Rather than sift through reams of paper each day, my primary source for retrieving information is electronic. Here is the reason. The Borough of Roselle, the first village that was lighted by Thomas Edison, made an environmentally wise and fiscally responsible shift—we decided to go paperless.
By Jamel C. Holley
Councilman, Borough of Roselle
When it was time to identify a model for a paperless work environment, we aimed to move towards improving efficiency and “Going Green.” These were more than mere catch phrases. In these fiscally challenging times, they are an essential way of doing business. During a brainstorming session, members of our Technology Sub-Committee and administrative staff focused on steps we could take to decrease costs and increase productivity. Making a workplace transition to a paperless environment simply made sense. The Mayor and our Borough Council agreed with this course of action.
As a result, the professionals in our business offices and each of our municipal departments were given a directive. Now, they give their office printers more of a break. Instead, e-mail is their main source for corresponding with colleagues throughout the borough. This was made possible by implementing the technology of a Microsoft Exchange Server.
We have opted to reduce the clutter caused by piles of paper. Preparation for meetings will no longer require the Mayor and my fellow Council members to lift mounds of paper out of overflowing in-boxes. Memos, reports, meeting minutes and agendas, will be retrieved using laptops and hand-held mobile devices.
Even just a few years ago, none of this would have been possible for a community of our size. The advances in technology almost always start in the Fortune 500 world, where large corporations are able to make significant investments in research and development of new computer capabilities. The Exchange Server mentioned above is an excellent example of technological progress. Just ten years ago, this e-mail hardware and software required the attention of a team of specialists working together on an extremely complicated platform. Of course, they might have been supporting 30,000 to 40.000 (or more) employees in a global environment. As those capabilities trickled down over the decade to small and medium businesses, and of course to a borough of our size, the price and complexity has also dropped dramatically.
Today, the Borough of Roselle can implement a sophisticated product like this with not much more than some good planning and the assistance of a qualified network engineer who has specialized training. Now, we benefit from the features that Exchange offers such as, a smooth functioning e-mail along with the ability to schedule, communicate and collaborate.
This same premise holds true for our wireless technology and mobile device deployment. A cornerstone of our paperless strategy was to provide mobile computers for our Mayor and Council. However, physically attaching them to the network could be quite cumbersome. Again, just ten years ago wireless technology was expensive, relatively slow in terms of communication speeds, and prone to security breaches. Many of these issues were ironed out by the global organizations that could put such an investment into the infrastructure. The result just a few short years later has been high speed, reliable, and secure devices that can be installed at a relatively inexpensive rate for a small business. Or, a Town Hall! With those pieces in place, we were ready to add the final touch, the computers themselves.
For Mayor and Council, seven netbooks were purchased at a State Contract bargain rate of $1,400. Netbooks offer reasonable power and extreme portability. During council meetings netbooks make it possible for Rhona Bluestein, Roselle's Municipal Clerk, to distribute bill lists and other documents. Netbooks contain Microsoft Word, document sharing, as well as email and Internet capabilities. However, they differ from laptops in that they are much more compact and cost significantly less. The trade off is they offer less processing power, which is only required to run complex database applications in Borough Hall. Tasks like this are handled by employees who use more powerful desktop computers than the Mayor and Council require.
Making this purchase is ultimately a time-saving measure that translates into a reduction of approximately $20,000 annually in paper alone. While our model is geared towards local officials and staff, it does not change the way we interact with our citizens.
We have a message for the residents in our Union County based borough. This phase of our paperless transition does not impact the way we communicate with our population of more than 21,000 residents in our five wards. For example, applications for permits, licenses and other official documents will still be done the old fashion way, by filing on paper. Future plans will give residents both options.
Billing statements for taxes will continue to be forwarded via the U.S. Postal Service. Fortunately, the infrastructure is nearly in place that will allow residents to submit online payments for tax bills and each summons.
However, vendors who are interested in doing business in Roselle will no longer be handed a bid opportunity that is between two to three-inches thick. Everything is being done electronically. Business owners are required to obtain RFPs, RFQs, and other bids online. Currently, we only accept responses to bids for out-sourced jobs if they are sent electronically. Qualified vendors who are selected will receive notification by way of email.
In addition, officials statewide who want to transition towards a paperless environment should seek suitable document management and storage systems. Before implementing new methods of storing documents and images, keep in mind upgrades and changes to your hardware may be required. Therefore, it is crucial to have your Information technology specialists at the planning table. They play an essential role in making sure your network is prepared to handle the burden that comes with storing and archiving: electronic photographic images for both the police department and construction offices; GIS systems; and document retention for OPRA can be included with this transition.
Again, we expect this environmentally friendly effort to represent a cost savings, less clutter, a seamless way of sharing information and an increase in productivity. It is incumbent upon all elected leaders to promote policies and initiatives that are environmentally responsible. Our decision to go paperless is one way to make an immediate impact. I encourage other governmental leaders to explore this option.
While the concept of a paperless society may seem elusive to many, our municipality is dedicated to doing our part. We also plan to identify and adopt additional best practices and cost saving measures to enhance our efficiency. These challenging fiscal times call for forward-thinking mindsets and sound plans of action. The decision to go paperless is a fiscally wise way to increase efficiency within the Borough. We will continue forging ahead with our plans because doing things the same old way is not an option
First published in New Jersey
Volume 88, Number 4, April 2011