High-tech storage for old paper records
Local government agencies prolifically generate records and documents that must be retained and publicly accessible. In an effort to reduce storage space needed for records and integrate them with searchable computer databases, agencies are turning to electronic document management (EDM) technology to transfer paper records into a digital format.
The Anaheim, Calif., Public Utilities Department, which provides water and electric service for the city’s residents and businesses, must meet complex Federal Energy Regulatory Commission record keeping requirements and generates large amounts of documents that often must be stored for the lifetime of a project. Three years ago, the department began converting its old paper records to an electronic form. “We had lots of [infrastructure] records, probably over 50 years worth, that we needed to digitize in order to be able to access those records readily,” says the Utility Department’s Administrative Services Manager Lori Pastucha.
The department needed a flexible program that could handle its varied types of documents, including contracts and maps. “Much of the information that we were retaining was either in boxes or in a manual format, or in filing cabinets that were unsearchable,” says Ronald Smith, the department’s records and information administrator. That posed a problem for the department’s engineers and record management personnel, who needed to be able to find project files quickly.
The department has spent about $180,000 on scanning services from Long Beach, Calif.-based Laserfiche and scanned in more than 1 million documents, from large maps to microfilm. Initially, two contract workers were hired to assist in indexing and preparing the documents, but now two full-time employees are doing the work. “It’s a very small staff of people who have been able to accomplish this much,” Smith says.
The department has nearly finished scanning its old documents, and Smith says once that is completed, they will begin scanning documents after they are created and saving them in the same archive system with electronic documents. Utility officials plan to integrate geographic information system (GIS) data into the system, so employees working on a water main, for example, will be able to link from the GIS to electronic and scanned documents from that project’s history.
Montgomery County, Md., has been using a Web-accessible EDM system for the past five years, says Mayland Lin, core systems manager for the county’s Department of Technology Services. Today, it stores 1 terabyte of information from 22 county departments in 20 million files, including employee files, legal documents and contracts. “We are able to search the information right at our fingertips,” Lin says. “We used to take two weeks to turn a request [to see an employee file] around. Right now, when you request it, they can show you right away.” EDM also greatly reduces the amount of time the payroll department needs to process the more than 10,000 time sheets it receives every other week.
Having the documents in digital, Web-accessible form eliminates time spent looking for paper documents, and more than one person can look at a document at the same time. Documents are scanned with an optical character recognition software, so county employees can search for the documents by their content.
The Department of Technology Services bought the servers and other basic equipment for the system, and participating departments pay for scanners and software from their budgets. The county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation is surveying the county’s records and developing a policy that would define how long records must be retained. “Once we have the policy set up, we would like to move to electronic records management [for the entire county],” Lin says.