In 2007, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) conducted a survey on records management for county governments across the state. The universal issue that emerged was how to effectively manage the process of capturing, storing, protecting, and producing county records. In December 2008, ACCG teamed up with Microsoft, Abel Solutions, KnowledgeLake, and Fujitsu to develop two demonstration projects to showcase integrated records management solutions. Chatham County was invited to participate in this opportunity and chose to work with the Microsoft® Records Management Preferred Partner Program. With its new Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server–based solution, the county now has improved its ability to access key documents, streamlined operational workflow, and introduced greater transparency into the records management process for both county employees and taxpayers.
The Chatham County Department of Engineering provides a variety of land development and resource management services to county leaders and citizens. The office provides permits for site development and construction projects, and also provides reviews of construction and subdivision plans to ensure that resources are available to support proposed projects.
||We are better equipped to double check our work, which reduces errors. The new solution also is helping us be more responsive to citizens.
Senior Engineer, Chatham County Department of Engineering
The Department of Engineering also provides support to the Flood Plain Development Office, a Chatham County government agency that is instrumental in coordinating citizen and community efforts to mitigate the risks and costs of flood damage to county constituents. These services must take into account information contributed from various internal and external sources (such as documented plans and designs from contractors, public works agencies, and so on). Because of that, Chatham’s Engineering Services team is inundated with ever-increasing volumes of information and documentation that must be properly stored, managed, and processed.
Chatham County’s Information and Communications Services (ICS) is charged with providing the information technology infrastructure to support the operations of all county government agencies, with an eye on improving the county’s effectiveness.
“We help users across Chatham County government get their jobs done with less effort and more automation,” says Nick Batey, Chief Technical Manager of ICS. Over the long term, Batey envisions a Chatham County government that makes maximum use of the collaboration and communications potential offered by automation.
Suzanne Cooler is Senior Engineer of the Chatham County Department of Engineering. Together, Batey and Cooler realized that several business processes under the purview of Engineering Services would be excellent candidates for automation.
Prior to exploring a potential technological solution, Engineering Services relied on a paper-based workflow that was time-consuming and prone to disrupting the progress of projects that relied on access to common documents. A heavy reliance on physical materials (plans, permits, and designs, for instance) meant that materials were unavailable when checked out for review or processing by other employees or other departments. Further, only one engineer or clerk could handle documents or drawings during each stage of the workflow.
The previous paper-based system also took up a tremendous amount of floor space with filing cabinets and storage boxes. “We maintain a huge array of very large filing cabinets in our office space,” explains Cooler. “Plus we have a large off-site storage area for material we are required [by law] to keep on hand.”
The paper-based systems also left the county vulnerable to costs and inefficiencies that stemmed from lost or misplaced materials.
Batey and Cooler considered three principal options as they reviewed how best to automate business processes in Engineering Services.
One possible approach was to acquire database and document management capabilities to enhance and expand Chatham County’s existing imaging solution. But Engineering Services had experienced problems with integrating the imaging solution with other systems and applications used in Chatham County. “It just didn’t like to play with our other programs,” recounts Derrik Hillery, Chatham County’s Development Plan Coordinator and an internal customer of Engineering Services.
Another option was to use a Linux-based collaborative workspace suite. While the open-source system had the advantage of a low price, Batey was concerned that Chatham County would encounter difficulties integrating a Linux-based application into the county’s mostly Windows®-based IT ecosystem.
The county’s third option was to deploy a records management solution based on Microsoft® technology. A solution based on Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 offered the county an optimal balance of several variables including scalable system cost, compatibility with existing infrastructure, affordable support, and a track record of successful installations in similar local government settings.
In going with this third option, Batey says that he and his staff are already equipped to manage, maintain, and optimize investments in their existing infrastructure, which is based on Microsoft technology. He believes that the solution will be able to grow to meet the county’s other needs for workflow automation and document management. In addition, a rich ecosystem of value-added Microsoft resellers and integrators is available to support further development of Chatham County’s technology infrastructure.
The pilot program at Chatham County Engineering Services has introduced many opportunities to improve the operational performance of the records management process. The county is benefiting from the ability to scan and capture electronic versions of physical documents, while simultaneously categorizing electronic documents to reduce costs, improve county services, and ensure prompt authorized access to information by constituents and county officials.
With the systems integration support of partner Abel Solutions and document capture partners KnowledgeLake and Fujitsu, Chatham County has been able to construct and validate a solution for the Department of Engineering that drives a better process and a better user experience that results in better services to the community.
Cooler reports that turnaround time for many Department of Engineering tasks has been reduced from days to hours, and in some cases, minutes. She points out that a speedier delivery of services is contributing to a higher level of service to constituents. “We are better equipped to double check our work, which reduces errors. The new solution also is helping us be more responsive to citizens,” she says.
Other unanticipated effects of Chatham County’s pilot implementation of Office SharePoint Server 2007 have been some of the most exciting—and have come from suggestions from county staff as they came to understand the capabilities of the Office SharePoint Server solution. In fact, Batey now advises his counterparts in other local government agencies by simply saying. “Show your users a solution using the SharePoint workflow and then get their ideas on how they can make it function even better on your system.”
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