, the basis of settlement is amended to cover the reasonable costs of reprinting and/or reasonable costs of reissue and/or reconstitution including, where applicable, fresh research or exploration to obtain essential information. In this instance it is usual for the customer to agree an amount representing the cost of replacing their documents with the operator at the outset. This amount can be applied to all of the documents stored, or as an amount per individual box of documents. It is important to note that in the event of loss or damage to the documents the customer would not automatically receive the sum insured as compensation.”

Glynn acknowledges that, in the extreme long-term, document management may not have a future.  As more documents are created electronically and less hard copy material is produced, so the demand for storage will reduce. Companies will require software solutions and digital storage instead.  “But I think those days are a long way off yet,” he said.  And, indeed they must be. With companies under constant pressure to be more environmentally friendly and efficient in the storage and retrieval of office records, the document management business seems set to prosper.




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