The Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ), led by the state’s Attorney General, is responsible for general counsel and supervision of all civil actions and legal proceedings in which the state is a part or has an interest. Headquartered in Salem, the Department is further responsible for the operation of a number of program areas designated by the legislature, such as child support, district attorney assistance, crime victim compensation, charitable activity enforcement and consumer protection services. Its 1,300 employees are located mainly in Salem but also are manning regional and local offices throughout the state.
With legal oversight for a variety of diverse activities, DOJ was a paper-rich environment, logging hundreds of documents a day resulting in thousands of pages that had to be reviewed, acted upon by numerous people in different sections, and finally stored in a secure repository for collaboration or future access.
Looking to better manage its paper processes, inter-agency collaboration, ease of document retrieval, and to meet electronic filing compliance for the court system, DOJ looked to Dan Ramos, Enterprise Technology Services Manager and Karen Yakis, Customer Support Analyst to identify challenges and create a best practices environment that would bring greater efficiencies, save tax payer dollars, and enhance services to the citizens of Oregon.
Enterprise Scanning Initiative and New PDF Software
According to Ramos, the initial focus was a two-pronged approach. First was the need to create a consistent, cost efficient and secure way to create PDFs. And the second was an enterprise scanning initiative leveraging a mixed fleet of high speed scanners and multi-function devices (MFDs) with a software solution that could easily be utilized on all hardware devices and that would create searchable PDFs that could then be securely delivered to the court system or the Agency’s document repository.
The search for a solution would take DOJ about six months. “We started by interviewing the businesses within DOJ to determine some of the critical problems they were facing and to determine their requirements. These requirements were put into a matrix, with specific criteria for the software/hardware solution,” said Yakis. Following a Request for Information, certain vendors were asked to provide demonstrations to the business team that was comprised of members representing divisions throughout DOJ. “We had forms that each team member filled out based on the ability of the solution presented to meet the criteria. Then we looked at the overall pricing structure before making the final decision,” she added.
DOJ Required Advanced Document Workflows
Ultimately DOJ needed robust software that integrates easily with a multitude of multifunction peripherals to fill the need for managing its workflows. “We especially liked the flexibility NSi AutoStore offered with our mixed fleet,” said Ramos. “Because of its flexibility we were able to easily integrate the software into all our hardware devices – even the older models – and we weren’t forced to immediately upgrade equipment that still had life.”
Another important aspect of the solution was robust optical character recognition (OCR) ability. “Because we are dealing with so much paper that needs to be searchable, especially the PDFs that are sent to the court system, we are now able to have multiple OCR engines on one server,” he added. Other aspects that led to the selection included the s fee and licensing structure, its ability to plug in to the back end document management repository and the fact that it needed little or no customization. “It was basically an out of the box solution so we were able to fire up a workflow and get up and running without excessive customization,” Yakis added.
Working to Support Charitable Activities and Consumer Protection
Two of the important areas that the solution serves are the Charitable Activities and Consumer Protection Sections.
The Charitable Activities area monitors charitable organizations throughout the state. There are certain documents that each organization files annually in order to maintain their tax exempt status. There are thousands of charities in Oregon generating many thousands of pages of compliance documents.
As part of the implementation, Yakis and Ricoh, which provides much of the DOJ’s scanners and MFDs, visited directly with the Section.
“They showed us what their processes were, how they got paper in, where they stored it, how they opened files, how they worked those files and what they did when the files were ready to be put to rest in the archive. We then created an electronic workflow that closely mimics the manual process. Paper is scanned and a form pops up on the user’s computer. The fields that are required can be quickly filled out – and those fields are the same as in the document management system. This creates a naming consistency. The scanning and OCR occurs to create a case file. When additional documents come in for that case, users simply scan and add them to the existing case file in the document management repository,” said Yakis.
The agency had no electronic means for tracking files, the files were difficult to share particularly when they needed to move from office to office which required physical shipment, and the section was literally running out of storage space in their file room. “Today those same files can be shared electronically and be quickly retrieved from the repository without the physical labor required to go fishing through file cabinets, shelves, or boxes of hard copy documents,” Ramos noted. “And when the public requires information, we can respond faster via email with an electronic file attachment.”
The Consumer Protection section handles financial fraud. There can be up to 100 complaints received a day and each of those complaints is required to have an initial response within a set timeframe. “This was also a manual process,” said Yakis. “We put in a workflow similar to the one created for the charitable group. Now when files come in, they are digitized and available immediately to the enforcement officer or to the public and eventually transferred to the document management repository where they are held for a minimum period of five years or longer as required by the State Archivist. In most cases, with files available to enforcement officers, investigators, attorneys and staff within 24 hours of receipt, Oregon consumers receive more timely responses and thus faster resolutions to complaints.”
Benefits Gained Immediately and Plans are for Future Expansion
Currently six of the DOJ’s nine divisions are currently using AutoStore and others are in line for developing workflows and additional OCR capabilities that will meet their individual specifications. As the project progresses, it’s likely that each division will have at least 2 different workflows feeding into the document management repository and it will be easy to create additional workflows, if necessary. “The real consistency of the system comes into play when users fill out the initial AutoStore form. When users have a document on the scanner, the scanner brings up NSi’s QuickCapture Pro which directs the AutoStore server to bring up an electronic form on the computer that’s part of the electronic workflow. The user fills out the required fields on the form, submits the form and scanned document to the server where it’s OCR’ed and sent to the document management repository,” said Yakis.
Along with the DOJ’s new conformity with their PDF files, it has also gained consistency using electronic workflows with routing and standard file naming conventions making it very easy to collaborate, view and retrieve documents. “Previously there was inconsistency in file names which made it extremely difficult to access files from the share drive. With this solution, we gained a consistent naming convention upfront that was created by the users. Today, there’s a number of ways you can find a document,” Yakis added.
“Not only are our response times much better, we are anticipating a significant savings in storage space by eliminating boxes of paper files,” said Ramos. “We’ve also been able to re-engage some of our staff and allow them to work smarter by reducing the more mundane tasks of searching through file cabinets and boxes for random documents.”
DOJ is planning to expand the capabilities of the system by adding other divisions and additional workflows as needed. They also plan to expand their development environment to test new workflows and become more efficient in deployment. “The development environment is extremely important in order to get the workflows running and tested without having to stop production in any area. The ability to add more OCR engines to the AutoStore server is a critical part of this expansion,” Ramos added.
In terms of specific dollar returns, DOJ indicates that they are currently spending about $135,000 a year to maintain storage facilities. While these costs will not likely be reduced, they won’t be increased due to the savings gained from electronic file storage. “We’re practicing cost avoidance with this system,” Ramos said. “And that’s a very good thing in an environment that is focused on creating best practices to reduce spending and better serve our state’s taxpayers.”