This County’s Push to Go Paperless Started a Digitalization Wave

Durham, North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

By treating departments like businesses, the CIO in Durham County, N.C., is improving social services and forged an open data partnership with municipal government.

Home to the majority of the Research Triangle Park, Durham County, North Carolina, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the Tar Heel State.

Durham’s population has increased from around 180,000 residents in 1990 to 294,460 residents in late 2015 and is projected to reach half a million in the near future—driving greater demand for social services in the community.

That’s why a seven-year effort to take county government paperless has spawned an IT governance executive board, as well as predictive analytics, automated workflow and open data initiatives.

“I look at it as a business enabler,” Chief Information Officer Greg Marrow told Route Fifty in an interview. “The Internet of Things, cloud computing—how do we leverage those so that we improve the technologies that we apply to the citizens of Durham?”

Marrow has been with the county two years, spending most of his time in the private sector, including 25 years with IBM. He’s overseen Durham’s adoption of Laserfiche document management software within its two largest departments: public health and social services—what he calls businesses.

Government documents often must be retained up to 10 years, which used to mean a lot of paperwork on file. Marrow said that Laserfiche saved the county $1 million when it opened its new public health building because storage for thousands of boxes was no longer needed.

Not only are documents captured and archived, but Laserfiche uses optical character recognition to pull text off PDFs and store it securely. County staff can search for documents in seconds using text strings or even metadata.

“My vision is to get rid of any and all paper- and PDF-based documents in government,” Marrow said. “When a citizen completes a form it goes straight into the system, so they’re really filling out a Laserfiche form.”

One study showed automated workflows increase employee productivity 20 percent, Marrow said, so Laserfiche is used to route documents around departments if a resident at social services visits multiple clinics in a day—providing added protection to personal info as a bonus.

Naturally, when the rest of Durham’s 25-plus departments learned of the benefits they wanted in, so the county established a mechanism to drive a countywide rollout—an IT governance executive board.

Every department has a seat at the table to discuss innovative projects and future requirements, while Marrow serves as vice chairman and the chairman is one of the deputy county managers. The board has been extended to work with the county’s counterparts at Durham City Hall on an open data partnership.

“We’re getting ready to launch an open data portal allowing the citizens of Durham to see what we’re investing in technology, other budgets and how our schools are performing, Marrow said. "It’s the digitalization of government. We want to be viewed as one of the smartest counties in the nation.”

Dashboards will make it so residents don’t have to build reports themselves if they want to dig deep into restaurant inspections simply by clicking through the single Paris-based OpenDataSoft portal. And the data is easy for app designers to manipulate, Marrow said.

The portal goes live June 18.

Other pilot programs Durham is working on include the ability to report problems with garbage collection or potholes, routed automatically to the city or county with the help of PublicStuff, and predictive analytics.

Marrow wants to know when a resident walking into a social services office will also want to visit a public health facility ahead of time.

“We have to get good at recognizing when a citizen is going to need our services, as opposed to being reactive,” Marrow said. “If we can get even smarter, we can overlay GPS data on top of that and look at where in the community our services are needed most.”

Dave Nyczepir is News Editor for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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