With a diverse population of over 141,000, the Town of Cary is the seventh largest community in North Carolina. Since coming to Cary 21 years ago, Technology Services (TS) Director Bill Stice has drawn on his 17 years of prior experience in the private sector to develop a proactive approach to the role of TS. “The public sector is really several businesses under a single umbrella,” he observes.
This proactive strategy has evolved in Cary’s TS department, which has begun servicing the town’s business units as a business unit itself. As Stice puts it, “Every year, I don’t submit a technology plan—I submit a business plan.”
Part of how TS drives Cary’s business units is to, whenever possible, follow an internal shared services model. The challenge, Stice says, is accommodating “fairly dissimilar” business processes with the same technology foundation, so answering to these unique needs has made agility an important factor in infrastructure investments. “When we look at purchasing new applications, we want them to be flexible enough to meet departmental needs, but able to be tied together with everything else when we need it to be.”
Stice offers the town’s GIS system as an example. “Everything we do is geo-spatial,” he explains. “Addresses are used and shared by departments. But where the Engineering Department does business by project number, Planning uses case numbers.” The challenge, he says, is finding a way to accommodate the unique ways individual departments work with information, while still providing a common foundation to link that information together across departments.
“We want the business to drive the software, not the software to drive the business,” Stice concludes.
The Need: Uniting Content and Contract Management
This was the mindset in 2003 when Rodney Overton, one of Cary’s three business analysts, first looked at content management to manage the over 300 contract documents received annually by the Town Clerk’s Office. Town staff was accessing contract documents by traveling to the clerk’s office, having the clerk look up reference numbers from an AS/400-based Contract Control System (CCS), then locating the paper contract from a labyrinth of file cabinets and making copies. The search was on for a more efficient way.
Overton was aware that many North Carolina municipalities already were using Laserfiche as their enterprise content management system, so he contacted Kevin Smith of Laserfiche reseller One Source Document Solutions to learn more. Smith demonstrated how, using Laserfiche, staff in the clerk’s office could scan and store contracts while making them available to town staff—even multiple staff simultaneously—right from their desktop computers. Overton recalls easing staff concerns following a prior experience with a cumbersome imaging system. “Laserfiche had an easy-to-use Windows look and feel everyone could see themselves using,” he recalls. For his part, he liked how Laserfiche Web Access could create URL shortcuts to documents. “I saw tremendous potential for integration with a lot of our primary departmental applications as we rolled it out.”
In spring 2003, implementation took place in the Clerk’s Office. The Engineering Department followed a month later, presenting the challenges of larger document volume as well as different types of documents. Laserfiche’s ability to categorize documents according to several template fields proved significantly effective. “We started out with about 15 template fields, which we’ve narrowed down to about seven that we use today,” Overton says. “In 2007, ‘Project Number’ and ‘Document Type’ fields became very useful as we began to find ways to integrate Laserfiche with our GIS software, MapInfo.”
Rounding out this initial deployment, One Source assisted the Cary Police Department with a massive migration of some 190,000 documents from its legacy imaging system to its own volume within the Laserfiche repository. Since then, the Cary Police Department hasn’t looked back, adding more than 10,000 documents a year to its Laserfiche system.
System Integrations “Just a Click Away”
A 2006 upgrade to Laserfiche 7.2 brought with it enhanced opportunities to integrate Laserfiche with line-of-business applications. “Laserfiche 7.2 allowed you to save searches; we felt that if you could save a search in Web Access, then you should be able to execute a search using a URL link,” Overton says. “Through testing, research and help from One Source, we were able to create a URL search where we could pass search information from a simple browser shortcut and have Web Access perform a search and pull up the desired documents.”
Overton soon wrote an AS/400 CL program that uses the Contract Control Number in the Contract Control system to display a contract in Web Access. While the user is viewing contract information on the Contract Control System, all they need to do is press a hotkey to initiate a Web Access search that displays the contract image in detail.
“Now users don’t even have to log into Laserfiche—with the press of button they can see all related documents for a contract,” he says.
A few months later, Overton developed another “hotkey” integration for Cary’s MapInfo GIS software. The ability to search across multiple templates, such as the clerk’s as well as engineering departments’, is helpful to bring up all documents for projects outlined in MapInfo. With this integration, a MapInfo user only needs to click an address, select a project and a search is launched that pulls up a list of all related project documents in Web Access—quickly focusing searches in a town where, “everything is geo-centric,” as TS Director Stice puts it.
To simplify multi-template searches, Overton—along with co-workers Wilson Farrell and Ken Guttman—created a small internal website to perform central searches using Web Access. “So instead of running into character limitations with MapInfo when we have more than one template search, we can pass critical information to an internal website to launch the remaining portion of the script,” says Overton. “This helps tremendously in minimizing the character length of the URL needed for integrating into other applications.”
Creating a Standard for Imaging—and Image-Enablement
This image enablement has proven so useful Overton says he’s now looking at ways to integrate Laserfiche with the Police Department’s RMS software as well as the Accounting Department’s Sungard Public Sector financial software. “Sungard has an imaging interface that was built specifically around a few select products on the market,” he says. “Now, with the ease of use and flexibility of Laserfiche, we hope to utilize this part of the Sungard interface to integrate the two.” Overton says that after taking part in the inaugural Eastern North Carolina State Laserfiche Users Group earlier this year, he’s looking forward to sharing his experience with fellow users.
“From our User Group meetings, I know lots of municipalities here in the Southeast that have both Sungard Public Sector and Laserfiche software,” he says. “So having that network of fellow users is very helpful in terms of sharing experience and ideas.”
And it ends up being more cost-effective, too, he adds. “You’re talking about tremendous cost savings when you don’t have to consult with a third party to write an integration. For our MapInfo integration, if we had to hire a consultant, it would have been at least $10,000, if not more. Multiply that per application and the savings can really add up,” Overton says. “The way we are able to link to documents in Laserfiche from another application really makes a difference in terms of value and functionality.”
As such, Laserfiche has become the integrative middleware used by several departments to access and share content. Besides Engineering, the Town Clerk’s office and the Police Department, the Parks and Recreation and Planning Departments have also implemented Laserfiche, with plans to expand to the Accounting Department as well as Inspections and Permits.
“Laserfiche has become a strategic application,” Stice says. “It’s the standard we use to manage paper and it’s the only one we use to access that information and tie it to other information.”
Tying that information together, Overton notes, has proven its value both in terms of saving IT resources, but also in the value of enhanced functionality to deliver shared services. “Laserfiche’s Web Access has made integration just a click away,” he says.
Learn How Cary, NC, Integrated Laserfiche with Their Line of Business Applications
Rodney Overton used User Education resources available on the Laserfiche Support Site to develop many of Cary’s integrations. Here are some recommended resources if you’re looking to develop your own integrations between Laserfiche and your existing IT applications:
- More information on using Web Access to integrate with line of business applications: http://www.laserfiche.com/support/webhelp/webaccess/8.1/en-US/WA/WebAccess8_CSH.htm#URLs.htm
Scroll down to the Search URLs section
- For WebLink: http://www.laserfiche.com/support/webhelp/weblink/8.0/en-US/WL/WebLink8_CSH.htm#Directly Linking to WebLink.htm
See: To directly open a specific search result