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Case Study: The City of Chico--Commencing Digital Transformation

Chico is the most populous city in California, north of Sacramento. With a population of over 101,000, the City is considered the cultural and economic center of the Northern Sacramento Valley and is home to California State University, Chico.

The current movement for cities in California is to leverage technology to modernize internal operations, improve customer service delivery, and ensure transparency and business continuity. The City of Chico, also on this path, has embraced innovation in terms of digital transformation, and it is here― where Chico partnered with Complete Paperless Solutions (CPS) to launch their initiative. The City had Laserfiche for a few years, but reviewing their options told them that they had the right technology and now was the time to make good use of it. Additionally, the city was ready to change Laserfiche Solution Provider, and their consultant highly recommended CPS.

Chico’s highly respected and veteran City Clerk, Deborah R. Presson, decided to optimize the City’s Records Management Program, starting with appointing a records manager. Presson didn’t have to look far. After holding several critical roles for eight years at the county and three at the City and having proven her skills in successfully implementing highly complex initiatives, Management Analyst Angie Dilg was entrusted with taking on the role; hence, digital transformation became her mantra. For the City, this meant they finally had the staffing to refine their digital records management and transformation initiative. Dilg explains, “With the guidance of the City Clerk and our Records Management Consultant, we are learning as we go, and, overall, we’ve found the whole process to be straightforward.”

The catalyst for this transformative effort was a legal one. Dilg wanted to get out in front of this because they had seen other cities undergo difficult discovery and didn’t want to deal with this “painful and expensive” process. Of course, the City didn’t want to find itself at the pointed end of a lawsuit for not providing forgotten documentation. “We needed to tighten up which records we should and shouldn’t keep. Most cities keep way more records than they should,” adds Dilg. One challenge was convincing department heads that they didn’t actually need to keep everything. “In fact,” notes Dilg, “it’s quite the opposite, which seems counterintuitive, but it’s not.” Digging deeper, she found that copies of records were being kept by departments that were not responsible for them. Dilg saw opportunities to work closely with department heads and realized that this relationship-building and education could result in the prioritization of records management in the City. Since she initially worked in the City Manager’s Office, Dilg can leverage her relationship and put heads together to display top-down endorsement of the records project. “In the past, RM wasn’t a priority, so now senior staff is overwhelmed, and junior staff isn’t jumping on new projects. I think collaborating with the city manager and the clerk's backing will give us the big push we need.”

Surprisingly, Dilg has only been in the records management role for 6-8 months, but she already has goals firmly in place. Her overarching goal is for all of Chico’s departments to see their records management program as “what it should be rather than what it currently is.” So far, every department has been trained on how to use Laserfiche. Dilg is looping back with departments to take the next steps toward practicing formal records management and using Laserfiche rather than their C-drive or a file cabinet to store records. Insofar as their retention schedules are concerned, they are finished and in Laserfiche. Like many municipalities, Chico is adopting a today/forward approach to putting their records in Laserfiche. Dilg explains that they’ve determined that records that are two years old or less and records stored in other business applications will not go into Laserfiche. It’s pretty standard to make these types of rules about what should go into Laserfiche, especially when the digital records effort is still green. When pressed about how she gained cooperation, she explained, “ I was able to show and convince staff that it’s much easier to search and retrieve records in Laserfiche versus looking in fifteen locations across the city.”

Municipalities handle the “ownership” of Laserfiche in several ways. Some agencies consider Laserfiche. to be managed by IT for service and support (which then goes through CPS.) The clerk may support other departments since they align with records management functionality. Still, other cities (and this is Chico’s path) start with another department, such as the City Manager. Then, different departments see the value and want it deployed often; then, Laserfiche will be moved under the auspices of the City Clerk.

Dilg's answer is deeply pragmatic when asked if she came up against resistance. She understands that city staff have full-time jobs, so what they are resistant to is dedicating time to more projects. So, to ease worries, Dilg is looking into outsourcing its backfile conversion. Generally, the trend is for organizations to do precisely what Chico is――wait about a year or two before mass importing records. This approach permits the organization to acclimate to digitization while simultaneously learning Laserfiche and updating their retention schedules. Dilg encourages staff to spend a few minutes a week scanning records into the system, and then they can throw out the no longer needed paper records. In a small way, this gives staff a productive and satisfactory way to engage with the system. Departments leveraging this approach include the City Clerk, Police, Public Works, and Community Development. “We are very much a work in progress. We are still taking baby steps,” she explains. 

After less than a year, Dilg can tick off some significant improvements. One is getting historical documents into the system. Another notable improvement is creating a Trusted System, which means the City stores documents in an immutable source for record retention. Many cities in California have moved or will move to this practice. According to the California Secretary of State, a Trusted System is a combination of policies, procedures, and techniques that prevent documents retrieved from or reproduced by the system from differing substantially from the original document.

In thinking about the future, Dilg is signed up for the Laserfiche Empower Conference and is going in with a plan that includes as many labs as she can fit in and a few case studies. She also plans to learn as much as possible about Laserfiche’s other offerings, such as Forms. She’s also thinking about workflows for expiring insurance or leases since this is an area of risk. With her background in the City Manager’s Office, Dilg is sensitive to risk and tries to anticipate matters before they become problematic.

Digl adds, “ We are very happy with CPS. With their responsiveness to training, we’ve had a really good experience. All of our departments have differing needs, and Joe was able to take it all in and deliver what they needed. Our first set of trainings was in-person, and he was great. The next set was over Zoom, and he could deliver over that platform, too. Another thing is communication; they get back to us immediately, and if we request a fix, it's pretty much immediate. In the government world, not all vendors are like that.” 

The City of Chico’s journey is an excellent lesson in measured, thoughtful implementation of digital transformation and records management compliance. We’ll check back and can’t wait to see what they do.



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