Newport Beach's documents now go with the flow
- By John Breeden II
- Sep 11, 2013
When citizens give their government an A in customer satisfaction, it's normally a pretty good thing. But it wasn't good enough for Newport Beach, Calif. The city’s citizen satisfaction level in a recent survey stood at a healthy 93 percent, but rather than celebrate the government decided to tackle the remaining 7 percent.
That put the focus on the records repository that handles building plans, zoning changes and other documents that the town's 86,000 residents use most often.
"Our citizens demand a lot of our government," said Mayor Keith Curry. "Over the years we neglected to upgrade our technology, and now was the time to do it."
The upgrade to the records repository is part of a $135 million move into a new civic center that also includes an upgrade to a new Microsoft Exchange email system, mobile apps for citizens, digitalization of police department systems and touch-screen voting machines throughout the city.
Curry explained the scope of city's digital document renovation: "We have 328,000 documents that make up over 3 million pages," he said. "Of those, 163,000 are public-facing. So we required a major technology upgrade."
The town had been using a repository software suite that it bought in 1998 for $645,000 that was little more than a digital filing cabinet. Finding relevant documents among the 3 million records required the assistance of a trained staff member. Even then, documents often had to be printed before anything useful could be done with them.
Newport Beach needed an open architecture solution that could integrate with modern office programs. Officials also wanted smart routing so that documents could be changed and approved by appropriate departments in a timely way. And there had to be robust security so that the public could access the records remotely and at any time, not just during office hours or from within the new town hall.
After doing research, the town decided to implement Laserfiche 8, a software suite it was able to acquire for half as much as the outdated records repository.
Kimberly Samuelson, Laserfiche product strategist, described her company's software as a combination of electronic content management and business process management. "Government is really in the role of information brokering," she said. "And the way it's been done in the past, simply attaching documents to email, is very inefficient."
Instead, Laserfiche 8 allows Newport Beach to build workflows that documents follow. The documents go along as part of the process, and in many cases drive the process forward.
If, for example, someone were to call the town services number to report an older person living alone who may have special needs, the city would open a Laserfiche case file. The creation of that case file would trigger a visit from a social worker who would then submit a form describing what was needed. Depending on the required services, the system would route the record to the appropriate departments. Eventually the town could use the same record to prove that services were rendered and to get reimbursed from county, state or federal programs if appropriate. Finally, the record would be archived or even destroyed after a certain amount of time, in accordance with records keeping laws.
"Laserfiche is all about how you get information out of people's heads, merge it with documents and make it a part of the community," Samuelson said.
Newport Beach is fortunate in more ways than just financially. It also has a dedicated IT manager, Rob Houston, who not only helped create most of the Laserfiche 8 workflow processes the city follows but also hired AMI The Paperless Company to help train others to build workflows.
AMI gave employees “the knowledge they needed to deploy the different parts of the system and get started out on their own," said AMI senior consultant Tom Denton. The city managers “wanted it that way. They wanted to be able to build and maintain the system on their own. Some organizations can't accomplish what Newport Beach did for lack of IT resources. They had IT resources, and they had IT management that made it possible."
"It's hard to estimate so early on, but we should save about $500,000 a year and that's being conservative," Houston said. "Dramatic savings have already arrived as we pursue our paperless document process. We have leveraged the Laserfiche document system to help us reduce our City Hall printer count from over 150 down to 20."
With all of the 3 million public records now scanned into the new system, including some that dated back to the town's founding in 1906, town citizens can research most records and apply to get things done quickly in the new town hall or from the comfort of their own homes.
"Now that we've got this brand new modern facility we certainly want residents to come in and enjoy it," Curry said. "We just wanted to give them the option not to. The new Newport Beach City Hall is still only going to be open from eight to five Monday through Friday. The virtual Newport Beach City Hall will never close."