St. Joseph County in Southern Michigan is home to about 60,000 residents. The county’s Friend of the Court is a small department that helps residents establish, collect and enforce child support orders. The department also offers mediation and investigative services to resolve custody, parenting time and support issues.
Like so many small county departments across the United States, funding for enterprise-grade technology is limited. St. Joseph’s Friend of the Court was relying on an antiquated paper filing system to store and access crucial documents, leading to wasted time and effort, and, in some cases, lost or missing documents. It’s a problem all too common for paper-based departments and organizations.
That all changed when St. Joseph’s Friend of the Court discovered OnBase by Hyland, a document management system that allowed them to eliminate paper records and increase productivity. Most importantly, the county was able to secure state funding that covered two-thirds of the cost for much-needed technology that has boosted productivity and communication. St. Joseph’s experience is a model for similar-sized counties that believe they cannot afford the technology to bring their record keeping into the 21st century. Even on a tight budget, it is possible with public funding.
One of the greatest challenges of relying on paper records, according to Mary Herendeen, Deputy Friend of the Court, was locating paper files. Did a judge have the paperwork in his chamber? Was a clerk using the file to provide information to a client? Was the document lost or placed in the wrong file? Clients had to wait on hold while clerks searched for important information. Searching for lost files wasted valuable time that could have been spent accomplishing other tasks. In some cases, searching for a lost file could take days.
Originally, St. Joseph County’s circuit court was holding on to paper files for 10 years after emancipation – requiring rooms filled with bulky filing cabinets. Older documents were kept on microfilm, requiring a tedious process to access them. Today, accessing files is instantaneous, seamless and purely digital. Multiple people can view the same documents at once with the click of a mouse. Communication vastly improved, as did office workflow and productivity.
For many county departments and organizations across the country, the process of moving to online record keeping has been slow, even seeming impossible due to budget constraints. St. Joseph’s County has been a leader, paving the way for others to follow, particularly in the courts where paper use is heavy.
Mary Herendeen was a champion for the project from the start, seeking to streamline the flow of information within the office by relying on digital documents, rather than paper records. One of her judges attended a technology summit where he learned about the advantages that OnBase could bring to St. Joseph County, and he brought that information back. Mary didn’t have a technical background, but she was able to easily navigate the OnBase platform because of it’s intuitive qualities. The county was not able to dedicate an IT person to the project, so Mary took it upon herself to act as the system administrator, building lifecycles and workflows that made the transition simple for everyone involved. The technology was intuitive enough to use that it didn’t need IT support.
ImageSoft provided Mary step-by-step support to ensure the transition was smooth, and they taught the Friend of Court team how to expand their use of OnBase beyond just the basics. Today, all the Friend of Court’s new documents and case files are digital. More than that, OnBase has vastly improved communication and workflow. Employees can now see which new documents have been entered and which need action such as signatures. Automatic reminders are sent to the appropriate employees when signatures or case updates are required, ensuring that no task is overlooked.
St. Joseph County was able to take advantage of an FOC Title IVD grant that funded 66 percent of the system and implementation, making the project affordable. Other Friend of Court departments are also taking advantage of this, as it is a way to fund enterprise-grade platforms for counties in Michigan. Other states have similar funding programs that can make sophisticated technology within reach for counties that once believed they couldn’t afford it. Unfortunately, some departments just don’t know the funding exists.
OnBase has been so successful for St. Joseph’s Friend of Court office that the county is planning to expand the solution to other departments. The county prosecutor’s office has signed on and is planning a launch, and expansion is also planned for the District Court and the Circuit Court for criminal cases. Ideally, judges would like to expand the system countywide.
Among the many benefits OnBase and ImageSoft were able to provide St. Joseph County:
- Instant access to all data and documents
- No information silos
- Automatic updates
- Seamless integration
The partnership between OnBase by Hyland and ImageSoft has helped multiple county government customers move their record keeping into the 21st century. Beyond just county courts, OnBase has become a trusted solution for accounting and finance departments, human resources departments, large enterprises and more. St. Joseph County is just one success story of many, but their experience has proved that efficiency and productivity can be vastly improved by eliminating paper documents, even on a budget.
OnBase is a wonderful product. It changed our lives. Our employees are so much more efficient.”