Doing Less with More!!
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
It’s no secret. Budgets are tight and time is thin. How does your city or town get things done as your workloads increase and workforce is reduced, or if you’re lucky, stays the same? As people continue to move further out into the suburbs, cities and towns are going to be faced with the challenges of operating with finite resources to accomplish more and more.
Bringing the Past into the Future
One way to alleviate the burden on any city or town is to provide access to content that is being requested by the public. Most municipalities have their documents, books and maps stored in an analog format, either paper or some form of microfilm. These historical records are usually archived in a fire proof vault and available upon request, forcing someone to go find the appropriate record.
The problem with paper and microfilm is that they are subject to the elements and require someone to keep track of the media itself. These documents or media can be lost and the cost to reproduce them can be expensive, upwards of $350-$500 by some industry estimates. One answer is to digitize your records to provide safe, secure and easy access to these files and eliminate the need to physically track and find documents or records when needed. In doing so, you will see benefits that may not have been easily identified in the past. We call this “enabling content.” This means that data previously on an analog media were only searchable based on the filing method. There was no system that allowed the user to actually search the contents of the documents. Going digital (using technology such as Optical Character Recognition, a.k.a. OCR) provides your customers with the ability to find information in many different ways, and they can do this right from a PC in your town hall, or, if you choose, right from their home or office computer. Important to note. Scanning documents and running them through an OCR process does not in itself give you the ability to search across the contents of all your documents. You need to have some form of document management software or application that can search the text layer of a document image.
Capture at the Source
With the growing popularity of tablets and iPads, opportunities exist today for municipalities to eliminate the labor burden surrounding paper forms and manually processing those documents. Field personnel that operate with a clipboard can now use an iPad, Windows or Android Tablet to create digital interactive forms. Business rules can be applied to fields, calculations can be performed or audio and digital images can be embedded right into the document to capture as much information about the event as needed. Imagine the time savings from embedding digital images right into a form for the building inspector, who may have noted an infraction of the building codes, instead of downloading from a camera and matching the images up to his or her notes.
Collaborate & Share
Information is king but it can also kill. Organizations can be strangled by information overload or a lack of information flowing across the organization. Information is to a business or municipality what blood is to the human body. Helping that information flow through the organization can help the operation flourish. Microsoft SharePoint is a great foundation for any municipality looking to implement a cost effective solution for managing data and documents. While Microsoft SharePoint Foundation is a free version, it can provide some nice features and functionality, but with some limitations compared to the full versions for purchase.
SharePoint provides a very easy-to-use interface familiar to most Windows users. Simple workflows can be configured to bridge disconnected processes or departments. Native to SharePoint is the ability provide document repositories and revision control. The latest version of SharePoint is Microsoft SharePoint 2013. The beauty of this platform is that there are several built-in features and functionality that can help any town or city in the areas of Collaboration, Business Intelligence, ECM, Business Forms, Portals, and Search. While these areas come with core functionality, SharePoint is built to be customized to your needs. So as you evaluate software applications that focus on specific functions to serve the town or city, investigate what links to SharePoint these applications might have. The integration with these applications to SharePoint can potentially provide immediate savings. Users who don’t have licenses for those specialized software applications can often access the information they need from within SharePoint instead of having to purchase a proprietary software license.
It is important to note that productivity can be had for a relatively small investment. With hosted services (SaaS or Cloud based services), you can minimize the upfront costs and risk sometimes associated with investing in on-premise solutions. This enables you to reap the benefits of a solution while not having to invest in the hardware, software and personnel needed to support these solutions. So look to these three areas for some big wins with small investments. In doing so, you can do less manual processing with more automation and meet the needs of your town or city and customers.
Raymond Feoli is President of Inception Technologies, Inc. based in Manchester, NH. Inception Technologies, Inc. has been providing business process improvement technology to municipalities and other business sectors since 1996.
[Editor’s Note: Some records must be retained in paper or microfilm form under NH law. Consult an attorney before destroying these records.]