County goes from ECM to ETM, and one letter makes a huge difference
- By John Breeden II
- May 17, 2013
Before enterprise content management (ECM) tamed the beast, most large government organizations had electronic documents in a variety of formats stored in many different places, which made finding a form a time-consuming process at best. Today with ECM, all content throughout an enterprise is stored according to a highly detailed system so that people can find documents at any point in a process.
But what if agencies could be even more organized than that, or if the forms themselves could become the process? That’s what Eaton County, Mich., is starting to do, with a process that transforms ECM into enterprise transactional management (ETM).
Robert J. Sobie, director of Eaton’s Information Systems department, says the county was one of the first to use ECM, implementing Laserfiche software countywide back in 1995. And although that made his county one of the most organized in the state, continued growth and increased usage created the need for something else.
"Anyone can fill out a form, attach it to an e-mail and send it out to 50 people," he said. "But that's not workflow. We needed more."
The difference between ECM and ETM may seem subtle. But for anyone struggling to keep a large agency's files and forms in check, it can be like night and day. Laserfiche marketing director and ECM strategist Kimberly Samuelson said that filing and finding a form, such as when a new employee is hired, within a system is pretty standard in ECM. But having a form filled out by a job applicant move automatically toward approvals and evaluations as part of the hiring process is more like ETM. The forms themselves are actually part of the process, not an element to be found when needed.
Laserfiche recently released Version 9 of its product, and the biggest draw, according to Samuelson, is that very ability, which is called Laserfiche forms.
Users create a form using the software and then use a flowchart-like interface to integrate it into a process. In the HR example, Samuelson said a person seeking a county job could fill out a form which would then go to human resources for evaluation. If HR approves an interview, the process continues. If the applicant is eventually hired, those documents continue to be part of the process. Other departments may be notified that the new employee needs to enroll in the benefits program, and the required forms are automatically provided, every step of the way as employees work their job through to retirement.
As a bonus, having all the forms as a part of the workflow means each person who uses a form knows where they are in the workflow. "They can see a note that clearly states 'this is where you are in the process and this is where the form will go next' so there is no confusion," Samuelson said.
Of course, this can create an incredibly detailed account of the process management system, and not every user needs to know everything about the workflow. Often, Samuelson said, less is better, but the system can be as detailed as needed.
In Eaton County, located in south central Michigan with a population of about 108,000, most agencies were already using Laserfiche for standard ECM, so improving to ETM was a natural fit. Eaton paid $78,000 to purchase 222 Lasaerfiche 9 licenses. Currently there are 150 active users, so the county has some room to grow.
Sobie said Eaton implemented the new system first in human resources, because that department requires the most organization and has the most changes made over time. There are many processes that revolve around hiring new employees and cleaning up if someone leaves the organization. A new hire might require a special certification, and a notification of that can be built into the hiring process. If the new hire doesn’t have it, a training session can be automatically created so he can get certified. When someone leaves government service or even transfers to a new department, another workflow is triggered so that tasks such as resetting passwords and collecting keys takes place as part of that process.
"Before, it would sometimes take a year to spin up new services for employees," Sobie said. "And also to deactivate them when people left."
Before implementing Laserfiche 9, Sobie said that the county HR functions were outsourced, which was an ongoing cost, and not nearly as efficient as a dedicated ETM system.
Besides efficient in-house workflow, another benefit to Laserfiche 9 is that all forms, work processes and data can be backed up to an offsite area. A weather emergency was a wake-up call for the need for a dedicated backup system. "We found that we were having trouble backing up data," Sobie said. "We were not at all prepared for a disaster."
As part of the Laserfiche 9 licensing model, Eaton can have an unlimited number of servers. All documents can be automatically copied to a second server as they are filled out, or as part of the workflow process. Even the workflow process itself is backed-up, so nothing is lost in a disaster. Currently, the backup server is in a separate building inside the government compound, Sobie said, but plans are in the works to move it to a separate government area 20 miles away.
Another server currently is being used as a test bed so that workflow processes can be built behind the scenes, examined by everyone who will be using them and implemented only once all the bugs and bottlenecks have been eliminated.
The next unit to get ETM implementation will be the police department. "Say a member of the public fills out a complaint form," Sobie said. "We don't just want to say, 'Thanks and we'll get back to you' to them. We want that form to start a workflow, to know where it goes next and what needs to be done and when to re-contact the person with the complaint."
Laserfiche 9 is also packed with document security features so that records remain safe even as they move through the workflow process. "We have security down to the word," Samuelson said. "Users can only see what they are authorized to view. So if a form contains a Social Security number, that may not be displayed when just anyone looks at the document -- and certainly not when displayed to the public. Laserfiche 9 conforms to the DOD Directive 5015.2."
Eventually Sobie would like to have Laserfiche 9 rolled out countywide, though it's up to individual department heads to make that decision. Upgrading to the newest version of the product is part of Eaton County's sustainability directive created by the county commissioners last October. Sobie said that directive means the county can't standardize on any technology that will eventually become obsolete and cause data to be lost.
"We're saving money and making all our county processes more efficient," Sobie said. "I'm proud of how much my commissioners invest in technology. It really makes Eaton more technologically advanced and ready for the future compared to other small counties."
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.