The Woodward News

July 5, 2012

City making use of technology

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — The Woodward City Commission is going paperless.

When city commissioners met to approve their budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 during a special meeting on June 11, they were presented with iPads which contained digital copies of the budget they were set to approve.

By their next regular meeting on June 18, most of the commissioners, including Mayor Roscoe Hill, were almost expertly scrolling through the digital versions of their agenda packets.

City administrators said that was the purpose of purchasing the iPads – to replace the paper hard copy agenda packets, which take a lot of paper, ink and labor to prepare on a biweekly basis. Or in the case of the recent budget discussions as well as regular commission meetings, a weekly basis.

“The paper and ink are a smaller concern, it's really the time factor,” City Manager Alan Riffel said. “There is a large amount of staff time involved with agenda packet preparation. This reduces the time staff has to perform that duty every 2 weeks.”

“It's a huge production,” IT Director Julie Milton said of the packet preparation.

Milton said it takes the city manager's Executive Assistant Mickie Parks "about 2 days," in between her other duties, to compile and then bind the city commission packets, which sometimes run up to 100 pages or more for one meeting.

For each meeting, Parks said she would compile 13 packets, one each for the 5 city commissioners, as well as copies for other city officials including the city clerk, accounting supervisor, city attorney, assistant city manager and the city manager. Additional packets were also presented by request for the Woodward News, K101 radio and the Woodward Industrial Foundation, she said.

During the most recent commission meeting on Monday, The News only saw 3 printed packets. One used by the City Clerk who will always keep one copy for city record, and a copy each for the city attorney and the city manager.

However, each of the 3 commissioners in attendance were using their iPads to scroll through their digital versions.



iPAD APPS

The commissioners will use 2 main applications when using the iPads to review agenda packets: Dropbox and iAnnotate.

The Dropbox app is basically a storage application which can be accessed by Parks to “drop” in the digital versions of the agenda packets and by the commissioners to review the packets.

The iAnnotate app is a viewing and editing application that allows the commissioners to open, read and make notes on the agenda packet.

“It allows them to write, highlight, do a lot of different features,” Assistant City Manager Doug Haines said.

The program also allows Parks to include bookmarks on the digital version on the packet, in much the same way as she would tab the printed versions.

“Let's say the commissioners were discussing item No. 5, they could scroll down to the item 5 tab and it takes them directly to the information for that item,” Haines said. “It is an easy, flexible way to maneuver through the packet.”

But while going to digital agenda packets was the main goal of using the iPads, Riffel said the tablets have other uses beyond that.

“The iPads have various uses for the commissioners. They can use them at the seminars they attend, conferences they attend. It's a tool they have to do a variety of functions,” he said, pointing to e-mail as one example.

In addition, Riffel said, “having the Internet in front of you at all times is valuable too.”

Haines agreed noting that he has found his own iPad invaluable for its ability to allow him to search the Internet for information wherever he may be.

“I was in a meeting where I had to look up unemployment rates the other day and I just used my iPad to go to the Internet and looked it up,” he said.

Both Haines and Riffel said there are likely additional uses for the iPads which the city has yet to realize.

“I haven't looked at all the features, but I'm sure there are some search functions,” Haines said, noting that will allow commissioners to easily review past agendas.

“It will take some time to fully utilize all the functions they (iPads) will allow,” Riffel said.

COMMISSIONERS' REACTIONS

Mayor Roscoe Hill said he felt a little intimidated at first by the idea of having to use the iPads.

“Technology is something I'm a little afraid of because of my age,” Hill said.

However, once he started getting familiar with the machines, he said, “I'm impressed with myself that I can go where I want and find what I want. I was relatively surprised by how well I can use it.”

Hill said that just goes to show how easy the iPads are to use.

Commissioner Gary Goetzinger said there has been a bit of a learning curve for him too. “It's just a matter of getting used to it,” he said.

Nevertheless, Goetzinger said he recognizes the benefits of using the iPads.

“It'll save time for Mickie (Parks). She spent hours putting packets together and she can do all that in 20 seconds now,” he said.

In addition, he said if changes need to be made, “she can do it at the drop of a hat, instead of having to print more pages.”

The mayor said he is also pleased that “we're doing away with all the paper involved.”

“Some of those packets are an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick,” Hill said. “It almost got to point we had to cut down a tree every Monday night to get all that paper.”

In addition, he said “all that paper” takes up a lot of storage space and can be hard to sort through.

“I've almost got a garage full of paper out there. And when I go out to look for something I have to worry about buts, mice or spiders in that paper,” he said.

But with the iPads, there are no creepy crawlies to contend with or even a walk out to the garage.

Commissioner Michelle Williamson said that easier accessibility to previous agendas is what she is looking forward to most about using the iPads.

“It will be easier to go back when we want to go back and review something. It's all at our fingertips,” Williamson said.

Since the Dropbox app has enough storage capability to archive past packets, she said it will be easier than ever to “reference past meetings and look back at notes and see how we voted.”

Williamson also appreciated how going digital will save paper.

“It's the wave of the future; we're going green and reducing our environmental footprint,” she said.

OTHER COMMUNITIES' EXPERIENCES

City administrators said they made the decision to purchase the iPads based on a variety of factors.

But one of the reasons is because that is the way the world is moving.

“It's about going in a forward direction,” Haines said, noting “with technology you've got to stay current.”

“Ultimately all of society will move to digital,” Riffel said.

Milton said even smaller communities are looking at utilizing iPads as part of their operations.

“I recently got a call from city of Shattuck wanting to work with us because they are wanting to push out all their work orders on iPads,” she said.

And many of the larger cities in the state have already been using the iPads, at least for their city commissions and city councils for “well over a year,” Milton said.

“But we wanted to sit back for a bit and see if it really did save them time and money,” she said.

The cities of Guthrie and Edmond have each been using the iPads for city agenda packets for around 2 years. And representatives of both cities said they've seen all kinds of benefits from using the devices, especially when it comes to savings.

“We found the new technology helps the council and staff with it's ease of use and in making immediate changes that sometimes occur,” said Ashleigh Clark, public information officer for the City of Edmond. “It's also helpful knowing everyone is looking at the same document and no one has to remember their folder or binder.”

Clark said the iPads have also made it “easier to communicate with the commission.”

But more than that she said the Edmond city offices are no longer overrun by the packet preparation process.

“Those packets can sometimes be several hundred pages long and we had staff sometimes spending 8-hour days putting together binders,” Clark said. “Using the iPads has allowed us to save a lot in terms of human resources and time, as well as physical savings such as with the printing, ink and paper.”

However, Clark said she didn't have a monetary figure immediately available as to how much money the city of Edmond is saving by using the iPads.

However, Guthrie's City Manager Matthew Mueller said “we ran the numbers” and calculated that it would take a little over a year to recoup the expense of purchasing the iPads for Guthrie's 7 city councilmen.

“And that's just hard cost savings, such as for paper and ink, it does not include administrative overhead cost savings now that staff are not preparing the packets and our police officers are no longer delivering them to our council members,” Mueller said.

Once everything is included, he said the city of Guthrie has estimated “savings of almost $7,000 for the life of a single iPad,” which is around 3 to 5 years per device. With 7 councilmen, that equates to a savings of almost $50,000 over just a few years.

While Woodward city officials didn't have a monetary amount for estimated savings locally, they too estimate that the iPad devices will “pay for themselves” in about a year through the efficiencies the technology creates.

“It's about efficiency, that's what drives it,” Riffel said of the switch to digital. “An organization always has to look at that because efficiencies equal cost savings.”