How Social Services Reduced Paper Through Smart Technology and Innovation
From paper, to paperless, to process: How Durham County’s Department of Social Service’s document management solution led to the establishment of enterprise-wide best practices in project management and workflow automation
More than seven years ago, Durham County’s Department of Social Services was faced with a problem shared by many other public agencies serving growing populations: it was overrun with paper. Adding to the problem was an outdated and inefficient process for managing and storing all of the documents that moved through the agency every day, and that had a significant effect on the efficiency and quality of services received by county residents.
Records were sometimes stored in the wrong location and were often difficult to locate, client’s privacy and security were not guaranteed, and the ever increasing cost of producing and storing paper documents caused enormous strain on county resources.
Another challenged surfaced when Durham County’s Social Services and Public Health Service Departments announced that both departments were going to share space in a newly constructed building in 2011. Accommodating all of the staff and clients for both departments, including storing all of those paper documents would be virtually impossible in the new space without some kind of automated process in place.
Despite the obvious challenges the county faced, the problem presented an opportunities to assess the way documents were managed, how workflows and processes were conducted and how innovation and technologies could promote dramatic and effective change in improving those processes.
The answer was clear: find an efficient and feasible way to transition to a paperless, electronic document management process that could be adopted and implemented enterprise-wide.
The County began to tackle the problem by first assembling the project team consisting of members from Durham County’s Department of Social Services and the County’s Department of Information Services and Technology (IST), and external partner One Source Document Solutions, Inc. The team took the first step by integrating all paper documents into a document imaging system.
The team used a three-pronged approach to the process, which included a batch processing software that sorts and organizes documents after they have been digitally scanned into the system, a workflow tool that automates repeatable processes, and a repository, which stores the digital documents.
Implementing the solution was a collaborative process, so project team worked closely together to plan the project, determine appropriate new process/business workflows, and integrate the solution into existing and new software systems and train staff for sustainable results.
Implementing a modern document imaging solution for Durham County’s Department of Social Services has yielded many benefits. Thanks to digital document management technology and processes, the County saved $1 million by eliminating the need for an “archival” storage room, offering more space in public areas for better customer service, while giving both departments more comfortable working space for employees.
The automation and the strategic use of digitized data has provided opportunities to more efficiently serve clients receiving services and provide a more efficient workflow for Social Services staff. Caseworkers are spending less time on paperwork and more time doing what they do best: providing the community with the services they need.
The Long-Term Outcome
The Laserfiche Document Management Solution has emphasized the importance of embracing organizational change through effective project management, internal communications and employee training. The County has continued to employ such robust practices as it launches more innovative and efficient solutions to improve the quality of service delivery for Durham County and its citizens.
The Laserfiche solution has become an enterprise-level document management model many other departments are actively using or planning to implement. Ongoing costs include the $100,000 annual enterprise-license maintenance fee for the software which include upgrades and enhancements. However, thousands of dollars have been saved by using less paper, toner and printer maintenance contracts/costs, with the environmental impact greatly reduced. An effort of this size and visibility demanded close attention to project management and execution, and this yielded another opportunity to implement positive change.
Before this effort, the County had no consistent methodologies or processes for project management established. As this project moved along, the value of sound project management and the importance of proactive communications and collaboration became increasingly evident.
One of the many lasting outcomes from the project has been the establishment of a Project Management Office within Durham County’s Information Services and Technology Department that now develops project management processes and tools utilized by IS&T and departments throughout the County.
Since its launch, Durham County’s Laserfiche Document Management Solution has received mention in Government Computing News and was recognized with a 2014 Government Innovation Grant Award (GIGa). GIGa is a partnership between the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, the Local Government Federal Credit Union, and the North Carolina Local Government Information Systems Association. The program provides competitive funding to local government entities based on innovation and internal collaboration.
It was the internal collaboration between the County’s Department of Social Services and the Information Services and Technology Department that was key to the success of the project, according to Durham County’s Chief Information Officer, Greg Marrow: “For us to raise the level of Smart Government and for county-wide applications to be effective, it’s critical to have enthusiastic support within each department working shoulder-to-shoulder with a knowledgeable and skilled IT staff.”
The Digital Story
Durham County and the City of Durham are located in the Triangle region of North Carolina, an area globally recognized as major hub for research, innovation, and technology. Having a rapidly growing, yet richly diverse and educated community, Durham County continuously strives to improve the quality and efficiency of service delivery to its employees and citizens through innovative and effective technology solutions.
The County is being recognized for its efforts, and its story continues to evolve. Visit http://dcotech.org to learn more about the smart technology solutions Durham County is implementing, and the smart people who are building them.