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The expanding scope of records management

This article appears in the issue May 2009, [Vol 18, Issue 5]
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More sophisticated tools have become indispensable to records management (RM) as the records themselves grow in volume, complexity and format types, and as organizations face increasing demands to meet regulatory and research requirements.

Even small governmental agencies are finding that older methods of records management just can’t do the job today. For years, the district clerk’s office in Kerr County, Texas, had relied on microfilm for county records.

"We were one of the first counties to have all of our records on microfilm," says Linda Uecker, clerk of the district courts. When the county first obtained that technology in 1990, it worked well. But even with up to 5,000 images on each roll, the records became unwieldy for the small county with a population of only 50,000. Citizens who wanted to search records had to wait for one of only a few available readers, which were old and sometimes in disrepair.

Another problem was that while the quality of the microfilm was good enough for searches, it sometimes produced poor print copies. That became a problem as more people requested certified copies of documents, according to Uecker.

She looked at several potential solutions, but many were too costly. The solution that brought the best combination of low cost and convenience was PaperVision Enterprise from Digitech Systems.

"Now we don’t have to mess with the microfilm or the reader/printers," Uecker says. "We send the records to them, they image them and send us the CDs."

The county loads the images on its mainframe, which employees and county residents can access from any available desktop in the clerk’s office. Searches are much more effective and efficient, saving the county money and producing additional revenue.

"We can do searches in one-tenth of the time," Uecker says, resulting in an estimated savings of about $140,000 annually. And since the digital images enable viewers to produce higher-quality prints, the copies are in much higher demand. The revenue from private record requests increased by $2,500 in the two years since the system was added.

Medical personnel records challenge

While electronic technology has been around for more than 15 years, some industries have been slow to adopt it for records management. Such is the case with healthcare, according to John Cauvel, VP for IT, for Lifetime Care, a Rochester, N.Y.-based home healthcare and hospice services company.

"Managing medical records has a lot of different parts to it," says Cauvel. "Home healthcare still has a lot of documents on paper. When someone has a prescription, that’s on paper. Patient consent forms are required to be on paper. Managing all that paper is expensive, and retrieval is slow. But a lot of people are unwilling to give up the paper."

While the company had already converted much of its paper to digital information, personnel records—including training, licensing, immigration status and similar information—were still kept on paper.

"Branch managers were spending 20 percent of their time just reviewing the paper files," Cauvel says.

Lifetime Care was already using Global 360’s File360 application to maintain and access client records. As the number of personnel files (each employee has from four to eight documents) grew, the need for better management of those records pushed the company to extend its use of the technology to include personnel information as well as patient details, Cauvel says. As a result, all personnel records are now handled more efficiently from a central location, freeing up branch managers for other tasks.

Improving search

The business of records management has changed greatly in the last few years, according to Pierre Chamberland, chief energizing officer for Messaging Architects, a company based in Montreal.

Messaging Architects’ M+Archives product provided search capabilities across e-mail and appointment calendars, which worked fine until about three years ago, according to Chamberland. Then his company’s customers, including law firms and corporate enterprises, started asking for more comprehensive search capabilities.

"They needed a rich set of indexes and search capabilities. It’s no longer that a company gives a $400-an-hour law firm a set of tapes with some indexing. Content search now has to cover the body of e-mails, calendars, attachments … the whole scope of knowledge within the company," Chamberland says.

But the Messaging Architects application did not include all of that capability. So the company searched for a technology partner that had an application that could quickly search and index terabytes of content, work across many different languages, and integrate seamlessly with the M+Archives application.

Message Architects narrowed the field to three and then performed internal and customer trials before choosing the CloudView application from Exalead. The application offered better scalability, language and platform support, indexing capability and speed than other applications under consideration.

"What’s important is not the ability to search, but the ability to quickly find what you’re looking for," Chamberland says. "The software is smart enough to connect the dots for us."

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