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September 28, 2012

The Infamous Coopers & Lybrand Document Management Study

If you've visited the websites of many document management companies, you've probably seen these statistics:

  • 90% of corporate memory exists on paper
  • Out of pages that get handled in the office, 90% are merely shuffled
  • The average document gets copied 19 times
  • Companies spend an estimated $20 in labor to file a document, $120 in labor to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document
  • 7.5% of all documents get lost and 3% of the remainder get misfiled, a total 10.5% of problematic documents
  • Professionals spend 5-15% of their time reading information, but spend 50% looking for it
  • A typical worker spends thirty minutes to two hours a day searching for documents

These are usually attributed to a 1998 study by consulting firm Coopers & Lybrand, which merged with Price Waterhouse to become PricewaterhouseCoopers in that same year. These “facts” are still repeated by electronic document management companies almost fifteen years later because they paint a compelling picture of costly inefficiency to which a document management solution is the answer. We used to cite this study ourselves in our marketing materials for Scan123.

But what if (cue spooky music) … the Coopers & Lybrand study never existed?

AIIM President John Mancini wrote on his blog in 2010 about this study, speculating that it may be an urban legend of the document management industry. He offered a bounty to anyone who could deliver the original report to him. That was two years ago. We emailed Mancini this week to ask whether he ever found the actual study. His reply: “Still looking......”

It was because of this report's elusiveness and its (purported) age that we stopped using the Coopers & Lybrand statistics. Even if the report did exist and those numbers were accurate, they were accurate nearly fifteen years ago. It's safe to say that the world of computers and office work has changed just a little bit since then. It's ridiculous to think that these statistics would still describe the office of 2012.

That said, let's see if you agree that the ideas behind those numbers are still true today:

  • A great deal of company information is vulnerable to theft or loss, either because it exists only on paper documents or in unencrypted digital files that are not backed up
  • Filing, organizing, and retrieving documents – physical or digital – takes up too much time
  • Documents and files get lost or misplaced too often, costing valuable time to find or replace (if they can be replaced)

Scoff at those numbers all you want, but this is the truth behind the figures. And it's still true today. Technology has lightened the burden and cost of document management somewhat, but most organizations are still horribly inefficient. That's why we're still in business in 2012: because these problems have persisted and Scan123 helps businesses operate more efficiently, effectively, and securely.


I tweeted John in regards to that article about 2 months ago. We think it may have been a private report that was not released to the public. But who knows?

As a veteran of this industry for almost forty years, I can attest to the existence of this report and at one time did indeed have a paper copy of the report. However, I think it was prepared and distributed before 1998 and long before they merged with PWC. If I had to guess, I think the report was out in the 1978-1988 time frame. I don't think I have a copy in my archives but I know somebody who might and will send him a note.

@Bob - If your friend has a copy, please send us a scanned copy! We'd love to see it! My email address is roblATocmusaDOTcom.

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Scan123 was created as an in-house document management solution for an automotive dealership in late 2002. Today, hundreds of businesses use Scan123 to manage their documents.  More >>