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The Secret of Efficiency out in the Field

by Ryan on July 29, 2014

Does it seem like everyone has a tablet in their home or workplace? The answer to that is probably YES. According from multiple recent surveys, more than one-third of Americans own a tablet device.  With this increasing demand of tablet devices, it is almost standard practice that every website has a mobile version for viewing. The workplace is no different as City and County budgets have mobile devices in their budget as a standard line item. Tablet devices are not going away anytime soon and I see the number of devices easily increasing to almost 100% of employees at any workplace in the next few years. Besides tablets being portable and easy to use for the home, tablets can be a very useful tool for work and can save any organization thousands of dollars in the long run.
 
Since 2012, Johnson County, Iowa has been implementing this idea of tablet use for a more efficient workplace.  Bill Greazel, the assessor, was always looking for ways to cut costs of paper use and find more ways to enhance their web presence in the County. Bill always loved technology and was always looking for that edge to find better ways of doing work tasks in a quicker and better way.  The model project with using their new tablets was to access their County web portal page Beacon™. Due to Beacon’s flexibility of website access, not being built on the Silverlight platform, Beacon™ is accessible on any device with internet access. With that flexibility, Johnson County was able to purchase whichever tablet device they deemed most user friendly for each specific employee.  The County staff immediately became addicted to the convenience of the instant access to their tablet in the field. After the comfort level was established with using the tablet devices, the County wanted more functionality in their daily workflow and worked with Schneider Geospatial to develop an application specific to tablet workflows. After listening to the County’s needs, Schneider Geospatial developed a Beacon™ add-on called Beacon™ Data Collection.  Beacon™ Data Collection allows the user in the field to make changes for property inspections and updates. This produced two positive results: this created quicker communication and no paper usage at all in the appraisal process, saving the County lots of money spent on time and office materials. Beacon™ Data Collection allows for the field editor to only choose from a list of options that were pre-selected by the County staff. The pre-selected choices lessoned the chance of making mistakes or having to decipher different handwritings from different staff members in the field. According to an article in the August 2012 issue of the International Association of Assessing Officers’ (IAAO) magazine “Fair & Equitable”, Greazel stated “The tablet is one option for assessor’s offices to minimize paper use, increase the efficiency of appraisers, and reduce miscommunication between field and office personnel.”
 
Building on the ways of eliminating paper and improving efficiency, the recent Iowa Business Tax Credit application created an opportunity to put both ideas in place. As a property or business owner, filling out mandatory forms can be a hassle, but a necessary evil. Before, a person would have to take a half day off of work to go down to the courthouse to take the 2 to 3 seconds it takes to sign a paper.  To this day, many communities still have this workflow in place, but the additional item now is that office staff takes the piece of paper and scans the copy and creates a digital format of this form. Three good examples of this in Iowa are the Homestead Credit, Military Credit, and most recently the Business Property Tax Credit. The current law still requires a person sign a hard copy of these forms. 
 
The digital age is waiting for law to catch up. While we wait for a time of just emailing a copy of these applications to the courthouse, some communities have taken the first step towards the digital age. Benton County, Iowa has worked with Schneider Geospatial to add enhancements to their Beacon™ site. Schneider Geospatial has converted the PDFs on the office counter to a simple click of a button to print at home. To apply for these items, all you need to know is your name or address. In Beacon™ all you need to do is click on the parcel report that you want to apply for, scroll to the bottom of that page and click the hyperlink to apply. The advantage to having the online form is the auto population of information is provided. When using a tablet and a stylus pen, the person can place their signature on the screen and submit the form via email.
 
Tablets in the courthouse are not going away. The purpose of a courthouse is to serve the community and listen to their needs. Statistically, many Americans want convenience and be able manage applications on their own time. With the ability of Beacon’s 24-hour access and online form potential, paper applications will be a thing of the past.