Magazine Article | March 24, 2008

Digitize Records To Improve Client Service

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

This county domestic relations office accelerated customer response times by imaging its child support case files.


Integrated Solutions, April 2008

Bucks County Domestic Relations 

Not all technology solutions are implemented in hopes of achieving a short-term, hard-cost ROI. In fact, in the government sector, a primary driver for technology initiatives is to provide the government entity with the means to better serve its constituents. This was the case for the domestic relations office of Bucks County, PA. This county office recently deployed a document imaging solution that is providing employees with timely access to electronic records, allowing them to quickly respond to constituent inquiries.

Bucks County Domestic Relations is a court-related department that assists the public in filing court-ordered child or spousal support obligations. This office also administers, collects, and enforces these support orders once established. Bucks County currently manages and maintains more than 16,000 active child support cases. Each case file can contain hundreds of pages of information including copies of health insurance cards, proof of day care expenses, and other financial documentation.

The physical storage space required to house these files was substantial, and the domestic relations department was unable to store them all on-site at its primary facility in Doylestown, PA. Therefore, approximately 25% of these files needed to be stored at Bucks County Domestic Relations' satellite office located 45 miles away in Bristol, PA.

Furthermore, accessing these documents was a painful process for Bucks County employees. Each time an employee needed to access a case file, they had to get up from their desk, pull the file, and sift through the file to locate the document in question. This process took several minutes and prevented Bucks County employees from immediately addressing client inquiries related to child support cases. Furthermore, if a record was misfiled, misplaced, or currently in the possession of another employee, the document retrieval process could be delayed for hours or even days. Document access delays were amplified further in instances when the Doylestown office needed to access records stored in the Bristol satellite facility.

"Interoffice mail runs were made between the Doylestown office and the Bristol office twice a week," says Laura Lobianco, director of Bucks County Domestic Relations. "When necessary, our Doylestown employees would submit a request for a file located at the Bristol location, and these files would be shipped in the next scheduled mail run. The manual transfer of documents often created a three- to five-day delay in getting the information needed to fulfill a client request."

In addition to hindering customer service, paper file management was also demanding of Bucks County Domestic Relations' human resources. Not only were employees responsible for the day-to-day filing tasks that each record required, but they were also charged with preparing case files for court as many as four times a week. This process required a domestic relations employee to print out a list of the day's pending court cases. The average case list contains between 50 and 60 cases. For each case, domestic relations employees had to retrieve the corresponding files and place them in a box that would be lugged upstairs to the courtroom so the judge could reference the files in court. In addition to the case files themselves, judges would also often need to reference information contained in the state's child support database known as PACSES (The Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System). Since no computers were housed in the courtroom, domestic relations employees also had to print out screen shots of commonly accessed PACSES screens (e.g. the address screen, the notes screen, the payment history screen) from their office and include these paper printouts with each file they provided the judge.

"We have only 96 employees on staff to perform all activities related to managing and maintaining our 16,000 child support cases, and we knew the labor allotted to our county wasn't going to change any time soon," says Lobianco. "With our manual document processes, we realized that our employees were spending the bulk of their time preparing paperwork for court and looking around for misplaced files. We decided to turn to document imaging technology as a means of increasing our productivity and efficiency without throwing people at the problem."

Bucks County Domestic Relations began its search for a document imaging vendor by contacting neighboring counties to determine what vendors were already being used by its peers. This process provided Bucks County with four solid vendors and systems integrators to engage in conversations regarding potential solutions options. Of primary importance to Bucks County was to find a vendor that was familiar with PACSES and could integrate this line-of-business application with the imaging system that was deployed. This is precisely why Bucks County selected Quality Associates, Inc. (QAI) for the project. This systems integrator, based in Fulton, MD, has two individuals on its staff with past experience and working knowledge of PACSES.

While the primary requirement of the imaging system was that it integrate with PACSES, a close second was that the system be easy to use for all employees and fully accepted by the staff. The domestic relations office has four primary business units (i.e. docketing, officers, clerical, and intake), and each one of these business units had different case file responsibilities that may have demanded different features in an imaging system. To ensure the solution implemented fulfilled the needs of all employees, Bucks County executives requested that QAI spend the majority of its preimplementation time with the knowledge workers who would be most responsible for working on the system. The county actually solicited and appointed volunteers from each business unit who would serve as internal champions for the imaging solution and actually help QAI customize a system to meet the county's exact requirements.

"As any manager knows, change is a hard concept for people to handle, particularly when you're implementing a document imaging system that will completely rearrange the day-to-day processes they're used to," says Lobianco. "By establishing internal champions for the imaging project, our key users had the opportunity to review and provide input to the solution before it was installed and became part of their everyday work environment. This approach not only ensured the solution met our needs, but helped make employees comfortable with the technology."

The practice of involving knowledge workers in the solution design process not only helped generate technology acceptance, it also helped the county identify problems in the initial system design that was proposed. For example, at first, the county thought that the needs of each county business unit would be so different that each unit would require its own distinct interface to use the imaging system. However, after speaking with knowledge workers, it was discovered that enough similarities existed across all business units to allow all employees to use the same imaging interface and document metadata.

The solution Bucks County Domestic Relations implemented began by installing networked PCs in the courtroom so judges could access PACSES information and imaged case files on demand. The document imaging component consists of Captaris Alchemy document imaging software, Kofax Ascent Capture data extraction software, and nine Fujitsu document scanners including fi-5900C, fi-4340C, fi-4860C, and fi-5750C models.

Implementation of the imaging system began in July 2007, and the solution went live on Jan. 1, 2008. On that date, Bucks County employees began scanning all new case file documents that come into the domestic relations office. While the imaging system is centrally located in Bucks County's Doylestown headquarters, the county's satellite office in Bristol, PA also has the ability to scan to and access the system remotely via the Web using a Kofax Ascent Capture Internet Server (ACIS). Furthermore, while primary emphasis is being placed on scanning new incoming case documents into the system, county employees are also scanning existing case files into the system as time allows. The files are being scanned in reverse chronological order beginning with cases opened in the most recent year (i.e. 2007) and moving backward to older files.

"The reason we're scanning the most recent documents into the system first and working our way back is that children typically emancipate at the age of 18," says Lobianco. "Because of this, many of our older cases will likely close soon, and there would be no need to scan them into the system."

As files are scanned into the system, each document image must be indexed based on 15 distinct metadata fields (e.g. plaintiff name, defendant name, document type, case number, PACSES number, etc.). However, Bucks County employees don't have to worry about manually populating all 15 fields to index a document. Because of the integration between the imaging system and PACSES, the employee only needs to key in either the case number or the PACSES number and select the document type via a list of options on a drop-down menu. The corresponding 13 pieces of metadata are automatically located in PACSES, extracted, and populated into the index fields screen on the imaging system.

While Bucks County Domestic Relations has only been using its imaging system for approximately three months, the benefits are already evident. First, the domestic relations office has already substantially reduced its physical storage requirements, making room for two new employee offices.

Second, all Bucks County Domestic Relations employees now have immediate and simultaneous access to electronic case documents via their PCs. These employees no longer have to leave their desks to search for files or wait for biweekly mail runs to access the documents they need to address customer requests. This capability has reduced the time it takes to address a customer inquiry from hours or days to a matter of seconds. This capability has had a positive effect on customer service.

Finally, with access to PACSES and the document imaging system now available in the courtroom, Bucks County employees no longer have to prepare 50 to 60 case files and print out hundreds of PACSES screen shots for court four times a week. "Our document imaging system has given Bucks County employees the time to focus on addressing client service matters rather than spending the majority of their time preparing documents for court," says Lobianco.

Bucks County Domestic Relations has been so pleased with the results of its document imaging deployment that it soon anticipates extending the solution through the organization to streamline the handling of management and personnel records. Furthermore, in its current form, Bucks County's imaging system is only equipped to manage document image files. Given the increased prevalence of electronic communication, Bucks County realizes that it will need to upgrade its system in the near future to be able to manage Microsoft Office, e-mail, and other electronic files.