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
“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
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.”