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GOVERNMENT gets a GRIP on KNOWLEDGE SHARING

This article appears in the issue April 2007 [Volume 16, Issue 4]
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Government offices are starting to take advantage of enterprisewide knowledge management systems to share information across widely dispersed offices that handle everything from criminal arrests to land management to taxation. Although many of the technologies that enable that sharing, like enterprise content management systems, have been around for several years, numerous state, county and local governments are still in the beginning stages of their programs.

“When tax revenues are low, you can’t cut social or infrastructure programs, so IT isn’t a high priority,” says Matthew Bowman, corporate director of sales and marketing for SIRE Technologies.

But there does come a time when it becomes so costly and unwieldy to have knowledge in different silos across various departments of a government body that IT finally commands the necessary revenues for projects. That’s been happening more often recently as the examples below show.

Sharing documentation

The Tooele County Recorder’s Office, located about 45 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah, had been a longtime imaging user, but the system didn’t permit knowledge sharing across other county departments, so its advantages were limited at best.

The single department scanning system was one of a few at different county offices, but inconsistency and confusion arose when collaboration was necessary between departments. Says Diane Burgener, the county’s IT director, “Most documents need to be seen by more than one department.”

For example, a land sale could involve information that needs to be shared among county engineers, surveyors and recorders, just to name a few. The county sought a system that could automatically push out information to those who need it, as well as enable others with certain permissions to access and print documents as necessary. The county chose SIRE Technologies’ SIRE ECMS application, which, according to Burgener, offered the support and flexibility the county needed at the most affordable price.

The technology provides a common storage, indexing and retrieval platform that every department in the county can use. It enables users to archive e-mails and scan, store and retrieve the department’s documents. Additionally, individual departments can customize the application by using permissions and access rights to enhance security.

“We now support all 23 departments in the county including the Justice Court, the Sheriff’s Office, taxing offices, engineers, Health Department, the landfill, bookmobiles, the local airport and others,” Burgener says.

Staff with appropriate permissions can “check out” documents that were scanned in other departments, as well as automatically route certain documents to a person in another department who needs them. That eliminates the need for staff to haul paperwork back and forth between departments. In a county the size of Tooele—6,930 square miles—that’s a major advantage. Burgener estimates that the application has reduced records management costs in her office by as much as 20 to 25 percent.

Among a few of the new programs that the technology supports are:

  • the County Recorders Office’s “tax roll” program for recording land property, appraising the value and taxing it accordingly;
  • The County Sheriff Department’s MugCenter system for storing and managing mug shots, linking them to arrest records and making them available to anyone at the jail, in the county or even the news media who is interested; and
  • maintenance and review of accounting records, invoices and checks by the Auditor’s Office.

Aiding litigation

The new e-discovery rules that went into effect in late 2006 are also prompting government entities to enhance their knowledge management capabilities. Under those rules, entities involved in civil litigation must be able to provide electronically stored data as evidence earlier in the process then ever before, or face the prospect of penalties or losses in court. The rules require not only that companies store final copies of e-mail and other documents that go out to clients, but, in some instances, different versions of content throughout the organization.

Such is the case for the city of Minneapolis, which in February instituted a new enterprise content management system, complete with record-keeping modules. Although a case has yet to occur where the city had to go back through printouts of archived documents and e-mails to locate records under the rule, the research could cost the city as much as $100,000 for a single investigation, according to Debra Parker, e-government development manager.

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