Kane County Manages Critical Documents with Webdocs

Kane County Manages Critical Documents with Webdocs


The Kane County Clerk’s Office provides several important public services to the residents of Geneva, Illinois, and surrounding communities. One of the most important services provided is the recording of vital records, including marriage licenses, and birth and death certificates.

Utilizing an AS/400 Model 720, these vital records are stored online and accessed using an in-house written COBOL application. Until early 2003, IBM’s WAF/Visual Info software was used to scan and store a digital image of each certificate. Storing the document images allows the County Clerk’s office to easily retrieve and reprint documents without having to find the original paper document copies. By accessing documents online, the customer service representatives can more efficiently serve the Kane County constituents.

A Challenging Upgrade

In late 2002, the Kane County Information Technologies Department (ITD) determined that the AS/400 operating system needed to be upgraded from V4R3 to V5R1. The version of IBM’s WAF/Visual Info software currently being used was not compatible with V5R1, so an upgrade to the software was also required. However the upgraded version of the document management software was not compatible with V4R3, which meant that the operating system and IBM software would need to be upgraded simultaneously. Because of the complex logistics and cost of upgrading these concurrently, the ITD decided to look for a viable alternative that would allow these changes to be performed independently.

Searching for Solutions

The Burnham Group, a Chicago based consulting firm, was asked to investigate potential options for performing the document management and OS/400 system upgrade. The were tasked with multiple objectives:

Implement a new document management system that was compatible with the current OS/400 operating system and would allow a seamless migration to V5R1 and beyond.

Select a solution that would allow:

The existing COBOL application to seamlessly integrate with the new document management system.

The front customer service counter users to print documents from 5250 terminals without having to replace the terminals with PCs.

Web browser access to imaged documents.

Other document types such as PDF, Word and Excel to be stored as future document as that need arose.

After researching various available products, The Burnham Group identified a solution developed by Fortra. That solution was Webdocs, a web-based document management system. In addition, Fortra, a longtime provider of automated report distribution products, was already a trusted solution provider to Kane County’s Finance Department.

The Webdocs software was installed on a free, 30-day trial basis. After testing and discussions between Kane County ITD staff members, it was determined that Webdocs would meet the new system requirements. They also recognized that the software implementation and OS/400 V5R1 upgrade could be done in two phases since the software runs on V4R3 and above. Phase one would allow the ITD to install the Webdocs software, migrate all existing images from the WAF/Visual Info system to Webdocs, complete integration to the existing COBOL application, and test in parallel prior to going live with the new system. Phase two, the upgrade to V5R1, would occur once the software was up and running in production for a few months.

Managing Critical Documents with Webdocs

Once the plan was in place, the ITD gave The Burnham Group and Fortra a green light to move forward with conversion planning. The first item on the agenda was to migrate all of the imaged documents from the old OS/2 based 3995 optical drive to the AS/400 disk before the conversion to Webdocs. Since AS/400 disk space costs continue to plummet, the decision was made to eliminate the use of an optical storage device in favor of storing documents on disk for faster and more reliable access. Fortra wrote custom code to migrate the documents from the optical platters.

After the documents had been migrated to disk, Fortra wrote a custom program to read and combine the index information from the existing in-house application and WAF/Visual Info tables. The documents and indices were then imported into Webdocs. As documents were converted, they were assigned a new internal Webdocs tracking number. This tracking number was also integrated into the existing COBOL application code to allow for the seamless integration between Webdocs and the in-house program.

Since the old system contain MO:DCA documents and the newly-scanned documents would be stored in TIFF format, the users would only need a single viewer to display both types of documents. 

With a few lines of code, the scanning and printing function of Webdocs were easily integrated in the existing COBOL applications.

Replicating the document printing process was more complex since the County Clerk’s office has special paper that needs to be used when printing a certified document. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the first page of each document has to be sized and centered within the certificate boundaries and all subsequent pages can be printed full size with an 8.5” x 11” page. Complicating matters further, some of the old documents were scanned and stored in landscape mode while others were stored in portrait mode. With a little testing and fine-tuning of the process, Fortra was able to add the customized settings needed to accommodate the document printing process.

Document Imaging Software in Action

In January 2003, Webdocs went live with more than 300,000 document images converted from the old system. In May 2003, the AS/400 was upgraded to V4R5 and in September of that year the system was upgraded to V5R2 to complete the project.

The cutover went so smoothly that the front counter users didn’t initially notice any changes. The users are very happy with the ability to access documents from any web browser with the intranet. “The entire staff at Fortra has been extremely helpful and always available,” said ITD staff member Peggy Stover. “I would highly recommend any of their products.” With Webdocs, Kane County will be able to safely manage their critical documents well into the future.

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