The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) has integrated its GIS with a document management system to improve access to electronic records. The system has helped employees find geographic data records quickly, and it has improved the agency's service to residents.

NCWCD provides water to fast-growing communities along Colorado's Front Range. The agency's service area includes 1.5 million acres in Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Broomfield, Morgan, Logan, Washington and Sedgwick counties.

Like in many agencies, NCWCD's employees generate and use large numbers of electronic documents, including minutes from board meetings, engineering documents and manuals, legal contracts, financial records and correspondence. Until recently, the district staff struggled to stay ahead of the mountain of documents by printing them and filing them manually.

However, that solution made it difficult to access records. Often, the records management staff did not use the same filing criteria as employees who needed to find the documents. Additionally, residents and other members of the public could not gain access to the records without help from district staff. Employees and residents who requested documents commonly were told that retrieving them would take days or weeks, or were informed that the documents were unavailable.

More importantly, the district had created an extensive GIS to manage geographic data about projects, but when employees needed to find documents that corresponded with information in the GIS, they needed to search the manual filing systems. That made document searches based on geography (e.g., what are all the right-of-way agreements along a canal) difficult, if not impossible, to perform.

In early January 2002, NCWCD issued a request for proposals for an integrated GIS and document management system. The agency needed document management software that included imaging, optical character recognition, security and version control, and that was compatible with its existing ArcIMS software from Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI. Additionally, the agency wanted a Web-based interface to access documents and GIS data, so employees could use the system without extensive training.

In July 2002, NCWCD contracted with Denver, Colo.-based 5280 Solutions and Lafayette, Colo.-based Farragut Systems to integrate the system. 5280 Solutions installed document management software from Toronto, Canada-based Hummingbird, and Farragut Systems installed software to connect the document management software with the agency's GIS.

Completed this month, the new system allows employees to access and manage documents from a Web-based mapping interface as well as from the document management software. Users can locate documents in the system and then display corresponding maps by clicking on an icon. That is particularly important when employees need documents concerning a specific facility (e.g., a canal project's engineering documents) or parcel (e.g., right of way agreement). Users can pan and zoom through the maps, as well as find information on additional data layers.

Alternatively, employees can start a document search in the GIS by selecting a feature on a map and accessing all its related documents. In addition to making simple queries, employees can perform complex geographic searches to find documents. For example, users can search for right-of-way agreements for a specific parcel as well as all the agreements for adjacent parcels.

The integrated system allows users to access multiple map features through a single document and multiple documents through a single map. That has reduced the time employees spend searching for electronic records, thus increasing their efficiency. Also, residents can visit a kiosk at the NCWCD office to search for documents with minimal or no staff assistance.