City of American Canyon – Run Smarter Award Finalist in COVID-19 Response Category

November 20, 2020 in |
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Describe your organization
The City of American Canyon was incorporated in 1992 and is located in Napa County, California–about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. American Canyon is home to a diverse population of more than 20,000 people. Our mission, supported by 74 employees, is to deliver exemplary services that are responsive to community.

What challenges did your organization face before installing Laserfiche?
Before implementing Laserfiche Forms, there was incredible confusion and frustration for City of American Canyon staff. We had so many inconsistently designed, outdated, and hard-to-find forms that it was often more efficient to recreate a new one from scratch. Occasional staff turnover only compounded the challenge, as we would lose months or years of institutional knowledge each time someone left.

The process of submitting forms was also inconsistent: they would frequently get lost when routed to staff members to participate in their part of the process. Not only was this inefficient, but it also resulted in horrible service, both internal and external.

Finally, we faced the challenge of finding time to prioritize the implementation of Laserfiche Forms. One reason for this was the inconsistency in our previous processes involving forms. In many cases, staff time was tied up in manually tracking those forms, leaving little time for learning a new and improved way of doing things.

Describe your Laserfiche initiative as a whole.
Our initial goals for purchasing the Laserfiche Document Imaging System were to: (1) reduce physical storage space; and (2) expand use across departments to build a complete records library, with a workflow integrated to automate records retention management. Once records were converted to our new repository, work commenced with each department to train and incorporate vital records into the repository.

We have since expanded the records integration and our use of software to include Laserfiche WebLink so we can share many frequently requested public documents through our City’s external-facing website. Utilizing WebLink, we can now share documents directly from the repository to our website. This has reduced duplication and allowed for better records retention tracking, rather than relying on the website’s document management system.

The City’s most recent initiative of implementing Laserfiche Forms began in September 2019 after a group of staff attended the ECS Imaging Annual Customer Conference. In addition to the benefits of hearing best practices and expanding our team’s knowledge in how to use Laserfiche, the conference sparked our evolution in using Laserfiche to work smarter, not harder.

At the time, we were approaching the next phase in our City’s website redesign, which involved streamlining the collection of data using forms through our website. The tool available within our website to collect data through forms worked well enough; however, the data lived within the site and had to be retrieved through reporting then put into another system to process data. The design features of the form tool were limited and finicky to use.

Our team returned from the conference armed with the knowledge that Laserfiche Forms was available through our current software and could provide an immediate solution to the restrictions we had in our website designer. A few team members took the Laserfiche online courses to learn more about Forms and started mapping out a plan to implement the program. Our project’s goals, being in line with the City Council’s priority of delivering exemplary government services, were strongly supported by the

City’s Management Team–to the extent that a Laserfiche Team was established. This team of ten consists of employees from Community Development, Public Works, Finance, Parks & Recreation, City Clerk, and Communications. The City sent this entire team to the Annual Laserfiche Conference in February 2020.

While at the annual conference, we divided and conquered sessions to ensure we had a broad coverage of Laserfiche’s components to become familiar with to succeed in our implementation. When the team would debrief on breaks, we quickly learned there was much more we could implement with the Laserfiche tools. Our new challenge became keeping everyone focused on only implementing Forms! By the end of the conference, we had a plan, we had initiative, and (most importantly) we had the team’s excitement and passion. Time was still a challenge for us, though. When we returned from the conference, we set a monthly plan and began chipping away at the project with small goals. We accepted that the overall implementation timeline realistically would be 18-24 months.

On March 17, 2020, the American Canyon City Council proclaimed a local emergency due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This action ordered the closure of all facilities for in-person services. The City was faced with the challenge of maintaining a high level of support for the community through the continuity of essential services remotely. The timeline for our project to digitize services went from 18-24 months to just three business days! The City Manager established in-service staff days, allowing the Laserfiche Team to focus solely on the implementation. The entire Management Team supported the project’s priority by ensuring their staff members on the team were exclusively dedicated to the project during this timeframe.

First, each department conducted an audit of the most frequent types of services requested. We established a list of those processes and mapped out the form components and necessary steps to accomplish associated tasks. Since we had varying levels of knowledge in the team, we split into groups–each with a leader to teach the others as we built. By Friday, March 20th, the team developed a “Virtual City Hall” to provide online assistance and more than 50 online forms via Laserfiche Forms. The forms allowed residents to submit or request information and conduct business without setting foot into City Hall.

Since March, we have continued to build upon the Virtual City Hall and forms library. A half-year into a pandemic, we now have more than 100 active forms and our sights set on the next steps… the implementation of Laserfiche Workflow.

What specific organization-wide savings do you link directly to using Laserfiche?
One of the most considerable organization-wide savings the City of American Canyon can link directly to using Laserfiche is related to time. Specifically in our building division, our customers’ and staff’s time are nearly cut in half. Customers no longer have to take the time to come into our office to obtain a permit; they can complete the application, plan review process, and receive their permit entirely online. Previously, contractors would need to print multiple sets of plans to send out for plan review, then reprint them for revisions. Additionally, staff time is reduced since the plans can be electronically routed and no longer require scanning prior to that routing. The amount of time for plan review is also considerably decreased because staff can send the plans to all reviewers at one time rather than one at a time. A large amount of time was consumed in our past practice for the shipping of the plans. The plans would need to be mailed out to various reviewers as a part of the process; now, plans and subsequent review approval or comments can be electronically routed instantly.

In our other departments, the electronic processing of requests has also significantly reduced the time spent on tasks. In our water department, customers can open new accounts, make changes to their existing accounts, and receive many other services from the convenience of home. From the staff perspective, they can more efficiently conduct these services in batches throughout the day instead of sporadic interruptions throughout their day. The customers also save time since they don’t need to travel to City Hall to obtain services.

As a result of the pandemic, our Parks & Recreation Department is limited in the types of in-person recreational activities they can offer. The implementation of Laserfiche Forms has increased their ability to connect with the community through virtual events and programs. Our Police Department has streamlined the collection of data for their security camera registry. This allows them to have a list of addresses in town who have external security cameras that may contain footage of crimes that occur in their area. The camera registry program gives our law enforcement additional eyes in the community to help solve crimes.

In addition to the savings of time for our customers and staff, there are also benefits to this implementation that increase efficiency and accuracy. Since we are now able to designate form fields as “required,” we receive the information we need to complete the process the first time. Our risk for error is further reduced because we are able to put parameters on the data we collect to help guide the submitter. Additionally, when a form needs an update, we can make the change directly in the form and not need to edit the link shared on our website; this reduces the chance for error and extra steps in our work process. In the case of the current pandemic, we included the local public health guidelines directly into our building permit forms to ensure applicants are aware of the requirements throughout the process. Another successful tool we put in place is collecting general feedback through a form on our Virtual City Hall, which allows us to improve the content on our site continuously. Most importantly, it gives visitors to our website a way to inquire if they are unable to find something. In turn, it allows us to build up the site to include the information people may be seeking.

There is also an incredible amount of savings for our customers through the electronic process. Since contractors no longer have to print multiple large sets of plans, they are saving (in some cases) thousands of dollars per project. Shipping costs for the plans is another considerable savings.

The reduced need to print and mail the plans is also an environmental benefit in saving paper and cutting down on vehicle emissions.

Finally, from the employee perspective, the savings are significant concerning the current pandemic conditions. The risks for employees’ health are significantly reduced since this implementation has created our employees’ ability to work remotely. Reducing the interactions between people is an immeasurable benefit in keeping everyone healthy and safe from disease transmission.

What advice would you like to share with anyone who is just starting out with Laserfiche?
The best advice we would share with anyone just starting out with Laserfiche is to not quit! For our team, persistence helped put us in a great place to implement when the timing was right. Be prepared for members of your team to be afraid and overwhelmed. One of the benefits to our success has been finding the employees who showed passion towards refining our processes and creating the core team from those employees. Also, taking things one piece at a time is important: just start with one tool and go from there. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself in the middle of all things Laserfiche and wonder why it took so long to get there!

Story content provided by: City of American Canyon


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