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City of Nelson has $450K plan to digitize records

The head of Nelson’s human resources department says the coronavirus pandemic has been a “very big wake up call” about how the city stores and handles its records.

The revelation was shared Friday morning during a budget working session as the HR department presented a $450,000 line item for this year and next year to digitize records.

Human resources director Joanna Markin told council they were not fully prepared to access files off site, even though digitization of records has been on the table since she started working for the city 13 years ago.

“We moved to Microsoft Teams a couple of years ago and we haven’t used the system to its full extent, which in some ways has been a blessing, because it’s given people a chance to get to know it and understand it. But when COVID hit, we weren’t as fully prepared as we should have been in order to access files,” Markin told council.

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If approved in the final budget, the city would spend $250,000 this year to hire a coordinator, which would be a two year position plus a consultant to oversee the digitization of records. The breakdown is $85,000 for wages and benefits plus $165,000 for services and supplies in the first year.

The city would run a pilot project of scanning records in development services, which has a number of large paper files right now. The coordinator would get the city up to speed on the system, but CFO Colin McClure suggests it would not morph into a new city position.

Asked by Coun. Cal Renwick how many records would have to be scanned electronically, staff suggest it would be seven years back for most things.

Coun. Keith Page says he was “a little surprised by the number” and suggested the timeline could the drawn out and potentially lower the cost of the project. But the councillor, who is CEO for a local computer and IT business, was satisfied given that there would be training for city staff up front and that an update on the project would come in June.

“How people implement the filing structure, the sorting structure, getting access to when things are going to expire and how they control permissions is going to be the biggest component. It’s all going to be about training people to use the system. Very confident that the tool, the Microsoft ecosystem, is at last top of the pallet,” Page said. The records system will piggyback on the existing Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

CFO Colin McClure hoped the city could access government grants, such as “earmarking” some of the COVID-19 recovery money, so the digitization project would be not be solely on the municipal ratepayer.

CAO Kevin Cormack says he talked to counterparts in Castlegar about best practices to avoid reverting back to old ways of doing things because software doesn’t work properly.

But Mayor John Dooley wasn’t entirely sold on the project believing there wasn’t enough investigative work “up front” and to make sure the cost of the project doesn’t spiral out of control. “I’ve seen these things race completely out of control when you don’t do the work up front. I’m concerned, I know the need’s there.”

Coun. Rik Logtenburg agreed, suggesting the project be broken up into parts. “I don’t want to write a blank cheque.”

Coun. Jesse Woodward said between climate change and the pandemic, it will only become more important to work remotely “efficiently and cleanly.”

An update is expected later this spring or summer.

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