The Permitting and Enforcement Department of Brevard County, Florida, was running out of space for its paper records. Electronic storage methods were inconsistent throughout the department. With a solution based on Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, staff can now easily manage documents. This Citizen Service Platform solution helps them create more satisfying experiences for citizens, comply with the law, and gain business intelligence.
The Permitting and Enforcement Department of Brevard County, Florida, generates vast amounts of building permit applications, site plans, inspection reports, memos, and other documents. To comply with the State of Florida’s public record management laws, the department needs to store and maintain its records.
“Their paper-based records were stored in an enormous repository of filing cabinets and floor-to-ceiling boxes,” says Lois Boisseau, Information Systems Manager for Brevard County. “The labor involved in maintaining that was huge.”
The department ran out of floor space and began storing older documents in another building outside of town. “If somebody asked for an old record, a staff person had to get in a car, drive across town, and manually search through huge mounds of documents,” says Jon Sellers, the IT Director for Brevard County.
Some records only need to be retained for a few weeks, some for months or many years. But retention policies were hard to put in place. “They never knew when they could get rid of a record,” Sellers says.
Eventually, each departmental division created its own system, storing documents on an external hard drive, server, or CD-ROM. “They just scanned all related correspondence together in one big .PDF file that might be 100 pages long,” Sellers says. Staff would then need to search through the large files to locate specific records.
With documents stored in so many different ways and places, the department faced several challenges. “If a file were misnamed, the department didn’t have a good way to find the document. It could essentially be lost forever in a directory or folder with 10,000 other records,” Boisseau says.
From a legal perspective, Brevard County risked being out of compliance with state law if the department could not produce a requested document in a timely manner.
The county already used Accela Automation government software for many of its processes, but the Accela solution had insufficient capabilities to classify and search for supporting documentation, and no records management capability.
||Office SharePoint has dramatically improved our search capability, and for the first time ever we can set retention policies on documents.
IT Director, Brevard County
To help the department comply with the public records law, the Brevard County IT staff turned to Microsoft® Gold Certified Partner AAJ Technologies, an IT solutions provider in Fort Lauderdale. AAJ Technologies developed a Citizen Service Platform solution based on Microsoft Office SharePoint® Server 2007 running on an IBM BladeCenter LS21.
The solution from AAJ Technologies uses the documents and records management capabilities in Office SharePoint Server 2007 to categorize and keep track of the department’s records. Department staff are now able to upload documents individually and enter metadata defining each as an affidavit, letter of intent, and so on. AAJ Technologies created a template that lets staff easily search through the metadata and locate a document in minutes. The department can consolidate all documents in one place, making it easy to search for and maintain them.
Staff can also use Office SharePoint Server 2007 to search through records in the Accela database via an in-house Web service application. Data is synchronized between the two systems automatically. For instance, when the status of a building permit case changes in the Accela database from “Active” to “Closed,” the status of the related documents in Office SharePoint Server 2007 is updated.
The Brevard County IT staff began testing the new document and records management solution in January 2008, with a group of about 200 users in the Permitting and Enforcement Department, and rolled it out in July of that year. Going forward, the IT staff intends to implement the solution countywide, expanding the implementation as the budget allows.
Office SharePoint Server 2007 has helped Brevard County’s IT department greatly improve its records management and acquire essential business intelligence. Most important, it helps them deliver better service experiences to the county’s citizens. The IT staff hopes to implement additional powerful features to improve communication county-wide.
Better Service Delivery
Without a doubt, this solution helps Brevard County provide a more satisfying and richer experience for its citizens. “Instead of taking days to meet a citizen’s request for a document, now somebody can walk up to a counter and request a document; staff can look it up online, print it, and hand it to the person within minutes,” Sellers says. “Office SharePoint reduces the complexity within our department, which reduces our costs.”
Fuller Business Intelligence
Office SharePoint Server 2007 gives the Permitting and Enforcement Department much fuller business intelligence about their records. With centralized records, employees have a much easier time producing documents upon request, without worrying about misnamed files. “Office SharePoint has dramatically improved our search capability, and for the first time ever we can set retention policies on documents,” Sellers says. “We only have to keep closed permits for seven years. So now, after that time, the data will be deleted, archived, or whatever the action should be for that particular record.”
Sellers hopes that once county employees start using the document and records management capabilities of Office SharePoint Server 2007, they will ask about its other powerful features, such as collaboration and intranet portals. “We’re hoping this project will help people realize what Office SharePoint is capable of,” Sellers concludes. “It could start a cultural change in the way people communicate information county-wide, if you can imagine various department heads with their own blogs and wikis. I think it will be a tremendous benefit to the information flow in Brevard County.”