The Digital Sphere & Timaru District Council

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The Digital Sphere and the Timaru District Council (TDC): How digitisation can boost efficiency and help Aotearoa’s district councils get things done. What happens when you free up council workers to do their actual jobs? Answer, productivity and morale are drastically increased! It’s a story many will be familiar with–slow turnaround on document requests, and inefficient handling of property files. Unfortunately, this can be a reality of local government. Frustrating for both council staff and local citizens.
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The Digital Sphere & Timaru District Council

The Digital Sphere and the Timaru District Council (TDC): How digitisation can boost efficiency and help Aotearoa’s district councils get things done

What happens when you free up council workers to do their actual jobs? Answer, productivity and morale are drastically increased!

It’s a story many will be familiar with – slow turnaround on document requests, and inefficient handling of property files. Unfortunately, this can be a reality of local government. Frustrating for both council staff and local citizens.  

However, this is not to place any blame! On the contrary, inefficient document processing is a by-product of district councils trying to serve their community while also wrestling with the mammoth task of manually storing, filing, and handling the mountain of documentation coming across council desks every single day.  

To solve this problem and to bring their document handling system into the age of Zoom and remote workspaces, in 2018 the Timaru District Council engaged Desktop Imaging to utilise its local government experience and digitise their property file records. Well on schedule for project completion, Desktop Imaging is proud to have been part of helping the Timaru District Council integrate with the digital sphere.

Desktop Imaging executed this project using state-of-the-art software, knowledge of situational needs, and ensuring that the regular functions of the Council were not impeded for the duration of the project. As needed, public access to files was ensured, and interruptions to council services were minor.  

Since the agreed upon commencement date in October 2019, Desktop Imaging have digitised over 17,514 physical files (~1.5 million pages) and created ~201,000 digital (PDF) files broken down by record type for ease of access.  

Having the documents now in a digital format, council staff can access what they need with just a few clicks. Justin Bagust, Chief Information Officer from the Timaru District Council remarked, “now we have the files back in digital format and in our digital classification system, [and] they are more accessible now than they have ever been.” This new accessibility has made the Council more efficient (by a magnitude of ten), and better able to provide a customer-centric operation.  

Another key benefit was the enhanced security against property files being misplaced or accidentally destroyed. Since everything is now backed up to the digital space, in case of disaster, documents can be recovered quickly and remotely. For the council, the insurance this gives over their documents (as an asset) is a sigh of relief.

Also, this efficiency boost revealed another unexpected benefit to the Council – council staff can focus on their main jobs and take time to explore other improvement projects!

Prior to connecting with Desktop Imaging to digitise property files, within the Timaru District Council, hours were being wasted collating and searching for the documents used in their everyday functions. Digitisation saved time and money by allowing council workers to forget complicated document handling procedures and ‘hone-in’ on their core roles.

From a simple productivity perspective, document digitisation has been of immense value for the council! Not to mention the general staff morale boost from being freed from superfluous paperwork.

Outsourcing proved to be the right choice for the council. Should digitisation have been attempted as an in-house operation, the Timaru District Council would have drowned its office in equipment, stressed out its staff with training, and shattered its production with the gigantic task it would have been.

As the project nears its conclusion (due to be completed on schedule at the end of March 2021), the clear takeaway is the value document digitisation can have for local government bodies. Desktop Imaging’s expertise in document handling processes made the process of bringing the Timaru District Council into a digital culture seamless. From the initial collection of the documents right through to the electronic delivery of the scanned files and the storage of confidential destruction of the hardcopies, Desktop Imaging was able to do all this while also facilitating public access to files so Council services experienced minimal disruption (as mentioned earlier).

With the importance of being fluent in the digital sphere at the forefront like never before, Desktop Imaging hopes that the success of Timaru District Council’s digitisation journey will influence other councils and local authorities to follow suit.

The Process involved:

  1. Property Files are selected based on requests raised by TDC daily and backfilled with additional files to meet daily targets
  1. Using PSIcapture (capture software) completed batches were automatically exported when complete into a folder for the SFTP Automation service to collect
  1. SFTP Automation run at an agreed schedule to transfer the batches
  1. The automation process saved the batches into a hot folder monitored by TDC
  1. Batches were automatically uploaded (migrated) into HPE Content Manager ex the hot folder
  1. Batches were routed into the Offline Records Tray” for TDC personnel to perform QAor migrated into live environment
  1. Batches that contained no errors were migrated to HPE Content Manager automatically
  1. If issues were detected, they were resolved and re-processed

Authors:

Desktop Imaging / Timaru District Council

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