The days of file cabinets and data entry are on the way out as Forsyth County, like many governments and businesses, moves into the digital age.
An electronic upgrade improves storing and sharing information from the old-fashioned way, in no small part because of its efficiency, said David Gruen, county finance director.
“Think about what it takes to retrieve a piece of paper,” Gruen said. “When you have to go back a couple years and you have boxes in storage from two years ago, you have to go find it and get the document. Then 10 people want to look at it. You need to copy it for the different people.
“Electronically, different people can go look at it, so there’s a great deal of efficiency and helping you to be able to handle documents.”
Though an abstract cloud holding all that information might seem endless, disc space is limited, like a desk drawer.
And so, for every cloud, there’s a dark lining, said Wally Gramling, Forsyth County’s information systems and technology director.
“The only downside is that it does cause you to have to add to disc space,” Gramling said.
Forsyth County is doing just that, as commissioners at a Tuesday work session authorized up to $76,000 more in expenses to the already $100,000 budget for additional data space.
Gruen told commissioners the amount of storage has grown at “an alarming rate,” quicker than projected at budget time last year.
“We’ve begun to see a rather strong trend eating up a lot more memory, a lot more storage space,” he said.
Two of the biggest contributors, Gramling said, are scanned court documents and lengthened video from sheriff’s office patrol cars.
Both of those changes may have contributed dramatically to disc use, which nearly doubled in the past year, he said.
The upcoming expansion will bring the current administrative server from 40 terabytes, or TB, to more than 91 TB, and the public safety server from 78 TB up to 107 TB.
Evolving to electronic records is happening gradually with plans for digital advancement still in early stages.
Gruen said the county has historically made changes when opportunities arise.
“It’s not that we sat down and said, ‘Let’s go out and buy the capability to digitize all our documents,’” he said. “The opportunities are there with the state-of-the-art new software that comes along.”
Some of the implications of those changes have led to new challenges, like disc space management.
The county complies with the required minimums for saving records, Gramling said, but no maximum exists. Also, a policy for how long to keep data hasn’t been set.
“Unless you delete the data yourself, it’s kept indefinitely,” he said.
A data retention policy is in the works and will hopefully be drafted by year’s end, County Manager Doug Derrer said.
“A lot of users typically will save that document and just forget about it,” Derrer said. “So we’ve got to get to a point where the user, the end user, is the one that makes decisions about how long to save it.”
For commissioners, the dollar figure for storage expansion is causing a sense of urgency in getting that message out to employees.
“There’s a cost to this,” Commissioner Jim Boff said, “and what we’re seeing right here is a cost to providing all this technology and storage.
“It’s costing us to not have a policy.”
Creating those guidelines is one of many tasks that will be spearheaded by the IS & T Governance Council, a board created in 2008.
Gruen said the committee functions to balance the county’s technological needs by bringing representatives from different government services to the table.
A Thursday meeting of the council centered on prioritizing capital projects for 2014, with a public safety radio system upgrade topping an agreed upon list.
That group, Gramling said, is something that’s keeping Forsyth County ahead of the pack by continually addressing technology needs to serve the public.
“It is a tremendous tool for communications,” he said. “It puts the people who have a common interest in advancing the county and this area together and they talk about it.”
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