Articles

Olmsted County, Minn., Community Services Department Ixnays Paper

When the department realized how much paperwork the Affordable Care Act would bring, it got digitally organized.

by / April 15, 2015

Deadlines are great motivators. Take Olmsted County Community Services (OCCS) in Minnesota, which had been mulling over the idea of upgrading from a paper-based workflow to an enterprise content management (ECM) system.

When officials saw the huge influx of paperwork that Obama’s Affordable Care Act would bring in, however, they stopped mulling and made it happen. And they’re glad they did, because the new system allowed the department to throw away its filing cabinets and increase worker efficiency by about one-third.

OCCS, which offers services like health care, food support and cash assistance to eligible citizens, contracted Laserfiche in spring 2013 to handle the upcoming workload, said OCCS Director Paul Fleissner.

“It scared us to death because we didn’t have, at the time, a product for document management,” he recalled. “Those were all paper processes. We had thousands and thousands of clients, and all those pieces of paper were handled by multiple people, multiple times. We were handling probably hundreds of thousands if not into the millions pieces of paper and we weren’t doing it in a very efficient way. We’d lose things, we’d have piles here and there.” 

Transitioning to the ECM was made relatively painless because the department was highly motivated and had already done some of the groundwork of evaluating workflow, he said. And so the result was entirely positive – time spent filing papers, shuffling papers, sorting and distributing mail, scanning files for telecommuters, was replaced with the task of scanning each document once and then never touching it again. 

Officials estimated that the department saved 19,000 total hours per year, the equivalent of about nine full-time employees. When ACA hit, the department didn’t have to hire a dozen new employees, as was originally anticipated, but just three.

“Number one was improved staff productivity. Everyone felt it made their jobs easier,” Fleissner said, noting that employees thanked the board for allowing them to try something new that saved them time, and was easy to use. 

Laserfiche beat out other vendors as part of a value bidding process that took into account price along with about a dozen other considerations, such as the technical capabilities of the software. Once other departments got wind of how well their new system worked, others started getting on board, he said, but the upgrade process isn’t always easy. 

Child support didn’t want to upgrade, he said, because they thought their process was already perfect. “They just finished the process up and I guarantee in three or four months from now when they see how easy it is, I’m going to hear some of those same positive comments,” he said, adding that other departments using the system include the housing redevelopment authority, property records and licensing and law enforcement.

“The biggest thing that we as government can be [is] more efficient. There are tools to do it; it’s worth the investment, I think there’s a great return on investment story to be told when you automate the right way, for the right reasons, and in the right areas,” Fleissner said. “In this department, we have to be as efficient as possible in delivering those benefits and I think this tool was a big part of us doing that.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.