Several school districts on the eastern side of the Twin Cities agreed they all needed a document management system to handle a massive backlog of student files. “All of us wanted Laserfiche, but none of us had the budget for it—so we figured out a way we could all buy it and use it,” says Kristine Carr, Administrative Services Director at NE Metro 916 Intermediate School District. After a year’s worth of meetings between business managers, four public school districts (NE Metro 916, North Branch Area, Roseville Area and Stillwater Area) had hammered out a plan to share in the cost of a single system that would serve as an enterprise standard.
With the help of a consultant, the combined districts chose Laserfiche because it satisfied a varied list of requirements and challenges: Besides being Web-based, easy to deploy and intuitive to use, the new system could share technology and staff without having to be duplicated in all four districts. Plus, Laserfiche offered DoD 5015.2-certified records management functionality. The whole investment – hardware and scanners included– would be just $30,000 each.
Technical innovation just sometimes needs to be preceded by a little budgetary innovation, and this kind of group effort to pool resources to share the cost of investment is not uncommon, according to Laserfiche reseller Clay Behr of Crabtree Companies. The Marshall, MN, school district and city hall, for instance, joined with Lyon County to share services in an ambitious project dubbed “Prairie Net.” In Anoka County, 11 police departments joined forces to purchase a county-wide Laserfiche system.
This kind of collaboration between bureaucracy-encumbered government agencies can often make for slow progress. But bonded by a common need, they did indeed make progress. Behr notes that, besides the year of business manager meetings Carr mentioned, “Really, what took the longest was getting everyone to agree how to set up the template and folder structure and how the volume security would work.”
School districts present particular document and records management issues owing to both state-mandated retention and privacy policies, as well as to the constantly growing documentation amassed over the course of a student’s K-12 career. But as NE Metro 916 shows, a school district can also present a unique staffing opportunity.
At around the same time Laserfiche was being deployed, Cindy Sapinski, work coordinator with Work Experience Life Skills-North (WELS-N), a program of NE Metro 916 providing work and transition services to students, read an article in Autism Advocate magazine about young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) finding employment digitizing paper files. Coincidentally, Behr just happened to serve as a Technical Advisor to the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, a council dedicated to finding employment opportunities for people with ASD. Behr pointed Sapinski to examples of how document management processing and capture was being handled by people with disabilities by two of his existing clients.
Inspired, Sapinski approached Carr with the idea of an in-house digital imaging project staffed by her students. “We’ve had students prep documents before we used to outsource scanning, but when I saw what other people were doing, I asked if we could take the whole project over.”
Sapinski did just that, and before long, instead of outsourcing scanning to a vendor, a dozen or so students were handling the work spread out over four two-hour shifts a week. Right away, she saw Laserfiche was a perfect fit for its new staff. “It was so easy to learn that the transitional students were very accepting,” she says. “They were working on it within several days.” She found an internal Laserfiche champion in Aaron Erdman, a student with Asperger’s Syndrome, who became something of the ad-hoc Laserfiche administrator, overseeing QA and troubleshooting operational snags. “I was a little wary of handing over the manuals to him because I knew it wouldn’t take long for him to know the software better than me,” Behr laughs.
Erdman has since transitioned out of the program, as have another 15 or so students. They’ve made their way into the working world with their experience with Laserfiche technology on their resumes. As the program enters its third year, it has been an across-the-board success, helping graduates find jobs while the school districts have some 120,000 documents scanned a year—roughly 1,500 pages a shift.
The cost, Sapinski says, of using transitional students to staff the scanning service is roughly a third of what it would cost to outsource the work, owing in no small part to tax incentives for hiring the disabled. Behr and other Laserfiche resellers have helped organizations utilize the skills of people with unique abilities for scanning while creating opportunities for people where none existed.
But the benefits extend far beyond tax incentives. “This kind of work is perfect for people who like repetitive tasks and enjoy being meticulous in what they do,” adds Sapinski. “I think it really shows the potential for people to do more than sweep floors.” She notes that other schools have either contacted her directly or are interested in starting their own in-house imaging services, while area Day Training and Habilitation (DTH) Centers have also started offering imaging training. “I’ve even made phone calls about our program—I called a lady in Milwaukee who was having trouble placing students, and they had never even thought about imaging.”
Carr sees the success of the program as part of the larger success of Laserfiche for document and records management. “Reinvesting in our own students makes sense in a lot of ways because I know we’re not spending more to outsource it and we’re not having to lease space to store our HR files anymore,” says Carr. “That’s what’s unique about being a special school district—we offer programs and approaches to programs that really show an efficiency of scale.”
As for NE Metro 916’s own use of Laserfiche, conversion efforts have expanded into permanent contracts and expanded use by HR and the finance departments. “Every year we’ve gotten more people in more departments using the system because everybody’s realizing what great access they have to what they need.”
It may have taken a year’s worth of meetings to get Laserfiche, but now, Carr says, “It runs so smoothly we don’t have to have meetings to talk about it—that’s the beauty of the system.”
- 2007: Four public school districts including North Branch Area, Roseville Area, Stillwater Area and NE Metro 916 Intermediate partner to purchase a shared enterprise Laserfiche system, hardware and scanners.
- 2008: Reseller Crabtree implements system with “Crawl, walk, run” strategy, starting with search and retrieval. NE Metro 916 founds digital imaging program as part of its transitional training curriculum.
- 2009: Quick Fields added for barcoding applications from vendors for Accounts Payable; NE Metro 916’s Digital Imaging Program enters its third year.
- 2010: Planned upgrade to Laserfiche 8, Workflow and Records Management Edition (RME).