By Keith McPeak

Roughly twenty years ago CSA introduced member utilities to the world of digital document archival through its Electronic Document Management System. Avoiding the natural deterioration of paper and ink, along with a complete indexing system for quick and easy access to stored reports, digital document archival held much promise.

Today’s digital archival technology far exceeds that of 20 years ago, and document management now also charts workflows of which a document is only the end product. A few years back CSA member utility Alcorn County Electric (ACE) introduced CSA and its members to Midsouth Imaging’s DeltaDOCK, a simple-to-use, cost-effective way to store and retrieve documents. We caught up with Sean McGrath, chief financial officer at ACE, to see how things were going with DeltaDOCK, having recently changed its name to Paperstore.

“We have definitely not stopped using it,” said Sean. “It’s tough to sort through 10-20 years of cabinet paperwork, and you’d be surprised how often we have to reference information that far back. Instead of running down the hall to a file cabinet, I just pull the document from Paperstore and get what I need. That really saves a lot of time, and the indexing really helps with our organizational efforts and ensures the results are easy to sift through and are readily available.”

Paperstore functionality can also include workflow processes, OCR/barcode recognition, E-forms, Web access, and other functions incident to digital archival. While it archives and indexes paper documents, Paperstore can also archive and index non-document file types, including audio and video files. “Of course, this will take up more hard drive space,” said Sean, “but if you had a WAV or MP3 voice message that was deemed important enough, you could archive and index it with Paperstore. Same thing with video data such as security camera footage.”

Through the years CSA member utilities also adopted other document management and workflow solutions, such as Image Director by Milner Technologies and the relatively new SearchExpress by Executive Technologies, the makers of CSA’s legacy EDMS. Clinton Utilities Board chose Milner’s Image Director. Dudley Fagan, director of accounting and finance for Clinton, explained to us how they use Milner for items from check processing to newly developed electronic customer forms. “If a tornado comes through,” said Dudley, “I know my documents are safe on the Milner server being hosted at CSA. Milner scans customer applications and IDs, indexes them to CMB’s customer locations, and a hotlink to CMB pulls all documents for that customer without digging through cards. Milner’s Kurt Thayer did a good job of taking it to the accounts payable side too, getting rid of all the paper invoices.”

Clinton also uses Milner’s workflow processes, which are automated and assigned to certain people for process fulfilment, approval, and execution. “Having all the workflow steps built into the process helps the user ensure that no required step is left out,” Dudley said. “Image Director will even ‘learn’ these processes and preferences based on previous experiences. This has also helped in our purchasing from general requisitions,” said Dudley.

After careful consideration, CSA member Hartselle Utilities selected the new SearchExpress product. “We are still using it in a limited capacity with respect to all it will do,” said Tim Mitchell, Finance and Accounting Manager for Hartselle, “but we are very satisfied with the ease of use and how easy it was to learn. For Hartselle Utilities, it is a very low-cost solution to a high-cost storage problem. Searches are very easy to do and appear to work very efficiently, and the support staff and management of Executive Technologies have been very good to work with.” Tim said that Hartselle plans to expand SearchExpress’s role with online forms and approvals in the future.

Once the digital archiving system is in place, getting rid of paper documents may be against one’s gut instinct, but for Dudley Fagan, the decision was fairly easy: “It does feel good to hold paper documents in your hand, and there are some documents you do hang on to, but digital imaging is so much more streamlined, especially with the workflow piece, and all of this passes regulations and requirements for auditing, too.” Alcorn County Electric also elects to keep important paper documents, especially if financial, legal, or insurance related. “There are just some originals you like to be able to put your hands on,” said Sean McGrath. “But it is extremely valuable to be able to go into an indexed digital archive and pull what I need in a moment’s notice.”

“There is an extra cost to digital archival, of course,” said Dudley, “but the return on investment, increases in efficiency, and time saved are well worth it.” Sean at ACE agreed. “Even after all these years, Paperstore is still very competitive pricewise, and I have to say that working with Brad Davis from MidSouth Imaging and Terry Buckler from Delta Systems is always a pleasure.”