News Flash

Wright County News

Posted on: January 15, 2020

Veteran Service Office Completes Massive Records Digitization

There are times when a task seems a little too overwhelming to take on, but when it something that will make life better and easier for a lot of people down the road when the hard work is done, it can be gratifying.

It was one such challenge that greeted Wright County Veteran Service Director Greg Pickard when he took over the position in January 2017. One of the first priorities he tackled was converting the county’s files on Wright County veterans from paper to a digital format – something that wasn’t going to come easy.

The problem? There were 36 five-drawer filing cabinets – many of them packed so tight that it was difficult to remove an individual file or squeeze it back in the cabinet. His cramped office resembled a metallic sardine can of filing cabinets stacked one next to another. But, when Pickard came on board with Wright County Veteran Service, he knew what he was up against.

“When I took the job, I was familiar with this office – I had seen what it looked like with all the cabinets – and I knew what was ahead of us,” Pickard said. “There were a couple of times where I was like, ‘Oh, my God. Are you serious?’ But, we knew we had a job to do and it was going to take about three years to get the job done. We figured we could get about one filing cabinet a month done.”

The process of scanning and digitizing the documents began in March 2017 with a goal of getting the job completed by December 2019. Thanks to the work of his small, but determined staff, the job was completed in July 2019 – almost six months ahead of schedule. By the time the work was completed, 17,746 records – many of which contained several, and, at times, hundreds of pages – were converted from paper documents to a digital database.

“We did it the old-fashioned way – started with ‘A’ and began scanning pages,” Pickard said. “We had to work with IT (Information Technology) to make sure the servers could handle the load of the volume we were going through. We went all the way down the list until we finally got to ‘Z.’”

Among the primary benefits of the changeover is a vastly more precise, efficient cataloging of records and documents that markedly reduces the research time needed. Pickard said there were times he or his staff literally had to pore over and sift through 100 or more pages of documents to find the specific information a veteran was seeking. Now it can be accomplished in a matter of a couple of minutes.

“Speed and research times are the biggest advantages for us,” Pickard said. “Customer service when they come through the door and research of what we need to do for them has changed completely. Instead of everything being jumbled together, if I need to find a 214 (a retirement/discharge document), it’s labeled and right there at my fingertips.”

Wright County Commissioner Mike Potter praised the work done by Pickard and his office to get the records transferred so quickly to give Veteran Service staff much easier access to vet files as opposed to the maze of filing cabinets that they had at the start of the process.

“This was one of the most important things that office needed to get done,” Potter said. “Before we could digitize, keeping paper documents was the only way to preserve these important files. Not only did they get the job done ahead of schedule, they opened up a lot of space by not having to depend on storing them in filing cabinets. The time needed to find the information our veterans are looking for was sped up by leaps and bounds.”

The filing cabinets that once overwhelmed any available space Veteran Service could find at the Wright County Government Center are now empty and a thing of the past, replaced by digital data that can be stored and retained without using up space.

It was a big challenge that took two-and-a-half years to complete, but it has completely transformed how Veteran Service can respond to vets in need of assistance because all the records the county has are now easily retrievable. Pickard said it wasn’t easy, but he was relieved when the last file cabinet was emptied and removed from his office.

“Being prior military for 20 years, I walked in a lot of offices where there were just piles and piles of paper files,” Pickard said. “I wasn’t that intimidated by how much work this would be for our office, but you recognize that it was a daunting task to get it gone. We were all happy when we finally got to those last files.”

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