Samish Indian Nation’s Digital Innovation Supports Tribal Members and Staff

6 min read


• Legacy manual processes driven by paper forms were no longer keeping pace with Samish Indian Nation’s diverse services
• To ensure the health, wealth, education and security of tribal citizens, Samish need to create more sustainable, scalable ways to achieve its vision


• Grant approvals are 80% more efficient
• Digitally transforming processes and assigning substitute approvers eliminated delays caused when staff members are out of office

Samish Indian Nation is headquartered in Anacortes, Washington, but its members are spread throughout the world, from the U.S. to New Zealand. Diverse as its membership are its programs and services, which range from education assistance and cultural enrichment to natural resource management and infrastructure maintenance.

Samish Indian Nation

Historically, Samish heavily relied on legacy manual processes to deliver these services. In recent years, however, Samish’s leadership and IT department began seeking ways to modernize and create more sustainable, scalable ways to achieve its vision: to ensure the health, wealth, education and security of tribal citizens.

Laserfiche has become the go-to tool for automated solutions, enabling the Tribal Council to optimize long-standing processes — such as resolution approvals and grant applications — to streamline the experience for employees and council members, resulting in time and cost savings. Meanwhile, Laserfiche has strengthened organizational resilience, enabling Samish to quickly respond to changing member and council needs.

From Records Management Solution to Content Services

When JR Walters started as the IT director for Samish Indian Nation 10 years ago, the team immediately identified the need for a digital document management solution. Laserfiche provided this and more. Laserfiche’s records management capabilities and security tools supported the organization’s requirements. E-forms, workflow automation and integration capabilities opened up new possibilities for optimization.

The organization worked with Laserfiche solution provider CDI to implement a solution that would meet Samish’s needs — the first of which was a  repository for resolutions. The formal channel for expressing tribal consensus on legislation or policy, resolutions are governing documents for Samish. Prior to Laserfiche, people could look up resolutions in a printed index, which didn’t give visibility into the resolution’s full content, resolutions that had been superseded by another one, or related or supporting documents.

80% more efficiency in grant approvals processFrom there, the team quickly saw new opportunities for automation. They created a Laserfiche workflow that streamlined the process for Samish’s chairman and secretary to sign off on resolutions. But things really took off after the launch of the automated grant application process — a complex yet critical operation that involves the distribution of materials between five sites for review and approval. The legacy process was entirely manual and time intensive. Today, it’s managed through a Laserfiche form and automated workflow which were created with the help of the Laserfiche Solution Marketplace.

“Before starting to design a process from scratch, I look to see if it has already been done in the Laserfiche Solution Marketplace,” Walters said. “It’s easy to duplicate. The Solution Marketplace is a great resource.”   

While the legacy manual process took a week or longer, the new solution made it possible for Samish to process grant applications in a single day. Managers can review content from mobile devices, further accelerating approvals. Most importantly, the accelerated application process opens up more opportunity for grants to go toward maintaining the economic welfare of Samish as well as the protection of the environment, and preservation of natural and cultural resources.

The success of the solution created buzz around the organization for Laserfiche, leading to more optimization initiatives. Today, Laserfiche is synonymous with automated solutions.

“Laserfiche is our go-to system for solving problems,” said Walters.

Building Resilience and Agility While Strengthening Cultural Ties

Samish’s digital efforts have also strengthened organizational resilience and agility, which were put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. Laserfiche proved critical when Samish needed a way to distribute financial assistance to members affected by the pandemic.

“Finance had a terrible time keeping track of the first relief payments that they sent out when COVID-19 started,” Walters said. “It was just night and day comparing it to how it went using Laserfiche.”

The team built a Laserfiche form that enabled members to register for assistance online. A Javascript integration with Smarty, an address validation tool, automatically completes address information for members. On the backend, an integration with MicroBilt validates ACH routing payment information.

“The whole user experience was quick and easy, and members are kept up to date with emails through the whole thing. There are a lot of automatic verifications happening, and there were hundreds of applications. There were still some manual validations, but staff were not overwhelmed by them as they would have been had we not created this solution.”

Sam Shinn, Systems Specialist, Samish Indian Nation

Similarly, a vaccine registration program was rolled out quickly using Laserfiche, which allowed Samish to partner with a nearby tribe so that the organizations could share resources.

“We don’t have the necessary support staff to administer all of those vaccinations,” Walters said. “That process would have been a nightmare to handle on paper; Samish health didn’t even try it. They came right to us, which was great.”

Walters estimates that each person’s registration would have taken about a half hour of staff time, plus additional time to reschedule when necessary, which was all but eliminated with the automated Laserfiche process. The workflow also auto-prioritized those who needed to be vaccinated more quickly and automatically waitlisted some applicants, which also saved countless hours of staff time.

Also born of the pandemic was a new system to support online attendance for the Tribe’s annual general council meeting, enabling registration and tracking attendance, which is necessary to establish a quorum. Today, it endures as a way to facilitate hybrid in-person and online participation, better serving Samish’s many geographically dispersed members.

“The solution is built on integrations between four different applications: Laserfiche, Microsoft Teams, our enrollment database and Sitefinity.” Because Samish hosts meetings that are for members only, Walters explained, “We needed a solution that was open but secure.”

His team created a registration portal that allows members to register, which also verifies that the person was a confirmed tribal member against an enrollment database. Laserfiche Workflow conveniently emails the member a calendar object. People who are registered also receive another Laserfiche form to verify that they are who they claim to be; the member then receives instructions on how to set their computer up to be ready for the meeting.

“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to not having virtual events,” Walters said. “Those who couldn’t participate before — members in New Zealand, England, etc. — now have access. They might have to get up a little earlier or stay up later, but they can view the events on demand as well.”

Ongoing Innovation to Benefit Tribal Members

Samish Indian Nation continues to expand on the digital innovations built on Laserfiche over the past decade. Samish has built e-forms and automated workflows for everything from simple staff ID badge and business card creation to more complex solutions for addressing the need for substitute approvers for processes when staff members are out of office.

“People go on vacation; people get sick; they take leaves of absence, things like that — and when they’re gone, other people will take over their responsibilities,” Walters explained. “This process enables users to assign those other people to processes, so that they can complete tasks during those absences.”

“The big thing that addressed was the lack of record when people reach out to IT about assigning other people tasks,” Shinn said. “Now, there’s a document that gets generated and stored in the repository from the user, saying that they designated a specific person to do certain tasks for a specific time period. It’s all automated so we don’t have to worry about anyone forgetting to communicate it to us.”

Laserfiche has become so embedded in staff workdays that the IT team has also created a Laserfiche Forms process to handle changes to Laserfiche processes. If a user needs changes to a business process, they can fill out a form that collects all the details needed to make that happen. “We’ll know exactly what process needs to change and what exactly needs to be done,” Shinn said. “The form gives convenient access for users. The process uses query parameters to populate the change request form, effectively creating templates for change requests.”

Continued optimization and more solutions are in the works, including a contract workflow, which will leverage an integration with DocuSign.

“As we’re looking at systems, one big thing we consider is how we can enhance it with Laserfiche,” Walters said. “We want to invest in things that work well with the Laserfiche platform, that can extend and work with it.”

Related Customer Stories

ETC Scales Automation to Support Australia’s Workforce
Simplifying Medicaid Billing to Serve Kansas School Districts
CATIC Makes Processes Up to 90% More Efficient with Laserfiche
Digitizing Credit Union Member Documentation and Processes to Support Compliance and Faster Service
Wealth Management Practice Strengthens Workflow and Information Governance

Book a Personalized Laserfiche Consultation Today