The Fairfax County government has embarked on a comprehensive hardware/software integration that’s already saving taxpayers thousands of dollars while increasing collaboration and communication among workers across the county’s more than 70 different agencies – from police and fire rescue to libraries, animal shelters, the country registrar and health and human services – located in geographically dispersed areas across Fairfax County.
As a government entity, the County’s primary objective is to swiftly and cost-effectively provide necessary services to its constituents, which requires interaction and knowledge sharing among many of the agencies, particularly those involved with health, housing and family services.
In addition to its mission of making communications easier and more effective across the enterprise, the County is focused on eliminating waste by reducing its dependence on paper -based data, manual tasks, and outdated hardware with the associated costs of accessories and maintenance.
Interoperability - Safe and Secure
In launching what the county is saying is one of the most comprehensive overhauls of municipal government business processes, step one, according to David Foechterle, Customer Service Manager for the Department of Information Technology, was to take a close look at what hardware and software systems were already in place and how efficiently they were being used. The County had hundreds of copiers and multifunction devices spread out through its offices. While some users took advantage of scan-to-email capabilities, most users printed paper copies that had to be delivered and stored, while not being integrated into any of the County’s backend management systems.
“We had more than 600 devices across the County being utilized by 70- different agencies. Paper was really piling up,” says Foechterle.
Known for its innovative approach to managing IT, the County, under Foechterle’s direction, conducted intensive research into various systems that he felt could meet the County’s efficiency objectives, cut down on the manual tasks, streamline existing document handling processes, increase the opportunity for collaboration, provide a common user-friendly interface that would nix the intimidation factor for employees, and provide a level of security and personalization. “We were looking for a person-specific solution, not a device-driven infrastructure - a way to make it easy and intuitive for workers to capture, process, deliver and share information.”
The County was also looking for an intelligent management system that would proactively monitor the fleet in real time. If there was an issue with one device, alerts would notify IT to dispatch a tech and fix it before end users even knew they knew they had a problem.
MFDs and Advanced Data Capture Answer Challenge
After intensive investigation into software and hardware choices, Fairfax County selected a fleet of 500 Ricoh multifunction devices (MFDs) integrated with NSi AutoStore™ from Notable Solutions (NSi).
It took just six weeks to swipe out the old copiers and printers and install the new systems, including training time at 300 locations across the County. “We’ve been able to place these devices anywhere in the County without an issue,” says Foechterle, “which has reduced the complexity of the hardware and thus the service challenges. We’re down to four models (with a common interface) from 12 models with eight different interfaces. And with dedicated copy rooms and a couple of high speed color models, we’ve been able to eliminate our older color copiers and the high costs for accessories and service.”
The MFDs are uniform – regardless of which device is being used. The hard button layout and the individual soft button layouts are the same. The software identifies specific user groups, which gives personalization to the device when a user logs in. Employees log in using their HID proximity cards, press the scan button and the software differentiates between user groups. This gives employees access to workflows created for specific departments and a customized user interface. Additionally, the software audits user activity and sends confirmations of activities back to the user and / or department manager. “As a result, we are person-specific, not just device-specific, which provides a high level of efficiency and security,” Foechterle adds. “Before implementing this software, you had to be close to the machine you were working with. Now, anywhere in the county or at any machine, a personalized profile will pop up and you can commence your work.”
Furthermore, the software remembers frequent user data entries which provides “intelligent” risk mitigations. For example, instead of retyping 10 digit fax numbers each time, AutoStore remembers the user’s most frequent destinations, and prompts them at the panel of the device. Also, the “to” field in email is pre-populated with the user’s email address, accelerating their activity and eliminating mistyped email addresses.
Systems Integration Speeds Processing and Delivery
One of the workflows that has been created is a new HIPAA-compliant health management system for the Community Services Board (CSB). The CSB, a division of Human Services deals with situations that may involve issues such as intellectual disabilities or substance abuse. The software allows users to scan documents into a HIPAA compliant folder which is locked down and accessible to only certain individuals. “When users have become comfortable with the new system, we’ll actually grab their documents, convert them to PDF format and store them in their backend database, which is part of the Credible solution from Credible Mobile Solutions,” explains Foechterle.
The software has also given the County a seamless integration into RightFax, an electronic fax system from OpenText. The County is production-ready to implement RightFax and on track to immediately convert more than 200 fax machines to the new solution. “There are a lot of hidden costs in maintaining fax machines – toner, paper, maintenance, phone lines – the cost of a $150 fax machine could become, conservatively $2,000 over a 5-year period,” Foechterle says. “So when you change these machines out for an electronic system that feeds documents directly into workflows, you’re saving a lot of time, money and manual labor.”
The Fairfax County Registrar and Office of Elections is utilizing another software capability called NSi Smarticket. Users place a Smarticket-customized bar-coded cover sheet on a stack of documents (generally absentee ballots) that will scan, OCR (i.e., convert to PDF format) and store on a network share. Smarticket then sends a list of targeted individuals an email with a hyperlink to documents for review. “Legally all documents must be reviewed before being posted to a public site. For instance if a ballot is rejected, it needs to be posted and reasons for rejections explained,” Foechterle adds.
For cost accounting, the software also provides the County with integration into its Equitrac cost accounting solution that keeps track of the number of impressions going through the MFDs, who is creating them and what function has occurred, i.e., printing, copying, or faxing. Using the HID card, AutoStore looks up the user, verifies the user and then populates the “to” field in the scan to email, allowing the user to proceed. This also allows accurate tracking of information to be billed back to specific departments.
Currently deployed in more than 100 locations with approximately 15,000 users, Fairfax County will has plans to roll out the hardware/software conversion to all County government departments within a few months.
“The solution will continue to evolve as we add more workflows and capabilities. We don’t think there’s any County in the country that’s implementing a solution of this scale or complexity. Ricoh, NSi, RightFax, Equitrac, Credible – there just doesn’t seem to be an instance where anyone has seen all these products together in a deployment of this size in a local government.”
Compelling Results Save Taxpayer Dollars
Since implementing this project, the County has seen the number of impressions (going through the MFDs) drop about 20% from a high of nearly 54 million in 2009. These are paper-based transactions that have been eliminated in favor of scan to email or scan to back end systems. Foechterle points to the introduction of a secure print solution which also helps reduce paper output as another way to save time and money in efficiency as well as supplies.
With the Credible integration at the CSB, the County estimates a savings of at least $35,000-$40,000 a year just in that one department, not to mention the increase in efficiencies and ability to respond more quickly to constituents.
Just eliminating fax machine hardware, paper, supplies, maintenance and phone lines is currently savings thousands, according to Foechterle, and they’ve just begun to change out the machines. “When the costs are multiplied by hundreds of machines and you change them out for an electronic fax, that’s a huge savings,” he adds.
With just four models of Ricoh MFDs with common interfaces – chosen for specific areas based on identified output capability - the County has saved thousands of dollars in time and maintenance versus the once cumbersome management of 12 different machines with eight different interfaces. In addition, the fleet can be managed centrally and maintenance is proactive. Furthermore, they have been able to replace some older, bulkier color printers and their associated costs, such as maintenance and accessories.
“Our mission is to best serve the citizens of Fairfax County,” notes Foechterle. “We have learned to be innovative and cost efficient while speeding up delivery of services quickly and securely, an absolute ‘must’ in today’s environment.”