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How a digital transformation process helped curb reliance on paper

By moving on from paper, the North Carolina Court System and the Texas Animal Health Commission were able to accommodate constituent or partner requests much quicker.

SAN ANTONIO -- In the TV show The Office, bumbling regional manager Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company coined the slogan, "Limitless paper in a paperless world."

For many at the AIIM 2018 Conference, that oxymoron coined by Michael Scott more than a decade ago still rings true today, which is why several sessions were devoted to getting departments and organizations that are historically paper-heavy to digitize.

A digital transformation process isn't easy. Between security issues, regulation concerns and potentially decades of papers filed away in a plethora of filing cabinets, moving from paper to digital storage can be daunting.

"We have a culture where paper is king," said Gaynelle Knight, systems analyst for the North Carolina Administrative Offices of the Court. Knight and her colleagues outlined the scope of reliance on paper the North Carolina court system had, with 100-plus court houses serving more than 10 million residents. Knight said that four pieces of paper were added to their collection every second.

Ten thousand monthly documents

The North Carolina courts weren't alone in this struggle against paper. The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) regulates the second largest export of Texas -- cattle -- and also had a paper problem.

We'd get 10,000 documents monthly and we needed a better way to manage that paper.
Erin Burgesprogram supervisor, Texas Animal Health Commission

They had a hybrid digital and paper storage process, which meant that if something came in digitally, they would have to print out three copies to also store it physically.

"We'd get 10,000 documents monthly and we needed a better way to manage that paper," said Erin Burges, program supervisor for the TAHC. "The hardest part was changing the process of what we were used to doing."

The fear of change is common with a digital transformation process. Employees -- especially ones who have been in their position for a significant time -- are adverse to change, and moving storage from physical to digital is a tremendous change.

"We had to pull people together and say that digital is the way to go," said Louise Abbott, director of IT for the Texas Animal Health Commission.

'It's a real win for our constituents'

For the North Carolina courts, the gluttony of paper resulted in a public service problem. With decades of archives and millions of pieces of paper, it was time-consuming to satisfy public access requests.

"We have to make sure all of these records are available at all times," said Morgan Naleimaile, records officer for the office of the courts. "It was a real challenge when you talk about all of these files that exist."

Before the court system established a digital transformation process, they had various offices start "rogue scanning" documents in the hopes of relieving some of the storage, but it proved ineffective and inefficient.

"We had this rogue scanning happening everywhere, but we still couldn't destroy the paper document, as just scanning it didn't make it an official court document," Naleimaile said. "It wasn't solving the problem at all."

The rogue scanning was the impetus that started a true digital transformation process and getting a system in place.

"Two years ago, we got the software and servers in place and started the first phase, which was infrastructure, taxonomy, metadata fields and automated capture," Knight said.

As they went through the process, the court system began to see some efficiencies gained through the digitized documents. Naleimaile used an example of a domestic violence victim and the laborious process that person had to go through to receive a restraining order from the abuser. It involved the victim going to a domestic violence advocate, then to the clerk's office, then to the police, then to the court house -- all involving physical documents that had to be filled out by each party.

After the North Carolina courts began digitizing its process, a domestic violence victim no longer had to shepherd the paper documents from place to place. With the steps being digital, it allowed for a more efficient process for the victim.

"It's a real win for our constituents by providing this service," Naleimaile said.

'It had to be user friendly'

In Texas, the TAHC licensed several products to help with the digital transformation process, including document management vendor Square 9 Softworks Inc.

"We wanted a vendor that would be there after the fact," Abbott said. "It had to be user friendly."

After implementing the new process, the changes were immediate. From receiving roughly 10,000 documents per month, the Texas Animal Health Commission is down to one filing cabinet of documents. It also saw improved response time for delivering reports.

"It's much more efficient. Data used to take a week to get to epidemiologists," Abbott said. "Now, that information is readily available."

In hindsight, the one thing Abbott said she would change about the digital transformation process is more in-house training and less reliance on online training -- it was easy for employees to say they were engaged with online training while potentially putting their focus elsewhere and would need significant training once the process was in place.

Still, the overall efficiency gained was beneficial for both the TAHC and for its partners.

"We were spending too much time manipulating paper," Burges said. "There was so much we could eliminate in the process."

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