PAWDOC: Costs and benefits

Operating a Personal Electronic Filing System is no trivial matter – it takes determination and an appreciable amount of extra time. So, is it worth it? The answer depends very much on the type of person you are. Those who like to be organised will find it helps them to be even more organised, as well as keeping their documentation in order and enabling them to find things when they need them. There is the added benefit of it gradually building a complete collection over a period of time, which can be referred back to at will. Those who are inclined to operate with a little less order may be disinclined to spend their time on what can be perceived as a purely administrative activity.

The costs involved are relatively low. Laptop, scanner and storage technologies are now all sufficiently well developed as to be more than able to support a Personal Electronic Filing System. The additional cost of the PAWDOC system, over and above the laptop and its operating system, is around £900.

Specific questions relating to this aspect are answered below. Note that the status of each answer will fall into one of the following 5 categories: Not Started, Ideas Formed, Experience Gained, Partially Answered, Fully Answered.

Q58. How much does a personal electronic filing system cost?

2001 Answer: Experience gained: The costs are falling. Approximate 2001 prices of the components are:

  • Filemaker Pro £220
  • FISH Document Management System and Sybase SQL Anywhere single user combination £2095 (a 10-user networked version of FISH costs about £10,000)
  • Fujitsu Scanpartner 10 Sheetfeed and Flatbed Scanner £821
  • Fujitsu MO Drive (currently 1.3 GB) £388
  • CD Writer hardware £82
  • Adobe CD Creator (often bundled with CD writers) £45

Total price (excluding the laptop PC) for the configuration used in this study is £3,650. However lower priced solutions with broadly similar capabilities can certainly be assembled from alternative products (here is a link to a list of low-cost Personal Knowledge Management Tools. [NB. the information was no longer available at this link in Jan2023]

2019 Answer: Fully answered: After removing the document management system from the PAWDOC architecture in 2018 and replacing it with Windows 10 folders, the 2019 approximate costs of the current PAWDOC system are as follows:

  • Filemaker Pro 18: new £520; upgrade from Filemaker Pro 15 £190
  • Canon DR-2020U scanner: £660 – but this model is probably discontinued: the current model with equivalent functionality can be bought for about £290.
  • Cloud service for ongoing backup: free with BT Broadband; equivalent standalone service – Apple iCloud, for example, £8/month.
  • 1 Tb External hard drive for local backup: Seagate £40
  • 500Gb External hard drive for remote in-country backup: Maxtor £30
  • 128Gb memory stick flash drive for out of country backup: Kingston £15

The total price (excluding the laptop and the Windows 10 operating system which came with the laptop) is £895 + £8 / month cloud backup.

Q59. Is it worth spending the time and money on a personal electronic filing system?

2001 Answer: Ideas formed: Yes, the core benefits of an improved ability to find documents and files – faster retrieval and space reduction – are achievable and do make a difference. Furthermore, these benefits continue to be achievable over many, many years. However, the desirability of these benefits, and the way the filing system is operated is highly dependent on individual preferences and work style.

2019 Answer: Fully answered: Before answering this question, there needs to be clarity on what is meant by a Personal Electronic Filing System (PEFS) because it may mean different things to different people. At its most fundamental level, it’s something most people who have computers do – they put electronic files into folders provided by the operating system. However, the PEFS that is being discussed here is something much more than that. It has three characteristics:

  • Operates as a single system: All files, regardless of size, file type and creating application, are stored in the same single system with the same standards and structure and organisation.
  • Digitises hardcopy: Hardcopies are incorporated into the same single system by digitising them. Any hardcopies that remain are retained either because they are artefacts with special value in the physical form, or to act as temporary working documents.
  • Controls documents: Files are not just put into folders willy nilly. Their existence is recorded and they are given a unique reference in their title so that they can be identified.

These special characteristics mean that an individual has to apply an amount of extra  effort, and to have a certain amount of determination, to operate a PEFS. Some people may not want to work in such a structured way; and other people may not want to expend that time and effort. Such people will feel that it just isn’t worth doing. If you are prepared to do it, however, my experience is that it is definitely worth it. It organises documents and enables you to find them again. It helps you to organise your work generally; and, by its very nature, it automatically builds a long-term collection which can be accessed at will. I personally found it so useful that it just became an integral part of my normal day to day work.

Regarding cost, I believe this to be much more reasonable these days and well within the reach of an individual.

Q60. What do other people think about this approach to electronic filing?

2001 Answer: Not started: Although at least three other people/groups (John Pritchard, Dave Harris and the CSC UK Consulting & Systems Integration Information Centre) have tried out this approach, no detailed work has been done to establish their views on its effectiveness and desirability.

2019 Answer: Fully answered: I have done no systematic work to establish people’s views about this type of Personal Electronic Filing System (PEFS). However, I have assisted at least 4 different people / organisations to implement such a system, so their willingness to try it out indicates that they could at least perceive that there might be some potential benefits. The four instances are:

  • My colleague at NCC, John Pritchard, who designed the PAWDOC schema with me. He used the approach until he left NCC in 1990.
  • The CSC UK Technical Library at Slough which applied the approach for about 18 months in 1988-90 using the Aquila application for the Index. The general approach was taken up in the reincarnation of the library in the form of CSC UK’s Consulting & Systems Integration information Centre in Farnborough which was certainly using the same Reference Number schema around 1995-96.
  • A colleague at CSC who worked for me, who used the approach for about 8 months in 1988-9 before leaving the company.
  • Another CSC colleague who used the approach for 5 years in 1985-90 before leaving the company.

I don’t recall any of these people/organisations saying that the approach was not workable or worthwhile. On the contrary, the person who used the system for 5 years said in the summary of his experience with the approach that he “found it to be a very effective way of controlling my own documents”.

Of course, these instances and anecdotes provide almost no hard evidence at all. It is probably only my long and highly documented use that gives any detailed insight. But at least the combination of the two sets of material may provide the basis for readers to form their own views.

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