Clark County's Winning Gamble on Imaging

Clark County, Nev., beat the odds by successfully reengineering the business licensing process with imaging and workflow.

by / June 30, 1997 0
Trying to find a local government that successfully reengineered a mission-critical system using imaging and workflow used to be an exercise in frustration. Hardly any cities and counties were willing to transform their work processes in order to take full advantage of imaging and workflow technologies. Reengineering was considered too radical.

Now that frame
of mind appears to be changing. Local governments are beginning to reengineer major systems using imaging and workflow with striking results. Under the direction of tech-friendly leaders, local government agencies are shrugging off the 10 percent improvement they may gain by automating and, instead, are reengineering in hopes of productivity improvements ranging from 50 percent to 100 percent.

For example, the Boston Police Department reengineered production of prisoner mugshots and fingerprints. Using an integrated imaging system, the department eliminated an enormous amount of desk time for its officers. The result: each of the city's 11 precincts now has the equivalent of two extra police officers per shift.

CLARK COUNTY
Reengineering and imaging have also had a powerful effect on government operations in Clark County, Nev. There, officials have overhauled a business licensing system that was choking on paper and bottlenecks. According to Kelly Cartron, manager for Clark County's Department of Business License, reengineering was long overdue. "We knew we couldn't operate under a paper system any longer because of all the growth in the valley," he said. "The system was broke and driving up the cost of business."

Clark County -- home of Las Vegas -- is the fastest growing county in the nation. Every month, 4,000 new residents move there. That kind of growth is reflected in the business sector, which must be licensed in order to operate. Licensing is an important aspect of business in Clark County, where liquor and gambling businesses are so prevalent. Every year, the county issues as many as 20,000 new business licenses; each of which generates 10 pages of documentation on average.

The department could have installed imaging to simply rid itself of problems with missing and pigeon-holed files. But as Cartron pointed out, the director, Ardel Jorgensen, wanted the department to become a proactive service to the business community.

In 1992, the department awarded a competitive bid to Integris, the systems integration arm of Bull Worldwide Information Systems. They conducted a business process reengineering (BPR) study and found 455 bottlenecks among the 67 staff members in the department. "The problems behind those bottlenecks were what I call 'power pockets,'" said Cartron. "These are the people who have been in the same position for an incredibly long time. They know everything there is to know about the position and understand the power of information. Not surprisingly, they could really wreak havoc on the work process."

With BPR, the department was able to match its resources with functions for the first time. Management broke up the power pockets and flattened the flow of information through the organization. For example, the reception area transformed from a holding pen for customers (most of whom had to wait 30-60 minutes just to speak with an official) to a business triage -- where the receptionist uses an expert system to match the customer's business with the county's 365 business license categories. The receptionist then creates a checklist of everything needed to apply for a license. "This process eliminates confusion," explained Cartron. "It ensures that the customer has all the necessary paperwork before they see a staff person."

The checklist is an application that actually runs on the county's mainframe, which is integrated with the department's imaging and workflow system. Data from the checklist passes to the workflow system, saving a data entry step. All documents pertaining to the license application are scanned, quality-checked and indexed by staff in the department's Record Division.

The images are stored immediately on an optical disc. According to Cartron, the faster the documents move to permanent optical storage, the better. "There's less of a chance the documents can be changed, which allows us to prove best-evidence in a court of law," he said. "With so much liquor and gaming here, we are very concerned about the legalities of our documents."

The reengineering, imaging and workflow has had two major impacts on the department and the county. First, the new system has cut the time it takes to approve a license from as long as 120 days to less than 45 days. In fact, the department is so confident of its turnaround time, it automatically approves any license that isn't processed within 45 days. Second, the new system has boosted revenue tremendously. During fiscal year 1990-1991, the department collected $112 million in business license fees. In 1996, it collected $200 million. "We attribute half of the growth to new business in the valley," explained Cartron, "and the rest to the new system."

Cartron added that all the growth in business licensing has come without any increase in resources. "With reengineering, our resources are better aligned to the business process," he said. "As a result, we haven't needed to add resources to the system."

Cartron attributes the system's success to Director Jorgensen's determination to introduce change to the department and to Integris' ability as an integrator. "They matched software to our process, rather than try and whittle and change our process to match a particular brand of software," he said.

Now that technology and change are part of the work culture at the Department of Business License, plans are under way to use technology to put licensing out where the businesses are. With Clark County larger than the state of Massachusetts, many business customers have to travel long distances to apply for a license.

One project places touch-screen kiosks in key locations around the county. The kiosks will help process applications and, with a credit card reader, accept payments. Another project will enable businesses with access to the Internet to fill out an application online.

Cartron admitted that the county took a bit of a gamble with the project. "As far as we knew, no one in government had reengineered and integrated a mainframe imaging and workflow system back in 1992, when we first looked into the matter," he said. But the department made sure the odds were in its favor by combining innovation with hard work.


Cartron credits the integration of Clark County's mainframe with imaging and workflow as one of the keys to the system's success. Prior to imaging, information concerning payments made for licensing fees was never up-to-date. The mainframe listed them as "out of business" and license fees ceased to be collected.

Now, payment information is kept current, thanks to workflow and Microsoft's Access, a relational database program which downloads the data from the mainframe on a daily basis. Investigators download the information into their notebook computers and then head into the field to go after businesses that haven't paid their license fees.

The imaging and workflow client/server system uses nine servers running UNIX and OS/2 on a Token Ring, Novell network. Software includes Imaging X, Action Workflow and Microsoft's SQL Server, as well as a host of office automation tools. The system has a 100-seat license. Workstations are a combination of 486 and Pentium PCs with 32MB of RAM and either CTX 17-inch or Cornerstone 21-inch monitors. Images are stored on a Hewlett-Packard 200T 88-disc optical jukebox.

The system's original cost was $1.2 million.

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