Growing With the Technology: A Case Study

Growing With the Technology: A Case Study

Charlie Lybrand

By John Makulowich

With slight hesitation, Charlie Lybrand admits he barely knew how to turn on a PC four years ago. The learning curve he rode since then serves him well now that he's transformed his county government office in Charleston, S.C., into a modern imaging shop full of knowledge workers.

Lybrand, who serves as Charleston County's recorder and is up for re-election this month, even has a World Wide Web site (www.charlestoncounty.org/cntyrecds.html) where people can gather information on plat maps, mortgages, deeds and liens. (To view the plats, you need a DocX WebServ Minolta plug-in, available at the Web site complete with instructions.)

Accountable for recording, maintaining and giving public access to real estate records and plat maps for property in the county, the office in 1997 recorded about 90,000 new instruments averaging four to six pages each.

A major activity in any county recorder office is gathering information, including diagrams and drawings, to perform a title search. For example, there are images of over 15,000 plats (drawings of land plots) with recording dates from April 1990 to the present. This is from a total of 20,000 plats dating back to 1978 stored in legacy equipment. Scanning and indexing those 15,000 was one of the first tasks that Lybrand tackled when he decided to move from pulp and film to bits and bytes.

"When I came into office, there was an old IBM mainframe. There was no public access and no user abilities, other than printing out a data strip," he says. "You then looked up the information in a microfilm copy of the record book.

"What I wanted was to bring in imaging, which I thought was the be-all, end-all. I found imaging is nothing more than icing on the cake if you have a good indexing system. That's what you should go after, the best indexing system that money can buy."

Using the solution for indexing from Minolta Information Systems Inc., Ramsey, N.J., Lybrand reduced the time for making records available to the public from one week to two days. He now offers users the ability to search mortgages, deeds, liens and plats by first and last name, address, book number, page number, date and more.

ÊÊWhile he did buy the solution for his IT problem from Minolta, he offers the advice that "it helps to have no opinion about who's on first." What is needed, he says, is a vision of where you want to go with the technology.

Also important is a sales person who not only can pitch a solution but also understand the technology.

"When you begin to look for solutions, find a sales person with a technical background," says Lybrand. "We wanted someone who did not need to continually call the home office for advice and counsel. Basically, we did not want any lag time. We wanted to decide what we needed and then do it, even if it put us in a beta environment."

Lybrand's first project was to image the plats, since there were only 20,000 of them and they required few indexing questions to be answered vs. the millions of deeds and mortgages for which his office is responsible. Mindful of the funding authority and the need to budget for the future, he wanted to start with a successful first effort that was inexpensive.

With a single optical drive and software, Lybrand prides himself on getting a toehold in the imaging and indexing world for less than $65,000. Building on that, he purchased more PCs to put on the public floor. Lybrand says when he started implementing imaging, he thought he could reduce staff. He actually increased his staff by three.

"We now have staff at terminals linking imaging data to other records," he says. "And there is so much more data to work with. We took the next logical step and made our records available over the Internet from our page on the World Wide Web."

According to Lybrand, the most important skill needed to do the work in an imaging environment is common sense along with some technical know-how. Lybrand already had one technical person on staff and had him train a new hire. What made the system a success, he says, was what he refers to as the three-legged stool approach.

"You count yourself as user, the product itself and the sales person as another, and finally the local data processing people. To make the system work, that stool has to stand on those three legs. Leave one off, and the system fails," says Lybrand.

If re-elected, Lybrand wants to move ahead to tackle the 10 to 12 gigabytes of data he holds in his office. He intends to take the same approach to solving that problem.

"If someone asks me, 'What platform are you using?' I tell them the system is on a milk crate right now," says Lybrand. "I simply want to know that it works. Facing that 10 to 12 gigabytes of information that needs to be scanned and indexed, I told the current vendor they have only two choices: Make me their best friend or their worst enemy. Big Blue is waiting outside, but don't let that fact put any pressure on you."

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