Harris County, the largest county in the state of Texas, delivers key public services to more than 4.7 million residents, including education, public health and social services.
Committed to innovation, the County increased its investment in digital technology to enhance and accelerate the services it delivers to residents and businesses. Harris County Universal Services—the organization that provides IT solutions to the 80 departments in Harris County—has been at the forefront of many of these initiatives.
Court Wellington, IT director at Harris County Universal Services, said, “One of our key goals is to provide high-quality, innovative and cost-effective solutions that help departments in Harris County to optimize their processes and operating models.”
Records management is a key capability for Harris County. In the past, departments relied on their own systems and processes to manage records, including warehouses to store paper documents and shared drives for digital information.
Christee Lewis, manager of document management and web tech at Harris County Universal Services, continued, “The previous siloed approach to records management had several disadvantages. As well as being time-consuming and costly for departments to manage their own archives, relying on paper increased the risk of important information getting lost in the shuffle.”
Harris County Universal Services saw an opportunity to solve these challenges by creating a central enterprise content management (ECM) platform that all departments could use to store their records digitally. The aim was to unlock economies of scale, ensure consistent records retention and disposition policies, and deliver faster access to information.
Lewis commented, “When Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in 2017, flooding throughout the County meant that many of the locations where our paper records were stored became inaccessible, and some documents suffered water damage. This event highlighted the importance of building a more resilient approach to records management, and we looked for an ECM solution to support our long-term goals.”
We are replacing manual, paper-based tasks with ultra-efficient digital workflows—empowering departments across the County to improve their internal processes and deliver better services to residents and businesses.
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Working with an external business partner, the Universal Services team deployed Extended ECM at its on-premises data center.
“The first ECM use case that really took off came about completely by chance,” said Lewis. “During a conversation with the Public Health department, the team mentioned in passing that they were struggling to put together the documentation they needed to request budget approvals in a timely manner. Everything—from travel expenses to requesting new staff—must be approved by our Commissioner’s Court, but putting together the necessary paperwork and supporting documentation was consuming significant time and resources.”
The Universal Services team seized the opportunity to replace the paper-based process for budget requests to the Commissioner’s Court with a streamlined digital workflow. In close collaboration with the Public Health department, the organization developed a solution called Court Letter Approval and Routing (CLEAR), which guides County employees through all the review and approval stages required to submit a request to the Commissioner’s Court.
“The difference between the old paper-based process and the new CLEAR solution is like night and day,” added Lewis. “There’s no longer a need for teams to pass paper documents from desk to desk—everything is handled digitally. As a result, it’s significantly faster to create budget requests and track them through every stage of the process. The outcome is that teams can now submit to Commissioner’s Court on time, allowing them to get faster responses to their budget requests.”
Following the success of the CLEAR solution in the Public Health department, a further eight departments across the County have since adopted the digital workflow. The Universal Services team is currently preparing to onboard the Office of County Administration to the solution, and anticipates that CLEAR will soon become the standard approach for Commissioner’s Court submissions across the County.
“In collaboration with our business partner, we’ve built a standardized process to onboard new departments to CLEAR—we can now get new teams up and running in days,” commented Lewis. “CLEAR was just the beginning; since we launched that offering, we’ve extended the benefits of the solution to many more parts of the County.”
Using the new ECM capabilities, employees across Harris County can work more effectively than ever. For example, the Universal Services team used the solution to replace manual, error-prone document management processes in the property tax division.
Clyde Leuchtag, assistant county attorney and deputy division director for the property tax division at Harris County, commented, “Property tax collection is critical to County operations, so having an organized way to manage tax-related documents is vital. However, we previously had no reliable system for categorizing and storing documents. This made it especially challenging to retrieve documents when cases transferred from one attorney to another.”
Using OpenText™ Enterprise Connect, the Universal Services team integrated the OpenText solution with LawBase, the division’s matter management system.
Leuchtag continued, “Today, we can access all our litigation documents with a single click—enabling us to manage our cases much more effectively. OpenText Enterprise Connect even allows us to e-file court documents directly from OpenText folders.”
We built a solution called Audit Invoice Review (AIR) that captures invoice data, forwards each invoice to the appropriate reviewers, and then back to the AP team for payment. Within a matter of weeks, the first department to use AIR completely eliminated their invoice backlog.
Based on the success of its Commissioner’s Court initiative, the Universal Services team at Harris County has leveraged Information Capture and Data Extraction solutions to streamline accounts payable (AP) processes.
At Harris County, invoices are processed by AP employees in the Auditor’s Office, who match them to purchase orders and forward them to the appropriate teams for approval. When the County moved to a new ERP solution, the AP team lost the ability to automatically perform three-way matching, leading to manual work that increased the risk of payments delays.
Wellington commented, “To deliver public services, many of our departments engage businesses and external contractors, and it’s very important that the County can pay these invoices in a timely manner.”
Lewis continued, “We built a solution called Audit Invoice Review (AIR) that captures invoice data, forwards each invoice to the appropriate reviewers, and then back to the AP team for payment. Within a matter of weeks, the first department to use AIR completely eliminated their invoice backlog.”
Recently, the County Auditor instructed the Universal Services team to expand AIR to all 80 departments. Each month, the County seamlessly processes over 7,500 invoices—boosting the percentage of invoices paid on-time.
Brian Baxendale, division director of financial and business services at Harris County Resources for Children and Adults, said, “AIR is an excellent organizational workflow tool that enables us to manage invoices more efficiently. One of the performance measures we report to the Office of Budget and Management is the number of days it takes our department to process invoices, and we absolutely would not meet our target without AIR.”
The Universal Services team has since expanded its use of information capture and optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Across the four County jails in Harris County, correctional officers keep precise records of every activity—from transferring inmates to different locations to logging recreation time. Officers record this information on paper, which was previously filed on site.
“Correctional officers were creating and filing 700 records every single day,” Lewis elaborated. “The information in these reports can be extremely important for legal proceedings, but the previous approach made it very difficult to retrieve information quickly after it was filed. So, we updated the paper forms that officers use to record information on the jail floor so that they can be read using OCR technology.”
Officers still record information on paper, as digital devices are not permitted inside the jail. Instead of filing the paper documents away at the end of the day, the County jail team scans them, and within a matter of hours they become digital records on the ECM platform.
The new approach has reduced the human resources involved in filing records by 50%—saving time that can be redirected to front-line work. Crucially, the County can search through thousands of records at the touch of a button, enabling it to find important information rapidly.
Looking to the future, the Universal Services team aims to continue to drive adoption of the OpenText platform—extending the advantages of central ECM services to all departments in the County.
Lewis concluded, “We are replacing manual, paper-based tasks with ultra-efficient digital workflows—empowering departments across the County to improve their internal processes and deliver better services to residents and businesses.”