N.Y. County Reaps ROI on Mobile Records Management

By Guest Author  |  Posted 2014-05-13
mobile records management

By Maureen Reynolds, Greg Potter and Loren Cottrell

Tompkins County, N.Y., which encompasses the Ithaca metropolitan area, started scanning records in 2001. Over a nine-year period, it scanned nearly 200 years’ worth of land and court records.

When the county’s administration asked the clerk’s office to take over the county records center, we knew we had the staff, knowledge, support and IT infrastructure to handle it, but we lacked an enterprise records management system that we could use across all departments and integrate with a wide variety of departmental systems.

Our original plan had been to put barcodes on the boxes of records to keep better track of them and then to either build a new records center or renovate the existing one. However, we quickly realized that we could extend the value of the system by scanning all 9,000 boxes of files into a Laserfiche system.

Building a new records center or renovating the existing building would have cost between $2.3 million and $6 million. Our analysis showed that with an investment of $400,000 to $500,000 for scanning, software upgrades and IT infrastructure updates, using Laserfiche could save us as much as $5.5 million dollars.

We then asked the county administrators to let us invest some of the saved money in expanding the records management project to additional departments. These included the airport, assessment, county administration, county clerk, district attorney’s office, finance, geographic information system division, health department, highway and facilities, legislature, mental health, office for the aging, personnel, purchasing and the sheriff’s office.

From an IT perspective, one thing that’s been extremely helpful is making our SmartWork initiative available to all departments. The county puts up a pool of dollars every year, and departments have to compete for the use of the money. The initiative allows us to work with Tompkins Cortland Community College and workflow process experts to analyze existing processes; document what the new processes will look like; and get buy-in from all stakeholders.

For process-driven projects, the departments must go through this initiative to define their processes before we will jump in on the IT side. It helps us determine which departments are ready and which ones are likely to succeed.

We started to work on implementing an enterprise records management system in 2011. We now have a backlog of more than 25 projects, so having a way to prioritize them is important.

Scanning Civil and Critical Cases

Digitizing court records was one of our first Laserfiche projects, and the court’s use of the system has evolved over time. We started by back-scanning all civil and criminal cases from 1817 to 2009.

Now, using an online document portal, judges, law clerks and legal secretaries can instantly view closed cases on their laptops and mobile devices with the click of a button. Court personnel find this mobile capability crucial when they deal with repeat offenders.

In the past year, the county clerk’s office has begun handling the scanning of all court-related paperwork as it is produced or received during the course of the business day. The county court handles approximately 1,400 civil cases and 4,500 criminal cases a year, so processing everything the day it is received saves a lot of time.

Paper documents are scanned into Laserfiche, which is integrated with a land-management system that time- and date-stamps the documents. After that, documents are immediately emailed to the judges.

Judges sometimes have the reputation of being slow to embrace change, but our judges took to the paperless approach readily. Because of that, we’re confident that our district attorneys and assistant district attorneys, who have traditionally had to drag large boxes of files into court, will also appreciate our mobile, paperless approach to case management.

We’re currently looking to migrate the district attorney’s office from a legacy case management system onto NYPTI, a state system developed by the New York State Prosecutors Training Institution. Laserfiche will be integrated with NYPTI, so case documents will be created in NYPTI and archived in the Laserfiche repository. Documents will be digital from the very start, eliminating the need for paper records.

While the IT department is mapping out the streamlined case-management process and preparing to integrate Laserfiche and NYPTI, it is also expanding the WiFi access points in the courtrooms so that the district attorneys and assistant district attorneys can access their case files using mobile devices.

The sheriff’s department has also benefited. In the past, the staff had to navigate a roomful of arrest reports by using an index-card system to find what they needed. After digitizing the arrest reports, the department transformed its records room into viable office space and cleared the paper out of its garage so officers have a place to park.

Committed to Innovation

We believe that we’re a forward-thinking county, adopting technology that creates efficiencies, reduces costs and, ultimately, helps us serve the citizens of Tompkins County in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.

Toward that end, our county vehicles are hybrids, and our new county buildings are all LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design)-certified. One of our major goals for the next few years is to use our enterprise records management system to enable 10 to 20 percent of our employees to work from home at least part of the time. This will allow us to cut back on the number of people driving to work, and it will save energy at county buildings.

From a disaster recovery perspective, giving key employees remote access to digital documents will allow them to do their jobs from their homes in the event of an emergency. We never want to be featured on the front page of the newspaper with the caption: ‘Why didn’t they plan ahead for this emergency?’” Thanks to Laserfiche, we never will.

About the authors:

Maureen Reynolds is the records management officer and deputy county clerk for the Tompkins County, N.Y., Clerk’s Office, where she has worked for 21 years.

Greg Potter is the director of IT services for the county.

Loren Cottrell, deputy director of IT services, has worked in local government for the past 10 years.