Paper files and the cabinets to hold them were once taken for granted as office necessities, but now they're starting to look like artifacts.
Document imaging is here, and more and more records are now maintained with digital computer files.
That's particularly true for storing documents.
Whether to move into document imaging or not seems to be less of a question now, but how to do so most efficiently.
Blue Earth was among the first Minnesota counties to begin an aggressive program, as Humans Services Director, Bob Meyer, explains:
The county as a whole wanted to get into more imaging of our documents, and so there was a movement across the county to invest in imaging equipment and move in that direction.
And so there was an investment in equipment that arrived in our department, but as we looked around to try and find human resources to actually do the document imaging, we found that our staff was already committed to other projects, and so we had to look at other options to try and accomplish that task.
And so we checked with one of our partners, MRCI, to see whether they had work crews that could accomplish that task.
The people working at the government center in Mankato have been most productive.
We have a work crew of 5 or 6 people that have been working here almost 3 years now, and what they've been able to accomplish is, they've imaged over 1.4 million documents in that time.
So they've really taken a backlog of documents that we wanted to get into electronic format and utilize in our business, and they've been able to get those images into a system where we can get ready access to that information.
Paper records still abound in state government, but that is starting to change.
Administration Commissioner, Dana Badgerow, came to state government with an impressive record in private industry, including a career as a senior executive with Honeywell, and she thinks the time for document imaging has come.
In today's business environment, we're always interested in better customer service first, but today really, cost drives us to a great degree.
One of the biggest elements of cost is space, and as you can see here, I'm standing in front of just a fraction of the file cabinets in our department.
We are awash in paper in state government, and I know that business is as well.
So if we can somehow reduce the amount of space being taken up just simply by paper-storage boxes, and file cabinets, we have an enormous ability to reduce our cost structure.
The commissioner sees some dramatic progress at the largest state agency, the Human Services Department, and its new building.
Another good example is the Department of Human Services, who moving into their new building, found that over 20% of their space was taken up just by file cabinets and paper.
And it's a wonderful example because they were able to hire 16 of their clients, developmentally disabled people, to come in a wonderful digital imaging project and reduce all of that paper to a mere fraction of its space and store it all electronically.
News stories on the experience of the Department of Human Services gave a St. Paul businessman an idea for solving a current problem.
Tom Polacek of Trendex, Inc. found employing people with developmental disabilities was a sound, strategic decision.
We have been scanning all of our file system documents and putting them into the computer system, and it had been going slower than we had hoped, and so about that time I saw the article in the paper, and at the time, we had been working with Lifeworks doing cleaning here at Trendex, and I asked their representative, Amy, if they could handle something like that, and she said sure, and she put together a team and have been working with them ever since.
It's been working great for us.
We've been doing it about 6 months now, and we have scanned everything back through, almost through 2003.
We have about 30,000 documents already scanned in the system.
That's 30,000 files, not 30,000 sheets, so we're quite pleased.
Trendex saw a real dollars-and-cents benefit from their decision to have people with developmental disabilities do their imaging work.
We had been looking at scanning our documents for some time, and actually we had done a cost benefit analysis on it, and it looked like it was going to save us at least one, maybe 1-1/2 people, the value of 1-1/2 people per year.
When I did that, nobody here could believe that it would actually save that amount of money.
Last summer we bought another company, and we brought all their files here and all their customer service, all their orders here to Trendex, and it dramatically increased the amount of paperwork we were going to have, and we were very short on space, and so that was the trigger that caused us to decide we needed to start scanning these documents and get rid of all the file cabinets.
A backlog of paper records, a desire to move to digital recording keeping, and a shortage of available funds prompted Paul Fleissner of Olmsted County to do some creative thinking.
He drew on his private sector experience and social worker background for a solution.
About a year-and-a-half ago we decided to take a chance and hire some folks through a contract who had some sort of disability.
I think the individuals we worked with so far are developmentally disabled.
And our goal was to try to get caught up, quite honestly.
We didn't have the ability to hire staff.
I thought it might be an opportunity to try something new, and so at that time, we contracted with a couple of individuals to help us with our imaging.
Now, it's been a work in progress.
I think part of the issue was making sure we found some people who enjoyed the job, and this was a good work environment for them.
Amazingly since that time we started in corrections, our corrections department — we never thought we'd ever get caught up — we are caught up, and in fact, because of the work of the individuals that we've got, we're starting work in other areas, and we're starting to think about imaging in a whole new way,
The risk has been fully justified, and the digital imaging drive in human services at the Government Center in Rochester is in high gear.
The advantages of converting files to digital records are undeniable, and part of the impetus goes beyond space savings to customer service.
Today if we want to go back and research a historical file, often times we have to go retrieve that file from cold storage at a remote location.
So we have to go find the box in a huge sea of boxes or file cabinets, bring that file box in and research it, whereas with a digital imaging system, often times you can use scanning techniques or other methods to bring that information up in an instant, really a few clicks of the mouse.
Document imaging is the way to go, but some still wonder about the economics of employing people with developmental disabilities.
Bob Meyer of Blue Earth County kept track of the numbers.
We looked at the number of images that we did in a calendar year, and we did about 557,000 images that cost us just under $44,000, so if I did the math correctly, it comes out to 7.8 cents per image, and we believe that that's an appropriate cost to get the kind of benefits that we're receiving from having those images in our system.
Is it hard to begin?
Commissioner Badgerow doesn't think so.
It is so easy!
One needs only to be committed to doing it, recognizing the issue, and committed to doing, and then, being aware of the availability of this enormously talented workforce.
And what does the future hold?
Paul Fleissner has a vision of what he would like to see.
And we're clicking along so well that we're looking to the future now — what can we do with imaging that's the next step?
We've been imaging records from the past.
Now we're trying to think of ways of how do we image information as it comes in, get it to that social worker or that probation officer's computer as it's coming in the door rather than at the back end, and we never handle all that paper.
And so I think, as the government looks to solutions of the future, as business does, imaging is going to be an important tool in being more efficient, more effective, and doing more with less staff, which is the model of the day.
Document imaging and people with developmental disabilities — a perfect combination that brings benefits to all concerned.