Success Story: Hampden County
VirtualViewer® Brings Efficiency to the Hampden County Registry of Deeds
Hampden County, Massachusetts—home to the third largest city in the state, Springfield—is one the most industrialized counties of western Massachusetts. The 2010 census found 461,228 residents living in 175,288 households. Whenever any of those houses or plots of land change hands, documents must be created to record the transaction and it’s the job of the county registrar to keep it all straight.
“When I first became registrar in 1983, we processed approximately 30 different kinds of documents. Today, that number is closer to 175, and we expect it to continue to grow,” said Donald Ashe, the [then] registrar for Hampden County. “Everything from deeds, mortgages and liens are online now, and new types are being created all the time.”
The combination of the county’s predominantly urban layout and its historic past provides an interesting challenge for the Registry of Deeds. In addition to storing deeds, affidavits and other documents generated by Hampden’s businesses and citizens, the registry also houses historic documents going all the way back to 1636. These timeless documents are an invaluable resource for authors, academics and genealogists researching various subjects.
With many different constituents looking to access all of these various documents, the Registry needed to give users the ability to access disparate forms in a cohesive manner, regardless of the format. At the forefront of Ashe’s priorities was a document management strategy that provided the flexibility to incorporate new types of documents.
Under Ashe’s leadership, Hampden County has always prided itself as being a technology innovator. In fact, the county had its records online years before most others and first implemented document-viewing technology in 1998 to improve document access for employees and users. However, with hundreds of thousands of documents being processed every year, their system finally started to slow down in 2012.
“For people inside government and for the public, everyone was seeing it. We even started getting complaints. I had to ask how we could solve the problem,” said Ashe. He went on to say that the county’s IT department couldn’t figure out what was wrong, other than that too many people were trying to use the system, calling up documents in a variety of formats for both modern legal reasons and for historical records.
Not wanting to see the system bogged down by intolerable slowness, Ashe set out to fix the problem.
“We were attracted to an affordable, zero footprint solution that didn’t require a download and presented users with the fewest possible ‘clicks’ to print or export a document.”
— Gregory Rogers, Director of Management Information Systems, Registry of Deeds
To address this issue, Hampden County researched more modern document-viewing solutions and ultimately chose to implement Snowbound Software’s VirtualViewer. Ashe was frustrated by limitations of other viewers and turned to Snowbound to streamline document accessing and processing.
Using Snowbound’s pure VirtualViewer, visitors to Hampden County’s website are able to access over 175 different document types—ranging from affidavits to land deeds—from any web browser. From there, visitors can manipulate the respective documents for their viewing, printing and exporting needs; for example, inverting and zooming for better clarity, searching by page number, printing, and exporting the documents as either PDF or TIFF files. Drawing on VirtualViewer’s mobile document viewing capabilities, numerous users—including lawyers, police officers, realtors, title examiners, colleges, historians, and residential owners—are able to access critical information on the go.
“We were attracted to an affordable, zero footprint solution that didn’t require a download and presented users with the fewest possible ‘clicks’ to print or export a document,” said Gregory Rogers, Director of Management Information Systems at the Registry of Deeds. All that is needed on the back end to run VirtualViewer is either a Windows server running .Net or any server running Java. Everything else occurs directly in the web-browser. Because of this, users aren’t pulling down computing power by loading a variety of disparate viewing programs on the server end.
Although no one ever pinpointed exactly what was causing the terrible slow-down on Hampden County’s website, Ashe said he doesn’t care because the Snowbound VirtualViewer fixed the problem.
“We are always looking to adopt new technologies that will help make the process of accessing and interacting with documents an easier and more enjoyable experience for our users,” he said. “Snowbound helped us achieve that.”
- Decreased loading times by 50 percent compared to previous viewer
- Improved image and document clarity
- Experienced an 18 percent increase in recorded documents from 2011 to 2012
- Collected nearly $13 million during the 2012 calendar, a 14 percent increase over 2011
- Established real-time communication between Springfield headquarters and a sub-office in Westfield, ensuring that users are making decisions based on the most accurate, up-to-date information available as documents are recorded at either location
- The actual installation of the Snowbound solution was extremely quick for Hampden, taking less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Once implemented, their IT department noticed a significant improvement in document clarity and processing.
“Everything sped up right away,” Ashe said. “And the documents look much clearer when called up with the new VirtualViewer too. We don’t get complaints anymore.”
In fact, Ashe said he recently got a letter from a woman in England who was doing a genealogy search, just to say thank you for providing the records she needed in an easy-to-access format. He also said that as many as four authors have visited the archives to research for current projects, but since the records are available for anyone to use online, the number of authors using the system could be much higher.
“The response we’ve received since our implementation underscores that our users are happy with the technology,” said Ashe. “Complaints about our system’s slow processing time have been replaced with positive feedback about the new viewer’s speed and improved document clarity.”