The City of Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest historic communities, which you can see using one of its newest technologies, its Laserfiche WebLink 8 public portal. In only a few clicks, you’ll find minutes from City Council meetings dating back to 1888, as well as other public documents. In fact, providing a Web content portal is only one of the ways the city saves staff time and costs with its Laserfiche enterprise content management (ECM) system—proving Stillwater to be not just one of the state’s oldest cities, but one of its wisest, as well.
Replacing Legacy Systems, Replacing Legacy Attitudes
When Diane Ward became City Clerk in 2000, she found the city’s Administration office had a legacy ECM system in place that wasn’t being used to manage much. “I found the application cumbersome and not user-friendly,” she says. From an IT perspective, the legacy system was even less friendly. “The company was purchased by other document imaging companies twice. The second time would have required us to migrate to a different system and the maintenance agreement was already pretty high,” remembers Rose Holman, MIS Director. “Since we needed to convert existing data anyway, we were able to make the case to our city council that we needed to find something that fit our needs better.”
Ward and Holman contacted Laserfiche reseller Cities Digital. “The Laserfiche system seemed easier for the end user, which is really important, and the administration of the system seemed easier to understand,” Ward says. Implementation began in Stillwater’s Administration Department in 2005. “That allowed me to familiarize myself with the program and set up the folder structures, templates, and administration console, so we had that foundation in place for future deployment,” Ward says.
Ward began by making agenda packets, minutes from council meeting and various city boards and commissions, as well as resolutions and ordinances, available to staff through the Laserfiche repository, and the impact was immediate. “I knew the system was successful because it was easy to use and manage. Requests that would have taken me days to complete, sometimes weeks, were able to be completed almost immediately,” Ward says.
Leveraging the Value of ECM Agility through Standardization and Integration
A year later, backlog conversion began in the Finance Department – at times duplicating scanning done into the department’s Springbrook financial management software. Staff soon discovered that finding content using Laserfiche was easier, so Holman contacted Cities Digital to integrate the two applications. “It’s a daily timesaver that enables staff to put information into Laserfiche more quickly and locate it more easily.”
In 2009, Laserfiche deployment extended to the Planning and Building Inspection Department, turning into another chance to explore the value of Laserfiche as integrative middleware, which makes existing data easier to find and use. “As we started putting planning documents into Laserfiche, we realized we could create better searches of, say, address files if we integrated some of the information with the PermitWorks applications we used to do building permits,” so Holman again contacted Cities Digital to integrate Laserfiche with PermitWorks. Key to the integration’s success was standardizing the metadata of the property file folders when it was migrated from the city’s legacy ECM system. These folders constituted the bulk of the city’s information requests, so adding the parcel identification numbers (PINs) used by other departments and applications to the Laserfiche folders made information even easier to find.
“The benefit is again the ease and scope of research now that the Planning and Building Departments are also using Laserfiche,” Ward explains. “We can see what planning cases involved a specific property, which building permits were issued and the actions of any board or commission or the City Council on that property.”
It’s this ability to align Stillwater’s information assets with ways it can be more useful and therefore more valuable to the community that are at the core of Ward’s ECM strategy. In 2008, for instance, Ward lobbied for and received funding for Laserfiche Records Management Edition (RME) to mitigate compliance risks. “If I could do it all over again, I would have purchased Records Management Edition when we initially purchased Laserfiche,” she sighs. “Because I didn’t, there was some extra work involved in setting up RME.” But once set up, she says, RME’s automated retention schedules by document type give Ward the ability to easily comply with State policies that the city had been manually following for over 20 years.
Implementing a Popular Public Portal Strategy
This potent combination of automation and transparency has also guided the city’s Web portal strategy. When the city implemented Laserfiche, Ward made resolutions, ordinances, agenda packets, and minutes from council meeting and various city boards and commissions (some dating back as far as 1888) available to the public using Laserfiche WebLink. The public portal proved so popular that Stillwater recently upgraded to WebLink 8 to take advantage of new features including customized searches, new customization and layout tools, and support for the iPhone and Android mobile devices.
“Our Planning Department developed an On-Line Property Information Lookup Application through our Website which links any planning cases related to a particular address and can be viewed through that application and opened through WebLink,” says Ward. “We hope to make easements and building permits available as well.”
The next step, Ward says, is making WebLink a one-stop shop for Stillwater’s public information. “Presently we post PDF minutes of our City Council and Boards and Commissions meetings on our site,” she says. “We hope to eliminate some staff time by placing them only in Laserfiche. Right now we get 250 hits a month, but that will increase immensely once we direct people to WebLink.”
Holman, for her part, has been impressed by the utility and versatility of Laserfiche. “As we move into other departments such as the police and fire departments, we’ll find ways to make life easier there, too,” she says. “Laserfiche is becoming the backbone for many of our departmental programs, which makes it even more valuable as the central repository for all our content.”
Ward, understandably, sees the value of Laserfiche agile ECM a little differently. “Our City Administrator, who is not real computer savvy, is just amazed at how fast we can find information,” she says. “I have been in municipal government since 1981 and, next to replacing a typewriter with a word processor, Laserfiche makes my job responsibilities easier to complete and manage.”
“Essentially, Laserfiche has become integral to our way of managing information,” she concludes.