We've written many times about how document management can save you time retrieving documents (along with many other benefits).
“Of course we'd say that – you provide Laserfiche document management!” I'm sure many of you might think.
So don't just take our word for it!
Sheila Steffen, City Clerk for Dunkerton, Iowa, shared with us how document management from Laserfiche has made her workday as a city clerk easier.
One idea she kept coming back to was how amazing the simple ability to quickly find the information you're looking for can make your life easier.
As Sheila said, “Oh my gosh, I can find this immediately!”
A huge thank you to Sheila for taking the time to speak with us.
[editing note: we had a writer do this interview for us, that's why Sheila responds to questions with “Lane” and “Advanced” instead of with “you.” She wasn't talking to me! Enjoy.]
Q: Why were you looking for a DM-type solution?
Sheila: The ability to find documentation. I'm a relatively new clerk. I inherited a lot of information from previous clerks and council members. When residents or council members would ask for documents, I would have to try to find resolutions or minutes or read the ordinance book to find out where the documentation might be to be able to answer.
I had talked to Lane LeBahn and other clerks and found out about Laserfiche and what it offered in search capabilities. That was the key component for me.
The idea of being able to find the right documentation and answers relatively quickly rather than spending hours combing through old documents was what got me excited about the product.
Q: Describing a very common thing with clerks and SMBs, basically having a whole bunch of paper info in files and books was that all at least in one place, or where they in other buildings or centrally located.
Sheila: Mostly centrally located because we are a small town. Most were in file cabinets, some were on hard drives and probably a year after I started, my hard drive failed. Luckily we were able to recover most of the data that was on that particular hard drive. But another reason we were interested in DM was that we didn't have the data stored in multiple locations or in electronic format. That was a backup routine was a major factor in this so that we would have data backup.
Q: How many documents/how much paper are you talking about?
Sheila: We had a flood in 2008, so we lost a number of documents then. I came in about 3 years ago, and the documents were in filing cabinets here in city hall, with some in a storage facility. Some were in boxes that you would have to go through try to find whatever items you were looking for.
It was a hodgepodge.
Q: Sounds like no fun at all. For the non-city clerks reading this, beyond looking for stuff for council members and constituents, what does a city clerk do?
Sheila: The role in a small town is pretty much wearing a lot of hats – payroll for all city employees, financial aspects of the city – responsible to submit the budget to the state each year. So that our council can review expenses and anticipated revenues and put that on file with the state. If we don't hit those numbers and go over, we are required to amend those budgets to let constituents know how their tax dollars are being spent.
Right now we are working on water and sewer rates because there are new requirements from the Dept of Natural Resources about what we're required to do for wastewater. What we need to do from a water treatment side.
This particular position you hit so many aspects of running a business – it's kinda the CEO of a small business role. You have to touch everything all day. You have so many people that help – police, fire department, public works group, ambulance, most of ours are volunteers – small town.
It's running a business.
Q: At least you're never bored.
Sheila: There is never a dull moment. We've just gotten through where we published our budget. And now I'm opening my to-do folder that weren't an emergency or a burning priority. And can work through the backlog.
Q: Given what you need to do, I can understand the need. What led you to Advanced and Laserfiche, which came first?
Sheila: The two went together. There are quite a few clerks that have Laserfiche themselves in the Midwest. I was lucky to be able to talk directly to many of them because you're never 100% sure about the information you get from a vendor.
Speaking with other Laserfiche users let me understand the product's quirks and issues others had with it as well as how it alleviated their pain points. They know that the product isn't going to fold their laundry and cook supper for them.
And comments were VERY positive.
I don't remember exactly how we found Advanced. There are so many vendors in the state who do Laserfiche, it was a matter of finding someone local who could visit if we had a problem. Advanced was a natural solution for us, they're in Waterloo. So if you had to create workflows or work through processes you created and implemented, they are close enough to stop by and walk us through that. They can also walk you through steps over the phone, but I like that face-to-face interaction.
Q: Did you feel like “Boom, I'm going with Laserfiche” or was it a steady accumulation of “this is a good solution and I'll look”?
Sheila: The second thing. But the pain point of trying to find documents is one I experienced from the beginning. I had never done this job before – it's not like you can get a 4-year degree in city clerk administration! In fact, the first time I had ever been to council chambers was when I interviewed for the position.
You quickly find out how many facets there are in the role of city clerk. Your day is split in so many different ways – from renting the community hall to trying to balance a million dollar budget. It's a service job and I quickly realized I needed to get my arms around finding documents as quickly as possible so I could move on to that next task.
It was Roxanne Schneider, city clerk for Dysart City, who told me she had spent hours trying to find something for legal issues that they were going through and once she was on Laserfiche she found it within minutes.
That was one of my key points because you never know when you may be facing a legal issue and you need to spend hours finding documentation, you can narrow that down into a short window.
Q: You mentioned location as one of the reasons to go with Advanced. Were there any other reasons you chose them over someone else?
Sheila: I would say probably through the copier side of the business. Troy Belmar is the rep who had stopped by City Hall to talk about the new copier possibilities and it was through that conversation that he mentioned approaching the Council about DM before I had started. As I had been going to conferences and learning about the pain points of these other city clerks and how DM systems had helped alleviate those that's when Troy mentioned “we do that!”
That's when we got interested. The Mayor and I went to a seminar you put on in Waterloo. We wanted to see the product, but also to sit in a room with other clerks and listen to their testimony and say “this is why we like this product” and “this is why we like Advanced Systems.” For us, that meeting and those conversations were key components in making the decision to at least have you come and approach the council.
Q: Right time with the right person! What aspects of Laserfiche are you using?
Sheila: We are using a small portion of it. I guess you would call it the scanning and workflow components. I know there are other modules, but we're focused on getting started!
At some point we will look at records management, but budget constraints and the need to get started with the basics of scanning paper and then storing the documents for quick retrieval is where we needed to devote our initial efforts.
We are doing it ourselves (there are two of us). so there's a manpower limit that we run into.
There are certain documents that we keep forever, others are five, 10, 25, or whatever the number is. Records management and periodic cleansing would be ideal, but again from a budget standpoint where does that fit versus hiring someone who can do that periodically.
I do know a number of clerks that have documents that they have set aside to destroy. It's old school, but if you keep your calendar up to date it works. I can destroy these closed session minutes on this time and this date, for example. We have to document what we're about to destroy. And keep the record of what was destroyed so there's an audit trail.
Obviously, a RM system would be ideal over this manual process.
Q: How long did the install take? From "we want this" to installation, what was that process like?
Sheila: It happened really quickly. The Council made the motion one night and approved the purchase of Laserfiche. Within the next two weeks we had an appointment with Lane and Crystal. They were here for an hour or two to install the software, set up a few workflows, and walked my utility clerk (Keith) and myself through the process of using Laserfiche. It was a fast process.
And then after that, we began to tweak the product as we started thinking through the workflows – this type of document should go to this folder once we scan it. We'd talk to Crystal and she would follow up with us to ask us how it was flowing, is it working, are you able to retrieve.
Now, Keith is my primary Laserfiche user and I use the search. he gets all my documents in there. He's working through past documents, past minutes, past ordinances, resolutions. and I'm doing the searching for the residents that are looking for them.
Q: What are you using to scan?
Sheila: We're using a dedicated scanner which came as part of the solution – a Canon Imageformula DR 5010c.
Q: When Lane and Crystal spun this up for you did you from that point on scan documents. how are you converting things? Is the goal to get rid of all the paper?
Sheila: That is the ultimate goal. We needed to be less paper heavy. When I came on board we were getting to the point that our storage facility was getting to capacity.
We were going to have to buy filing cabinets or a digital solution. I was looking into buying filing cabinets when Laserfiche entered the picture. The light bulb went off – we don't need more filing cabinets AND we can start on a paper reduction process.
Keith is going back through the backlog as he can – we don't have a deadline to have everything in the system. New documents are digital.
I think he has most of our minutes in at this point. He's working through resolutions and ordinances. Now we're trying to get through that backlog at the bottom of filing cabinets and in the boxes sitting on the floor. We're slowly making inroads.
Some cities have hired people to come in and scan all of their documents, but the slow and steady approach works for us.
Q: When you said you had a storage facility that was almost full, was that a bunch of boxes and a filing cabinets in a room in city hall somewhere
Q: How many documents do you think have been scanned? How many do you think you have to go.
Sheila: I know he's made quite an inroads but I have 25 filing cabinets full of documentation and we've just started on 2 of those. Sorting the documentation and figuring out where it should go and hopefully working with Lane and Crystal as well as other clerks to decide how that flow should work, what they would recommend so that we don't have to recreate the wheel.
Q: You break it down into permits, minutes, etc.?
Q: So the process is take 40 to 50 documents out of a folder, scan them, and they are automatically routed to the appropriate folder and metadata is also applied?
Sheila: Mostly. There are a few documents we scan that don't have workflows attached to them. Keith was trained to sort those onscreen. If he scans in 60 documents, he can then just pull up the particular window and cut out where particular documents need to go and if they go together.
You don't need to sort beforehand, you can scan unrelated documents together and then sort them online. Keith was excited when he learned about this capability!
Q: What advice would you give to someone looking for a similar solution based on your experience?
Sheila: If you can, do it. If your Council is open to and will approve a DM system, your life will be easier – ESPECIALLY from a retrieval standpoint. The faster you can get your hands on information to answer a question means that you free up your time to move on to the next thing. So your time is well spent, not spend literally digging in old boxes of documents.
Here's an example. Before we had Laserfiche, my mayor had asked me to look up a topic that was discussed and approved in Council chambers. I couldn't find it.
It turns out that we had talked about it in a staff meeting, but it was never brought to Council chambers so it was never in the minutes and therefore wasn't official.
That was one of the immediate benefits of Laserfiche. I can determine a topic wasn't discussed in the minutes via a quick search. Whereas I had spent hours reading minutes and going back to different years -- was that in 2015 when we talked about that? Was it before I started? You have so many conversations at City Hall but unless it's in council meetings, it's not official.
Once we get to scanning staff meeting notes, we'll broaden our ability to find those conversations.
Q: Where are you storing documents -- are you storing in the cloud or all on site. you had mentioned back up earlier.
Sheila: We have a server on site and are backing up to the iCloud. The nice thing with Laserfiche is they are very familiar with Summit and a lot us clerks in this particular area in Iowa all have Data Technologies tech Summit accounting software so they use the same backup process of iDrive so it works through that to back up to the cloud.
We have our website and my minutes and ordinances are also stored there, we try to have multiple backups.
Q: Have you thought about making this information constituent facing so they can self-serve online?
Sheila: I've heard other clerks mention that and we know it's an option going forward.
Q: From the standpoint of cost . . .
Sheila: It was about $6,400 with the scanner and maintenance fees are about $1,000 per year
Q: I'd imagine just for your sanity that's pretty good ROI!
Sheila: Exactly. It used to literally take me hours to find documents -- researching and reading folder after folder or pulling boxes out. It was a lot of time going through a lot of data that neither of us were familiar with because we were both new and not there when many of these documents were created.
Q: You've had the position for three years. how long have you had Laserfiche installed?
Sheila: About a year and a half now.
Q: Compare the year before Laserfiche to the year after. About how much time per week have you saved not having to document dive?
Sheila: It's hard to put a figure to it. I know it's moved from hours to minutes. From a research perspective, I can open Laserfiche and look for a document or do a search and find payroll info or are we building a walking trail. I can put in my keywords and find all of the documents related to that far faster than I ever could before.
Q: Were there any issues with the implementation?
Sheila: I would say the workflow. Keith and I need to figure out a few more of the workflows. Some of the documents we're scanning don't go in a particular workflow. We want to change that, but I haven't gone through the training yet so don't know how to make those workflow changes myself.
And it's not quite worth the expense of having Advanced come in to create the workflow for us.
Some documents just drop into a depository and we haven't had the chance to create that automatic flow. It's a little hiccup, but not a major one.
I don't think there's a product out there that says here's everything you need as a city clerk -- all of your workflows you'll ever need to get every document you touch every day to go the right spot because every city is different.
Q: So that's annoying but you're not pulling your hair out saying “they lied to me!”
Sheila: We haven't run across anything that has made us say we wish we hadn't done this. It's just tweaking the product to work for us.
There was a slight hiccup with our antivirus software, Bitdefender, because it was new to Lane. There were a few kinks to get Laserfiche to work with our antivirus, but they worked through them.
Q: I heard from Advanced that auditors were looking for a certain IRS form and you didn't know where to begin to look.
Sheila: We just had our annual exam. We're over 1 million so we have an annual exam, which is just shy of a complete audit. The auditor wanted this particular IRS form. I wouldn't have even known where to begin to look for that.
I just used the keywords in Laserfiche to have the doc pop up.
I've heard from other clerks that you can give your auditors access to pull those documents directly for themselves while they're doing the audit. I'm looking forward to working with Lane and Crystal so that I can do that the next time the auditor comes around.
Q: Any other “Oh, yeah!” or “Oh, no!” moments that you can think of? Anything you didn't think you'd be able to do that now you can?
Sheila: More of an "oh my gosh, I can find this immediately” moment! I was just ecstatic at being able to find something in a relatively short period of time that was taking hours.
Before Laserfiche I hadn't thought about those pain points, but looking back, that's huge.
Your Word searches can only do so much. Your Excel searches can only do so much. When you've got documents accumulated over years in multiple folders sitting on your hard drive even that takes hours to find information.
Laserfiche is one repository. You type in the word and it's searching the minutes folder, the ordinance folder, the legal folder, whatever that word might be tied to. It searches it all.
The time saving is. . . i don't even know how to express it. It's exciting.
When you're in this world, just improving that process is a lifesaver.