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New York Local Governments Build Bridges with IT Shared Services (Industry Perspective)

Tompkins County and the town of Dover created shared services programs for electronic records management.

As populations grow, the need for services increases and budgets remain stagnant, or in some organizations shrink, the shared services model is becoming more important to government agencies. Two organizations that took the leap are New York’s Tompkins County and the town of Dover, which both received grants from the New York State Archives to create shared services programs for electronic records management.

Tompkins County: Blazing a Trail

Tompkins County was ahead of the curve when New York state began advocating for shared services in 2015. The county, which formed a shared services task force in 2014, already had a successful shared services program using a records management system. The Tompkins Shared Services Electronic Records Repository (TSSERR) serves 20 partnered government agencies including the city of Ithaca.

To digitize records and implement TSSERR, the New York State Archives granted Tompkins County $1.4 million, a number dwarfed by the $2.17 million that the county was initially planning to spend on a storage facility for paper records.

A study conducted by the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management predicts that the county’s shared digital records management initiative in its current form — without expansion or new grant assistance — will save county taxpayers $2.87 million through 2019.

And the benefits go beyond dollar signs. “We’ve developed relationships and built trust as a result of providing Laserfiche as a shared service,” said Tompkins County Clerk Maureen Reynolds. “Other government agencies are reaching out to us and asking for help. Our constituents have a level of access to records — because they are electronic — that they have never had in the past.”

“In a shared services initiative, you have to start slow,” added Loren Cottrell, Tompkins County’s deputy director of Information Technology Services. “Find a project that you can be successful with right off the bat. Having a champion, like we did with Maureen, can help identify those projects, develop the relationships you need and get people motivated to achieve your goals.”

For example, Ithaca used the records management software to automate public record requests, which reduced the time the city took to process state FOIL requests by 35 percent and made compliance with state regulations easier. Ithaca shared the process with the TSSERR group, enabling all member municipalities to leverage this success.

Tompkins County continues to implement and explore new interagency collaborations, including its Law Enforcement Technology Shared Services group and GIS applications, and plans to expand the TSSERR group across county lines.

Town of Dover: Learning from Great Models

About 200 miles east, Dover is implementing its own electronic records management shared services program. When Town Clerk Katie Palmer-House took office in 2012, she brought an understanding of the benefits of shared services from her previous role as an instructor at Cornell University.

“Interagency collaboration in education is the norm,” Palmer-House said. “When I went into elected service, I knew there was tremendous opportunity to benefit from shared services.”

Tompkins County continues to be an inspiration to Palmer-House, who looks to successful shared services models for ways to improve the town’s program. She led the charge to acquire funds from the New York State Archives, which granted Dover $130,000 to upgrade its records management system, obtain the necessary hardware and train the town’s three partner municipalities.

Like Tompkins County’s TSSERR program, the four partner municipalities (Dover, Amenia, Beekman and North East) share the software system, maintenance and help desk support. Also similar to Tompkins County, the shared services initiative had its own champion: Palmer-House. Before applying for the grant, she laid the groundwork with the other municipalities, giving presentations, listening to their needs and getting buy-in. She continues to work with them to leverage features of the system like business process automation to improve efficiency.

“It’s been a great process,” Palmer-House said. “When you participate in an interagency collaboration, you need to be flexible to adjust to different organizational cultures and respect their process. You’re coming into their organizations with something new and it will take time to get comfortable with it.”

The system, implemented in early 2016, is already showing significant savings, including more than $50,000 from sharing the system and maintenance costs.

“At municipal levels, shared services is a cost-saving measure, but research shows that interagency collaboration is not solely for financial benefit,” Palmer-House said. “Commitment to an electronic records management system gives increased opportunity for public access, better storage of records and enhanced municipal effectiveness.”

Katie Burke is senior government program strategist for Laserfiche enterprise content management software.