Jan 11 2007

The Promise of Paperless

The long-promised benefits of document management are coming to fruition.

The long-promised benefits of document management are coming to fruition.

Patrick Cosgrove, manager of distributed processing, says document management helped Hillsborough County, Fla., revamp its workflow.

Managing paperwork has long been a challenge for state and local government agencies. Anyone who has had to deal with issues related to permits, motor vehicle registration, property and construction and other areas, can attest to the large volume of documents used by government agencies.

For agencies, the volume of paperwork can often be overwhelming — and a drain on productivity. If a document is being reviewed in one department, then someone in another department can’t review the information at the same time, which often leads to delays and poor service.

Document management processes can relieve a lot of the paperwork burdens and improve efficiency. The hardware and software products let organizations store and locate documents electronically and securely share the information among many users simultaneously. With these applications, agencies can better manage growing volumes of information and improve collaboration by making documents and records more easily available.

Paperless Pilot in Florida

Hillsborough County, Fla., began using document management software in pilot projects in its Fleet Management and Water Resource Services departments in 2001, before launching a broader implementation of the technology.

Fleet Management had been using paper documents to keep information on every vehicle and piece of rolling equipment it serviced and managed for the county. That includes everything from the vehicle title to repair history. All of these pieces of paper were kept in file folders associated with individual vehicles.

The Water Resource Services had a similar situation, keeping file folders on projects such as the installation of new water mains. Some of these initiatives took years to complete, and the amount of paperwork was often huge, says Patrick Cosgrove, manager of distributed processing, Hillsborough County Information and Technology Services Department.

“If a particular engineer needed a project folder he would have to check it out of a library in the department. And if someone else needed to see something related to that project, they would have to find the person who had the folder,” says Cosgrove.

The county’s first foray into document management involved converting paper documents in Fleet Management and Water Resource Services into an electronic format, so users could search for and access them from their computers whenever needed.

This made it much easier for workers to find and use the information they needed, Cosgrove says. After evaluating several document management products, Hillsborough awarded each project to a different contractor.

Digital Documents in the Workflow

Based on the early successes, Hillsborough decided to use document management more broadly in 2003. “We went a step above what we call ‘the library’ function of document management to incorporate electronic documents into a workflow” involving numerous users, Cosgrove says.

The Planning and Growth Management Department began converting all the documents associated with the development of parcels of land — including building permits, construction plans, environmental concerns and the entire history of a particular piece of acreage — from paper to electronic documents and using a system from tech consultant Document Advantage to manage the electronic information.

The move resulted in a big improvement in processes. Prior to using document management, it was difficult for anyone researching a development project to sort through the hundreds of documents that typically accumulated over a period of 10 to 15 years. Now, authorized users can quickly search for and access whatever information they need, Cosgrove says.

When someone applies to develop a piece of property, the application has to be reviewed by multiple organizations inside and outside the agency, Cosgrove says. “The system allows documents to be reviewed by multiple parties” at the same time.

Some users have direct access to a database of documents at the Planning and Growth Management Department and are notified by e-mail when a document is ready for review, Cosgrove says.

Wide Acceptance

Other county departments, including Aging Services, Children’s Services, Health and Social Services, Public Works and Transportation, want to adopt document-management systems.

“Virtually every department wants some level of this,” Cosgrove says. “Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.” He says Hillsborough has no plans to launch a countywide rollout using a single vendor, but instead will invest in document-management systems on a department-by-department basis.

One of the key challenges of these initiatives, Cosgrove says, is defining the business workflow process to determine who should have access to documents. “People think, ‘We know how we do business,’ but when you have to sit down and show under what circumstances you make detailed decisions, it gets more difficult,” he says.

Another challenge is training people to use the system. “This is a whole new way of processing [information]; the big challenge is training a large number of folks in the organization and recognizing that some individuals doing the basic input don’t necessarily come to the table with a lot of computer skills.”

Security is another issue. The software has built-in security features, such as the ability to allow password-protected access to specific types of information based on a user’s role in the department.

County Coroner Streamlines Paper

Kane County Coroner

Before: Manually entered data from 150,000 forms each year

After: Captures data directly in the field using digital pens and tablet PCs

The Coroner’s Office in Kane County, Ill., has used a document-management system called Coroner’s Office Automated System since January 2005. Prior to using COAS, the office relied on handwritten and typed documents and spreadsheets, and an aging database that was no longer efficient, says Charles West, Kane County coroner.

Information had to be entered multiple times on about 60 different forms. The coroner’s office processes more than 2,600 cases each year, which amounts to more than 150,000 forms annually, each entered separately. “The entire case process was very time-consuming and labor intensive, which led to frequent backlogs of casework,” says West.

The office, working with the county IT department, hired Ta-Kenset Research Laboratories to design and implement COAS. The coroner’s office acquired Toshiba Tablet PCs and Logitech digital pens to upload data directly into the county database from the field, increasing data accuracy and delivering real-time data to all users. The tablets allow deputies to take information in the field and upload it into COAS.

The office tested COAS thoroughly before rolling it out, using a test site created by the IT department. Three months before the deployment, West chose three deputies to begin entering cases into the system, paralleling the data entry using the old manual method. “This was double entry, but until we were sure everything was working properly we wanted to ensure data integrity,” West says.

It was a wise decision because additional fixes were needed to eliminate a loss of data. As the deputies became comfortable with the system, others were trained until all were familiar with the program. After that, the deputies began taking the PCs on calls to document cases from the field and upload them to the office.

But the benefits have been worth the challenges. The Coroner’s Office has seen gains such as increased efficiency. Prior to implementing COAS, paperwork required about five hours per case. COAS reduced the time spent on cases by 50 percent, allowing the office to use its limited personnel and budget more effectively.

Cutting Costs in California

Orange County, Calif., also is seeing gains from document-management technology. The county is using a system called OnBase from Hyland Software. The software eases data sharing among and within agencies, and allows the county to create information once — then reuse it many times, says Lisa King, manager of digital imaging.

Prior to using document-management software, county agencies were using mostly paper filing systems and some microfiche documents.

Now, workers scan images directly into a particular database, or data is processed directly from another source, such as a legacy system. The software runs within a client/server environment, King says. “The application allows us to store documents on many servers simultaneously and add new documents with little effort from our integration team,” she adds.

Orange County first tested the software before rolling it out, using a test-and-­development environment for staff integrators who are certified OnBase installers, King says. “We have rigorous testing procedures with the product prior to any production release, which includes consistent customer communication,” she adds.

Among the benefits of the technology are streamlined operations, cost savings and increased customer satisfaction. The county also decreased its need for storage space due to the elimination of hard-copy storage requirements.


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