Cost Analysis: In-House vs. Outsourced Document Scanning

10 min read
March 14, 2024

Table of contents

In today's fast-paced business environment, architectural firms and construction companies are increasingly looking to digitize their vast repositories of physical documents. Document scanning presents a practical solution, offering not only significant efficiency gains but also considerable space-saving benefits. However, one critical decision these businesses face is whether to take on document scanning in-house or to outsource it to specialized service providers. This choice is far from straightforward, involving a complex matrix of cost, control, and quality considerations.

The aim of this article is to dissect these considerations, providing a detailed cost analysis of in-house versus outsourced document scanning solutions. By delving into the specific needs of architectural firms and construction companies, the investment required for an in-house operation, the intricacies of outsourcing, and a comprehensive cost comparison, this piece seeks to offer valuable insights to help businesses make an informed decision that aligns with their strategic goals and operational capabilities.

Understanding Document Scanning Needs

For architectural firms and construction companies, the drive towards digital documentation is not just about decluttering physical spaces or speeding up document retrieval. It's about preserving the integrity and accessibility of vital project materials—blueprints, contracts, site plans, and more. These documents are not only varied in type but also in size and complexity, necessitating a scanning solution that can handle diverse requirements without compromising on quality.

The volume of documents needing scanning in these industries can be vast, encompassing everything from detailed architectural drawings to extensive contractual agreements. The importance of high-quality scanning cannot be overstated; a poorly digitized blueprint can lead to misinterpretations, potentially derailing construction projects and leading to costly mistakes. Thus, the scanning process must ensure that digital reproductions are as close to the original as possible, preserving every detail with precision.

This need for high-quality, versatile document scanning solutions underlines the importance of a thorough assessment before deciding whether to develop an in-house capability or outsource to a service provider. The choice has significant implications not just for cost, but also for the control and flexibility over the scanning process, the scalability of the operation, and the security of sensitive information.

Analyzing the Costs: Keeping Document Scanning In-House vs. Outsourcing

As we dive deeper into the realm of digitizing documents, architectural firms and construction companies stand at a crossroads. The decision to manage document scanning operations within the confines of their office walls or to entrust this critical task to external specialists is more than a matter of preference—it's a strategic business decision. This deliberation stems from the urgent need to efficiently manage a growing repository of documents, from blueprints and contracts to intricate site plans, while maximizing space utilization and operational efficiency. The core of this article is to shed light on this dilemma, providing a nuanced cost analysis of both in-house and outsourced document scanning options, aiming to equip businesses with the insights needed to make an informed choice that best suits their unique needs and objectives.

The Basics of In-House Document Scanning

Embarking on the journey of setting up an in-house document scanning operation is akin to navigating uncharted waters for many architectural firms and construction companies. This venture demands a comprehensive understanding of what is required, not just in terms of hardware but also software, staffing, and the broader operational framework.

Equipment and Software Requirements

The cornerstone of any in-house scanning operation is the scanning equipment itself. High-quality scanners capable of capturing the intricate details of architectural drawings and construction documents are paramount. These are not your average office scanners; they are sophisticated machines designed to handle large formats, offer high resolution, and provide color accuracy essential for blueprints and detailed plans.

Equally important is the software that will manage, store, and help retrieve the scanned documents. Document management systems (DMS) play a crucial role here, offering features like indexing, search capabilities, and often, integration with other tools and systems used by the business. The selection of both hardware and software requires careful consideration of current and future needs to ensure scalability and compatibility with existing workflows.

Staffing and Training

In-house scanning operations require skilled personnel not only for the scanning process but also for document preparation, quality control, and management of the digital archives. This involves training existing staff or hiring new employees with experience in document management and scanning operations, adding a layer of complexity and cost to the initiative.

Initial and Ongoing Costs

The financial commitment to setting up an in-house document scanning operation is substantial. Initial costs include the purchase of scanning equipment and software, potential upgrades to IT infrastructure to support the new hardware and software, and training or hiring of staff. However, it's the ongoing costs that often catch businesses by surprise. Maintenance of equipment, software licenses, staff salaries, and even the cost of the physical space occupied by the scanning operation all contribute to the total cost of ownership.

Benefits and Challenges

The decision to bring document scanning in-house offers businesses direct control over the process, ensuring immediate access to documents and a higher level of security for sensitive information. It provides flexibility in handling urgent or special scanning needs and allows companies to tailor the scanning process to their specific requirements.

However, this control comes with its set of challenges, including the need for continuous investment in technology, training, and personnel. Additionally, managing an in-house operation requires ongoing attention to efficiency and quality control, tasks that can divert resources from core business activities.

Outsourcing Document Scanning – What It Involves

Turning the scanning process over to an external service provider marks a significant shift in strategy for architectural firms and construction companies. This approach offloads the responsibility of document scanning to specialists, leveraging their expertise, equipment, and processes. Here, we unpack what outsourcing document scanning entails, the costs associated with it, and the advantages and potential drawbacks of this method.

Selecting a Service Provider

The journey begins with choosing the right outsourcing partner—a decision that hinges on several factors, including the provider's experience with industry-specific documents, their technology and capacity to handle large volumes, and their approach to data security. It's crucial to conduct thorough due diligence, often involving requests for proposals (RFPs), to ensure the chosen provider aligns with the company's quality standards and security requirements.

The Outsourcing Process

Outsourcing document scanning typically follows a structured process. It starts with the physical transfer of documents to the service provider, either through secure shipping or direct pickup. The provider then prepares the documents for scanning, which may involve removing staples and smoothing out folds, to ensure high-quality digital replicas. Following scanning, quality checks are performed, and the digital files are delivered in the requested format, along with the option for indexing and integration into the client’s document management system. Finally, the physical documents can either be returned, stored securely by the provider, or destroyed, based on the client’s preference.

Costs of Outsourcing

The cost structure for outsourcing document scanning can vary widely based on the provider and the specific needs of the project. Generally, pricing models are either per-page or project-based, with factors such as document size, condition, and required turnaround time influencing the final cost. While it may seem straightforward, understanding the full scope of costs—including any additional fees for document preparation, indexing, or urgent requests—is essential for accurate budgeting.

Advantages and Drawbacks

Outsourcing offers several compelling advantages, primarily the access to high-quality scanning technology and expertise without the need for significant upfront investment. Companies benefit from the efficiency and scalability of professional scanning services, capable of adjusting to fluctuating volumes and specific project requirements. Additionally, outsourcing can free up internal resources, allowing firms to focus on their core activities.

However, this approach is not without its concerns, particularly regarding data security. Entrusting sensitive documents to an external party requires a high degree of trust and rigorous security protocols. Moreover, depending on the provider's location and capacity, turnaround times can be variable, potentially impacting project timelines.

Having explored the nuances of outsourcing document scanning, including its process, costs, and the balance of advantages against potential concerns, we are now poised to delve into a direct comparison of the costs associated with in-house versus outsourced solutions. This comparison will provide the groundwork for businesses to make an informed decision based on their specific needs and circumstances.

In-Depth Cost Analysis

Navigating through the decision to keep document scanning in-house or to outsource requires a detailed understanding of the costs involved. This section aims to provide a comprehensive cost comparison, examining initial setup costs, ongoing expenses, and the nuances that influence the total cost of ownership for each option. By dissecting these costs, businesses can better understand the financial implications of each approach, aiding in a decision that aligns with their strategic and financial goals.

Initial Setup Costs vs. Ongoing Service Fees

  • In-House: The initial investment in high-quality scanning equipment, software, and necessary IT infrastructure upgrades can be substantial. Additionally, costs associated with training or hiring specialized staff to manage the scanning operation must be considered. These upfront costs create a significant barrier to entry but are one-time investments.

  • Outsourcing: Outsourcing eliminates the need for upfront capital investment in equipment and training. Instead, businesses face ongoing service fees based on the volume of documents scanned, the complexity of the scanning requirements, and any additional services like document preparation or indexing. This model offers a pay-as-you-go approach, potentially easing budgetary constraints.

Equipment and Maintenance Costs vs. Per-Page Scanning Rates

  • In-House: Beyond the initial purchase, maintaining scanning equipment, software licenses, and potentially expanding capacity as demand grows represents ongoing financial commitments. These costs, coupled with the need for periodic upgrades to stay current with technology, add to the total cost of ownership.

  • Outsourcing: The per-page or project-based pricing model of outsourcing simplifies budgeting to some extent. However, businesses must closely scrutinize these rates as they can vary significantly based on document complexity and additional service requirements. While there is no direct equipment maintenance cost to the company, higher per-page rates may apply for high-quality or expedited services.

Staff Training and Wages vs. Outsourced Expertise and Efficiency

  • In-House: The wages for trained personnel, along with ongoing training costs to ensure staff stays proficient with the latest scanning technologies and practices, are significant considerations. The benefit here is the direct control over the workforce and the ability to prioritize tasks as needed.

  • Outsourcing: Leveraging the expertise and efficiency of a dedicated document scanning provider can offer cost savings in terms of labor. The provider's staff are specialists in document management, potentially translating to faster turnaround times and higher quality outcomes without the direct cost of wages and training to the company. However, reliance on external expertise requires confidence in the provider’s ability to deliver consistently under varying demands.

Case Studies and Hypothetical Scenarios

To illustrate these cost differences in real-world applications, consider a hypothetical architectural firm, ArchiDesign. Facing the task of digitizing a decade's worth of blueprints and project documents, ArchiDesign estimates an initial investment of $50,000 for in-house scanning setup, with annual operating costs of $10,000. In contrast, outsourcing the project to a specialized provider quotes them a per-page cost that totals $30,000 for the entire project, with future projects estimated on a similar scale.

These scenarios underscore the importance of evaluating both short-term and long-term financial impacts, considering both the scale of document scanning needs and the potential for fluctuating demand.

With a clearer understanding of the intricate cost dynamics between in-house and outsourced document scanning, businesses are better equipped to assess which option suits their operational and financial landscapes.

Making the Right Choice for Your Business

Deciding between keeping document scanning in-house or outsourcing to a specialized provider is a multifaceted decision that hinges on more than just cost. Architectural firms and construction companies must weigh their specific needs, the volume of documents requiring scanning, budgetary constraints, and strategic priorities to determine the best path forward. This section aims to provide guidance on assessing these factors, ensuring businesses make a choice that not only fits their financial model but also aligns with their operational and quality standards.

Assessing Specific Needs and Document Volume

  • Understand Your Document Workflow: Begin by evaluating your current document workflow and future needs. Consider the types of documents you're dealing with, their sizes, and the frequency with which they need to be accessed. High-volume, frequently accessed documents may necessitate a different solution than occasional scanning of large-format drawings.

  • Volume Considerations: For businesses with consistently high volumes of documents to scan, investing in an in-house operation may offer long-term savings and flexibility. Conversely, if document scanning needs are sporadic or project-based, the scalability of outsourcing could provide a cost-effective solution without the burden of maintaining underutilized equipment and staff.

Quality, Speed, and Security

  • Quality and Speed: The quality of the scanned documents and the speed at which they can be processed are critical. In-house operations provide direct control over these factors, but require investment in high-quality equipment and training. Outsourced providers, especially those specializing in architectural and construction documents, bring expertise and efficient processes, potentially offering superior quality and faster turnaround times.

  • Data Security: Security considerations, particularly for sensitive or confidential documents, cannot be overstated. In-house scanning offers the highest level of control over document security, provided appropriate IT security measures are in place. When outsourcing, ensure the provider adheres to stringent data protection protocols and offers secure document handling and transfer processes.

Project Scalability and Future Needs

  • Scalability: Consider how your document scanning needs might evolve. In-house operations can be scaled to some extent but may require significant additional investment. Outsourcing offers flexibility to scale up or down based on project needs without the overhead of managing resources directly.

  • Future Needs: Future-proofing your document management strategy is crucial. As your business grows, your document scanning and management needs will evolve. Choose a solution that offers the flexibility to adapt to new technologies and processes, ensuring longevity and sustainability.


In closing, the decision to keep document scanning in-house or to outsource involves a careful evaluation of cost, control, quality, and scalability. By thoroughly analyzing your business's specific needs, document volumes, and strategic priorities, you can make an informed choice that supports your operational efficiency, data security, and financial health.

For businesses still navigating this decision, DocCapture offers comprehensive document scanning solutions tailored to the unique needs of architectural firms and construction companies. We invite you to contact us for more information and to set up a consultation. Let us help you assess your document scanning needs and explore how our services can assist in achieving your business objectives efficiently and cost-effectively. Fill out our "get a quote" form on our website to start the conversation and take the first step towards optimizing your document management strategy.