“I Need to See My Grandparents’ Marriage License” – A Tale of Two Citizens
The reality is that municipalities face many challenges when it comes to document preservation, storage, and access. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted many cities and towns to act by digitizing vital records and historical documents. This enabled citizens to access this important information remotely — a capability that became very useful amidst the quarantines and stay-at-home orders frequently issued when COVID-19 was still spreading at a rapid clip.
That said, many municipalities have yet to completely digitalize their vital records, and many are still working to organize this content within a cloud-based data storage platform. But how does this affect the user experience for citizens who enter the city or town hall searching for vital records?
The Records Retrieval Process: Traditional Vital Records Storage vs. Document Digitization
Records retrieval can account for a large portion of a city hall staffer’s workload. But this process could be more efficient, resulting in a time-crunched workday for the city hall worker and a poor user experience for citizens seeking vital records access.
Municipalities routinely receive requests for vital records such as birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage licenses. City hall records rooms are also home to historical and municipal documents such as maps, blueprints, and various large-format documents. Simply storing these documents in a safe, dry, and easy-to-locate manner represents a significant challenge, with many cities and towns needing help finding an efficient solution. Then enter cloud data storage platforms.
Cloud storage has gained tremendous popularity in recent years, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic prompted countless municipalities to implement new systems for storing and retrieving documents like vital records, allowing for better document preservation and faster access to documents. Cloud data storage was also conducive to social distancing and orders for reduced human-to-human contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A digital cloud-based data storage system for vital records involves scanning paper documents, which are then captured and reviewed. The review process is essential for ensuring that A) all of the information has been captured during the scanning process and B) optical character recognition (OCR) software captures that information accurately. In the case of large-format documents, special scanning techniques are utilized to accommodate large dimensions that would exceed the scanner bed on a typical scanner.
Once reviewed and verified, the document is filed in the municipality’s cloud-based data storage platform. Citizens can then easily submit a query through a user-friendly portal, allowing for convenient remote access with an internet connection from any location. This represents a vast improvement over the old process, which required a citizen to visit city hall in person to submit a records request.
How the Shift to Digitized Vital Records and Cloud Storage Has Changed the User Experience
The user experience has changed dramatically as cities and towns have shifted from traditional records room document storage to cloud-based document storage systems. Until recent years, a citizen seeking to see their grandparents’ marriage license would need to make their way into city hall, where they’d have to wait to be serviced at the records department. A municipal employee would take down the grandparents’ information, such as name and wedding date. Then, they’d set off into the city hall records room to track down the marriage certificate. This search could take minutes or even hours, depending upon factors such as how well organized the records room happens to be and the municipal room employee’s level of familiarity with the city’s document filing system.
Sometimes, the citizen may wait for the document to be retrieved. In other instances, where it takes longer to retrieve the marriage license, the citizen may need to return another day. Suffice it to say that this process could have been more efficient, with records retrieval taking up a lot of valuable time for citizens and city hall employees alike.
Today’s updated process is far more efficient and convenient for citizens and municipal staff. With vital records like marriage certificates being digitized and stored within a cloud data platform, a citizen can easily access this data. A city can make all its vital records available via a web-based portal so that citizens can access documents with an easy-to-use search tool. In cases where a municipality wishes to maintain more control, you can set up computer portals in city hall where citizens can access a closed network with access to all of the city’s vital records and documents.
A cloud-based storage system for digital documents allows for self-service, eliminating the burden on city hall staff. There’s no more waiting around while a city hall staffer sifts through piles of documents in a cluttered records room. This system places the citizen in control, which delivers a more positive user experience in most cases. You type in key data points like the document type, date, and names; in mere seconds, the system will pull up vital records and official documents matching the query. It’s faster, easier, and more convenient than the alternative.
Digitizing vital records and other municipal documents does require an investment — financial and in terms of time and resources — but the ROI can be significant. You’ll save money, and you’ll cut down on the amount of time spent maintaining and retrieving documents. And you’ll improve processes to benefit city hall staff and citizens alike.
At iTech, we specialize in providing municipal clients with the technology they need to streamline processes and improve their bottom line. Our developers deliver innovative digital transformation solutions to cities and towns nationwide, from cloud data storage to OCR software and document digitization. We invite you to contact the iTech team today to discuss your municipality’s plans for digital transformation.