Didlake recently completed work on a contract for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), converting the Department’s Division of Credit Assurance microfiche records to digital PDFs. By converting the records to an easily searchable format, Didlake drastically improved efficiency for DHCD staff, who previously had to search microfiche manually, one at a time, on outdated and often unserviceable equipment.
About Maryland Works Contract for the Maryland DHCD
Maryland Works, a statewide membership association that expands employment and business opportunities for people with disabilities, awarded Didlake the contract in May. For this contract, Didlake securely picked up and inventoried microfiche from DHCD, prepped the files for scanning, and then applied optical character recognition (OCR) to create documents that are fully searchable by fields such as name, address and loan number. Didlake also performed quality control, ensuring the documents were right side up and not skewed. After indexing the files, Didlake securely delivered the files back to the customer via a hard drive in December.
“This particular set of mortgage records is only accessed for foreclosures. It is mandated by state law to keep these records, and the microfiche jackets were beginning to show signs of damage. Digitization maintains the integrity of the files and also prevents misfiling. We were able to give them a much more accurate and complete record of what they had in their possession,” said Rick Hightower, Director of Contract Operations.
Document Management Creates Opportunities For People with Disabilities
Customers aren’t the only ones who benefit from digital document management. “There is a huge growth opportunity for Didlake in microfiche conversion and digital document imaging with federal and state customers, as well as with commercial businesses such as law and medical offices,” said Valerie Spencer, Director of Business Development. “This field provides diverse job opportunities for people with disabilities and is very appealing to many who enjoy working on computers, like Donna, who supports our scanning customers such as DHCD. I know she really likes this work.”
Donna started her career at Didlake with a job onsite at the National Guard, working with mail and supplies. When she was ready for a new opportunity, her Didlake Employment Specialist (also referred to as a job coach) saw a perfect fit for her in scanning.
“I love it because I get to interact with the customers and try to help them,” Donna said. “I like the scanning and doing the indexing, quality assurance and computer work.”
Didlake’s support has made it possible for Donna to learn new skills and grow along with the business. Her job coach not only helps her stay on top of administrative paperwork, but also understand how she learns – visually versus verbally, for example.
“It would be hard to learn different things and do things correctly without a job coach,” says Donna. “My job coach understands that I’m very visual. She’s very patient and she sticks with it and knows how to stay with us to make sure we get it.”
Didlake’s Document Imaging Journey
Didlake has more than 20 years of experience in file conversion. With its roots in microfilm, Didlake shifted to digital document imaging in 2013 with a contract for the U.S. Coast Guard. For that project, Didlake converted a technical library of more than one million pages, saving the Coast Guard and U.S. taxpayers significant time and money.
“The library has the plans for all equipment from a Gunner Turret to a Hobart Mixer for the entire Coast Guard fleet. If something broke on the West coast, they would have to email someone on the East coast to pull and mail the instructions for that manual. By digitizing the files, the West is able to access what they need in real-time,” Hightower said.
Didlake later provided document scanning for the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). Didlake scanned student transcripts, eliminating the storage of over 500 file boxes, improving MHEC’s response rate to individuals requesting transcripts.
Today, Didlake prepares, organizes and scans documents for federal and state customers, as well as for commercial companies, such as United Cerebral Palsy, the Prince William Association of Realtors and several law firms. For the Maryland Department of Transportation, Didlake prepares, scans and verifies the digital conversion of small business certification applications.
Leveraging Past Knowledge With Scanning Technology
For the DHCD contract, Didlake leveraged Hightower’s significant background in microfilm to secure and perform the work. In the mid-1980s, Hightower oversaw the growth of a microfilm business at a rehabilitation organization. That organization was absorbed by Didlake in 1990 and Didlake discontinued microfilm services in 2002.
“For 17 years, I produced a whole lot of microfilm and microfiche. I know it’s all out there and I know folks who are mandated to keep it. It’s a lot harder to find the equipment needed to be able to read and legibly reproduce the old-fashioned way. When we did the site visit at DHCD, I recognized the vendor label on the machine and realized it was a company I had worked with years earlier and that had since gone out of business. As the world moves further into the digital arena, there is going to be a greater need to digitize. I think it’s a very viable business.”
“People also are realizing it is much safer to store records digitally because hard copy files can degrade, get destroyed or easily misfiled,” Spencer added. “At Didlake, we pride ourselves on ensuring we have the subject matter expertise in place for every business line we support. Digital document imaging gave us the opportunity to build on the work that we started 30 years ago and we’ve continued to strengthen and expand our capabilities since we started down this path seven years ago.”
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Compliant Imaging
Hightower and Spencer also see a lot of growth potential in the federal arena, in part due to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) mandate for agencies to transition their business processes and record keeping to a fully electronic environment by Dec. 31, 2022. With the goal of growing the federal side of the business, in 2019, Hightower and Spencer achieved certification as NARA federal records managers. The program involved completing six courses over a year-and-a-half. The courses ranged from two to three days and each included a mandatory test.
“It was a long process, but I think it was well worth it in the end. It’s a lot easier to approach government agencies if we can speak the language and understand their compliance requirements,” Hightower said.
“While the NARA initiative is increasing demand for document management services in the federal arena, the growing need for secure and remote access to files is opening doors with all kinds of customers,” Spencer said. “As the Director of Business Development, I’m looking for opportunities in high-demand services that are a good fit for the individuals we’re supporting and offer career growth opportunities. We found all of that in document imaging.”