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March 2009 – WEB EXCLUSIVE


Solving the Paper Jam

Electronic documents cut cost, boost access

by Tracey Lamphere

In 2007, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) completed 4,023 adoptions, a significant rise over 2,512 in 2004. Each case file contains hundreds of pages that caseworkers must manually pull and examine for information, leaving parents and children waiting.

The Council on Competitive Government (CCG), tasked with increasing efficiency in state services, offers a life raft to agencies adrift in paper – electronic document imaging, the practice of electronically capturing and archiving paper documents.

DFPS, which manages the state’s adoption files, is one of 19 agencies participating in the council’s statewide document imaging contract. Scanning paper to electronic file format significantly decreases storage costs, speeds access to information and better protects data, says Russell Tomlinson, a performance analyst with CCG.

Cost Savings

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials completed a feasibility study for converting 44 million pages currently stored in a central file room. The commission will spend $34 million during the next 10 years to store documents. Digitizing the agency’s documents could save millions of dollars. The commission would spend about one-tenth the cost of paper storage, says Chris Albury, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Neubus, the vendor for the state’s document imaging contract and study consultant.

Officials at the Railroad Commission of Texas, which began converting documents in 2006, say they will not see long-term savings until 2013, but the increased accessibility has helped the public save its money.

“The cost saving to the public has been tremendous,” says Ramona Nye, Railroad Commission spokeswoman. “Texans now have free and immediate access to many of the commission’s records.”

Before document imaging, people came to Austin to access the commission’s central records, which date back to the 1800s.

At Your Fingertips

The efficiency of paperless records became apparent to Railroad Commission officials as the price of oil and natural gas rose. The rise led to more information requests, which staff completed without adding personnel. At www.rrc.state.tx.us, users can search thousands of Railroad Commission documents online using key field information or a full text search. Hits on the commission’s online research section of its Web site have averaged 655,000 per month for the past 12 months. In June, the number soared to 896,894.

The conversion of the state’s 46 million pages of adoption files has already made a noticeable difference in agency operations at DFPS.

“We only have one copy of each document. If the building were to burn down, we’d have a problem.”

– Melvin Neely
Texas Department of Criminal Justice

“Workers are able to access information almost instantly,” says T.J. Wasden, the agency’s division director for records management. “They love it.”

Previously, caseworkers’ requests for information took up to two weeks to fulfill. Now, staff members can search online for files previously stored at one of the agency’s five office locations. Neubus expects to complete the project by the end of fiscal 2009.

Just In Case

Hurricane Ike, which hit the Texas coast last September, prompted Department of Criminal Justice officials in Huntsville to investigate electronic document imaging. The agency manages 25 million pages of records for prisoners who have died or been released.

“We only have one copy of each document,” says Melvin Neely, manager of new development for the Department of Criminal Justice information technology division. “If the building were to burn down, we’d have a problem.”

Electronic imaging preserves the document’s integrity and gives the agency several backup versions.

In most cases, converting paper archives to electronic images benefits the agency, but not all document conversions are necessary says Tim Nolan, program planning and research specialist for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, helps agency officials determine if their records management system can benefit from electronic imaging.

“Bringing documents to the desktop is a good thing,” Nolan says. FN

 For more information on CCG’s Electronic Imaging contract, visit ccg.state.tx.us/contracts.html.

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