PROBLEM/SITUATION: Local governments are discovering that document imaging technology presents them with new ways to provide valuable services to private-sector firms.
SOLUTION: By evaluating their customers' needs and targeting their services carefully, cities and counties can generate some respectable revenue with document imaging.
JURISDICTION: Kenosha County, Wis.
VENDORS: TriMin Systems Inc., Pinnacle Micro, Wang.
CONTACT: Walter Przybylowski, Kenosha County Information and Communications Services, 414/653-2816.
The next time you look at your imaging system, you may discover some money in there. That's what a growing number of local governments are finding as they look beyond the storage and retrieval function of imaging to the revenue potentials of enhanced service delivery. By converting documents into a digital format, imaging systems put a new spin on information access, which can be of great value to certain businesses. Attorneys, real estate agents, insurance companies and title companies have always needed certain government documents to perform their job. Time is money to these folks and retrieving documents from government agencies has always been a time-consuming process for them.
When cities and counties invest in imaging technology to convert thousands, even millions, of documents into digital images, the old issues of time and access suddenly disappear. Smart governments are taking advantage of this change and are offering businesses a chance to share the benefits of the new imaging system -- for a price.
For example, a number of counties have converted their land-related documents into images and are offering businesses subscriptions to their online index of documents, which is easily accessible through modem hook-ups.
Since 1990, the Registry of Deeds in Middlesex County, Mass., has been earning between $80,000 and $100,000 annually through its online service. Some counties offer fax-back services. A title company worker can look up a record in the online index and see a notation that says the document is stored on an optical disc. When the worker hits a function key on the computer in his office, the imaging system back at the registry faxes the document image to the worker's office.
Other valuable services include actual remote viewing of documents via networks and distribution of document images via CD-ROM. Some local governments are exploring the possibility of using the Internet as an inexpensive way to provide businesses with remote access to document images.
In every case, the county finds that it can provide access to documents using much less labor than in the past. Fewer documents have to be manually retrieved, photocopied from paper or microfiche, and then mailed. Imaging systems also come with subsystems that can automatically calculate the cost of the document retrieval and generate an invoice for the business based on usage.
According to Dick Stehley, manager of sales operations at TriMin Systems Inc., the cost of imaging has dropped so dramatically in the last few years that mid-sized and even small counties can justify purchasing the technology. "Their initial thrust into imaging is to boost overall productivity," he said, "but once the application is up and running, they start thinking about ways to improve public access."
TriMin has installed numerous imaging systems in counties throughout the Midwest, some with populations as low as 20,000. Stehley said that none are making lots of money from image-based services, but he expects that the phenomenon will grow.
The Registry of Deeds in Kenosha County, Wis., probably exemplifies what mid-sized counties are able to do in terms of earning extra income from imaging systems. Serving a population of 130,000, the Registry handles approximately 30,000 land recordings annually. Two years ago, the Registry installed an imaging system that uses TriMin's Land Records Management software to manage the land records, including the index.
The software runs on an AS/400 which is linked to an RS/6000 server