Nov 14 2012

How State and Local Agencies Are Going Paperless

Document management tools help governments change the paper-based culture, save money and work more efficiently.

Officials in the Juvenile Division of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office had talked about increasing the agency’s use of document management for several years. But after the economy crashed in 2008 and tax receipts slowed, the Microsoft SharePoint project that Deputy District Attorney Mark Whitmore had pitched years earlier was given top priority. Suddenly, doing more with less was a matter of survival.  

Today, district attorneys, probation officers and public defenders — the primary players in a juvenile case — receive case documents via a SharePoint portal well before a hearing.

“In the past, people would come to court and complain that they didn’t receive a document, which would force a postponement and tie cases up in the courts,” says Whitmore, who also served as business analyst on the SharePoint initiative, known as the Justice Electronic Library System.

Whitmore says one of the main benefits of JELS is that the district attorneys (and many of the county’s probation officers and public defenders) come to court with notebook computers. Having the attorneys go fully electronic was a major cultural shift, he adds.

“The attorneys used to come to court with a cart stacked with 25 to 30 case files that they would spread across a 4-foot-by-6-foot desk,” he explains. “Now, they use their notebooks to access the case documents and can do legal research while sitting at the desk right during a hearing.”

Although paper copies of the documents still must be filed with the court, Whitmore says JELS delivers much greater efficiencies than the old system. Before JELS, a paper document had to be copied four times and then hand-delivered to all the parties. Attorneys now handle up to 100 hearings a day in five courtrooms and save 1 million pages a year.

San Diego County Assistant CIO Susan Green says the project cost around $250,000. That’s well below the multimillion dollar automation projects that the county typically takes on.

“It was not an expensive project, especially given the return,” Green says. “Our department took on the management of this project because we knew it would be a success and a game changer,”

96%The percentage of juvenile cases that are handled by a district attorney, a public defender and a probation officer

SOURCE: San Diego County District Attorney’s Office

Mark Gilbert, a research vice president at Gartner, says many organizations are trying to get more value out of their SharePoint deployments.

“SharePoint offers a good basic document management capability,” Gilbert says. “It’s like a Swiss army knife in that organizations can run it over a portal, it has decent workflow, and it lets IT managers build intranets.”

Stored on the Portal

A good document management system can save more than just paper. Rick Petrecca, manager of systems integration and deployment strategies for Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind., says SharePoint lets the city save on computer storage because documents that used to reside in 10 or 15 locations now are stored just once on the portal.

Petrecca says the city started slowly, using SharePoint to post documentation for the IT staff. Today, Indianapolis uses SharePoint for a broad cross-section of the city’s more than 30 departments.

For example, Petrecca says, the city parks department now uses SharePoint to distribute box lunches more efficiently to the children who attend summer recreation programs. He says in the past, recreation counselors would fax in their lunch orders to the city, but the parks staff either couldn’t keep up with the faxes or paper copies would get lost.

The result was that the parks staff would often overestimate what was needed and send too many lunches to a recreational site. Petrecca says far too often, food would go uneaten and have to be thrown out after a couple of days. Now, all the lunch orders are posted immediately in SharePoint, so the parks staff knows exactly how many lunches to order. Counselors receive exactly what they need, which means less food is wasted.

“Given that there’s not that much money available for these programs to begin with, being able to reduce waste is really important,” Petrecca adds.

What’s Next for Document Management?

Analyst Katey Wood of the Enterprise Strategy Group identifies five document management trends.

Less reliance on paper records. Even with more electronic devices coming into the workplace and a steady decline in electronic storage costs, many organizations still rely on paper records or have legacy paper assets in need of better management. More organizations are beginning to go digital and update their records policies, leveraging the increased speed and capacity of scanners coupled with optical character recognition and document management software such as Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft SharePoint, as well as new archiving and records management approaches.

Cloud computing. Organizations must figure out how best to use the cloud for document management. IT managers must decide if it works for their organization to manage storage in the cloud, and if so, what levels of privacy and security the third-party provider needs to deliver. Do agencies want all their contracts, transcripts and financial records in the cloud? Or do they want to store only unclassified e-mail records? Are cloud content and records management systems — which provide valuable collaboration and accessibility features — more useful than on-premises systems that can offer even richer features?

The rise of SharePoint. Microsoft SharePoint has become ubiquitous at many organizations, which find it to be a low-cost way to manage documents efficiently. However, as organizations move deeper into document management, they may find they’ll need an electronic content management system from a manufacturer such as EMC, IBM, OpenText or Oracle. Such products offer more advanced workflow and security features and can provide native features that scale across an enterprise network.

Mobility. As workers become more mobile, IT managers have to decide to what extent an organization’s document management system will accommodate the many mobile devices coming into the workplace. For example, will staff be able to access documents on their tablets and smartphones?

Information governance. Now that all electronic records are discoverable in court, IT shops have to set stricter policies for such records — a daunting task as data becomes more diverse and dispersed across formats, networks and devices. This includes not only setting policies for retention and deletion, but specifying how the records policies will be enforced, monitored and updated.


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