Water District Makes Second Run at Electronic Document Retention
October 2, 2007 Victor Wortman
As the 21st Century dawned, management at the Santa Margarita Water District concluded that paper-based record-keeping no longer satisfied either its mandated compliance and freedom of information responsibilities or its own voluminous record-keeping and disaster recovery requirements. The utility struck what appeared to be a great deal for a record-retention solution, but three years of struggles put a damper on the deal. However, in early 2007 a replacement document management system from ACOM Solutions was implemented that is expected to save as much as $250,000 over the next five years.
The 42-year-old Santa Margarita Water District provides water and wastewater treatment services to some 150,000 customers in South Orange County, California. Unlike neighbors at the north end of the county, district residents have no underground aquifers and instead must rely on water obtained from sources outside the region and conservation–hence an extensive wastewater reclamation effort in addition to the usual distribution activities of a public utility.
The district’s IT environment is organized around a two-year-old iSeries Model 9406-720 and a dozen Microsoft Windows-based servers, with about 100 users accessing the SunGard-HTE financial applications suite for accounting, billing, and associated tasks. Administrative and analysis operations utilize Windows applications, integrating data from the iSeries.
The accounting reports consist of statements and confirmations generated automatically on the iSeries as well as documents and statements created to analyze or summarize the district’s financial condition. Previously, these were either printed and filed manually or left on the iSeries and accessed via screenshots. Financial documents such as payroll and accounts payable checks, purchase orders, and adjusting journals with support pages were stored in their original forms as were HR and administration documents such as employment and payroll reports and documents. The district is legally required to indefinitely maintain board minutes, agendas, and resolutions related to any capital improvement or bond project. Absent an effective electronic archive, paper copies and/or database records were the only alternatives available.
Not the Best Solution
Acquisition of the initial document management solution involved no up-front outlay for software, but did entail an annual maintenance fee of $23,500. The solution was intended to establish an electronic record storage and maintenance environment that would contain costs, provide better access to records as they were needed, and support security and disaster recovery.
Three years into its contract, the district had managed to store only about 53,000 records. According to network administrator Gloria Geisert, the overhead of the file transfer and conversion software installed on the iSeries reduced available resources to an unacceptable level, and the import utility serving the document management software required excessive man-hours to index, upload, and verify files.
“The software’s limited indexing capabilities made archiving files painful, locating archived files unbearable, and training virtually unachievable,” Geisert says. “The system held all the documents in TIF format, which made them difficult to locate and retrieve. It was quite rigid. For example, it allowed no deletion or editing of documents outside of the defined legal retention policies.”
Impetus for Revival
According to Geisert, the problems associated with migrating and storing these documents electronically became severe enough that the utility decided to call it quits. The paper records continued to accumulate. But with the implementation of the EZContentManager solution, the electronic archiving and retention initiative is again alive, currently providing record storage, management, and distribution for all four departments of the district: administration, engineering, finance, and operations.
Impetus to revive the electronic document management initiative stemmed from the district’s 2006 acquisition of two ACOM productivity solutions that enabled the district to begin eliminating the paper stage in its document production: EZeDocs/400, an electronic document solution with an associated document design tool, EZDesigner/400, and EZPayManager, which the district acquired for generating MICR laser checks. Previously, the activities encompassed by these solutions had been performed directly from the HTE system.
With these productivity solutions eliminating many of the previously paper form-dependent processes, management began researching how to re-inaugurate electronic document management and retention.
“A review of software costs and uses had revealed that’s the high maintenance expense of the district’s existing, but dormant, document management product did not justify its limited functionality,” says Fsert. “But technology and time had produced better, easier, cost-effective alternatives.”
A primary focus in seeking a new solution was vendor inclusion in the HTE VAR program. The software vendor referred three system providers: ACOM, with EZContentManager; Advanced Processing and Imaging with Optispool; and RealVision, with Echelon 3. RealVision ultimately declined to quote. Geisert says she lobbied hard for EZContentManager from the outset.
“Our fundamental criteria were that our new solution be easy to use, easy to install, easy to learn, easy on our iSeries resources, and easy to automate migration of documents from the iSeries to the content management system,” she says. “Further, we wanted all storage and processing to take place on a dedicated Windows server with high-level security. The implementation and integration of the earlier two ACOM solutions to handle our laser check and forms printing needs were seamless and pleasant, so the addition of another ‘module’ in the ACOM integrated document solutions suite was intriguing.”
EZContentManager is a Web-based content and document management system that allows companies to centralize corporate files in a single, password-secured data repository, with browser-driven, on-board retrieval and distribution engines providing searching and handling. Documents from other ACOM solutions are indexed and archived automatically as they are generated, while externally obtained documents are scanned into EZContentManager and indexed automatically as part of the scanning and archiving process. Documents can be retrieved and viewed on the desktop either via browser or directly through Windows Explorer using either metadata or full-text search. Distribution options include printed copies and the solution’s integrated e-mail and fax interfaces. Content is protected through four-level security.
Functionality and Affordability
“EZContentManager offered everything we needed at an affordable level,” she said. “In our talks with ACOM we learned that they were also implementing a command line that would enable the productivity solutions to automatically generate PDF copies of the documents they produce and relay them directly to EZContentManager, where they would automatically enter the proper folder complete with indexing and metadata. This capability virtually eliminated the manpower problems that were associated with our previous retention system, whether dealing with internally generated or externally sourced documents.”
In making the selection, cost considerations were significant and the comparisons tilted towards the ACOM solution. To continue with the system already in place, FileNexus from Loris Technologies, the district would have had to invest more than $20,000 in software indexing and tracking software modules, with a commensurate increase in annual maintenance charges. The OptiSpool solution was quoted at about $60,000 for software, $12,000 for implementation and $12,500 for a server–a project total of $84,500–plus $12,000 annual maintenance charges. The EZContentManager configuration selected cost $21,750, with implementation costs of $9,495 and $8,750 for a dedicated server to run SQL Server–a project total of $39,815, with annual maintenance costs of $5,290.
Because the district had a dormant document management solution in place, the framework of the file structure and security layers already existed. In order to maximize ACOM on-site time, IT personnel configured the server prior to their arrival. They also conducted a fact-finding program to determine which new documents should be archived and to establish search criteria, index fields and security. Folder structure and security groups and users were created using the easy to understand and administer EZContentManager user interface. ACOM had provided clear and comprehensive written instructions that the staff followed scrupulously, Geisert says, accessing technical support remotely as needed. Post-installation, the ACOM team came on-site to optimize the installation and train users and administrators.
Roll-out took place in three phases. The initial phase consisted of software installation, structure establishment and the migration of files from the retired document management system. Phase two included the on-site visit, training, and strategizing iSeries document migration and auto-archiving. Phase three implemented the command line interface to enable the direct import of EZeDocs and EZPayManager documents into EZContentManager, setting up of the spool file forms and creating auto-archive jobs.
“Because of the large volume of files residing on the earlier document management software, most of the initial migration was achieved with remote assistance from ACOM technical support,” Geisert says. “Due to a similar backlog of spooled files, we set up a test group for their migration when ACOM was on-site, with the remainder indexed and archived over the following two weeks. Now, following their expert instruction, we are able to set up and auto-archive new documents as required. We are only now beginning to realize the power and breadth of the software and we discover new opportunities almost daily.”
As examples, she says, the engineering department is currently examining the feasibility of storing drawings and linking them to contract documents as well as the possibility of creating a web-based retrieval system. The finance department is exploring an end-to-end application that would link purchase orders, invoices, accounts payable checks and back-up documentation to virtually eliminate paper handling. Human resources is working toward the imaging of all employment documents to enhance security and confidentiality.
Altogether, nearly 120,000 documents were archived in only about three weeks–the 53,000 migrated from the FileNexus solution, and the 60,000 that were awaiting storage as spool files on the iSeries.
Security and reliability are primary document storage concerns at the district, and each of the four user departments has documents that are accessible by all employees as well as others that are held confidentially. The solution accommodates a variety of file types, including tiffs, PDFs and Microsoft Office documents. Additionally engineering is now exploring the storage of plans and drawings. Stored in their native formats, the documents are easy to located, meanwhile maintaining security down to the file level.
ACOM configured two custom applications for the district, one focusing on finance and the other on accounting.
The finance application replaced a traditional method for creating and storing journals, which traditionally had been prepared, printed, signature approved and filed in more than a dozen large binders. According to Geisert, the journals were often checked out and subsequently misplaced or misfiled, leading to lost productivity and much frustration. An Excel journal form was created internally that can be indexed and uploaded to EZCM, with associated support documentation scanned and linked. ACOM also modified the EZCM process manager to provide an “auditor-approved” signature approval to facilitate access.
ACOM modified the EZCM command line and used the EZDesigner/400 tool to convert accounting and billing reports to PDFs and to automatically index each file. Each day, the accounting and billing software creates up to 200 of these reports that must be retained for audit purposes. Where previously these were printed on a large format line printer and filed in ledger pin binders, they are now automatically collected by EZeDocs daily, with the system’s EZImport utility then automatically uploading them to EZContentManager. Where previously the reports could be located only by flipping through hundreds of pagers of printouts or paging through screen after screen, they are now located quickly and easily through their automatically applied indexing information.
“We realized an immediate cost savings when we retired our earlier system,” Geisert says. “While we were using it, it was consuming about six weeks of IT manpower per year for document migration and indexing. The contract for FileNexus had expired in 2006 so the implementation of EZCM in early 2007 allowed us to avoid extending the support contract or paying an additional year of support.
The average cost per copy for document printing is 1.7 cents per page, she said. The district produces an average of 200 reports a day of 50 pages each, for a total a print cost of $44,200 per year. Filing supplies added another $2,000 to $3,000 in file folders, labels and boxes and secure document destruction services ran another $500 per year.
“The manual filing processes that preceded and followed the earlier system were performed by the individual departments, and collectively accrued to about four hours per month, which extends to some $4,000 per year. This does not include the time these and other individuals spent searching for documents on file.”
As important as the direct costs, Geisert says, are the indirect benefits of convenience, efficiency and security that can be attained through the use of electronic document management–the real, not always precisely measurable impact on the many interleaved activities that impact the overall corporate mission. Among these are improved customer services, improved workflow, conservation and redeployment of personnel, faster and error-free processes, and removal of productivity and process bottlenecks.
Word to the Wise
Preparation is critical in making a successful transition to an enterprise-level electronic document management solution, she says, citing eight key elements:
With these issues resolved, the implementation can proceed in an orderly fashion, users will embrace the system readily, and IT department responsibilities will be reduced to the administration and maintenance of the system.
Victor Wortman is a Santa Monica-based writer who covers information-processing technology. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.