The number of veterans seeking assistance at the Anoka County Veteran Services Office has risen steadily over the past five years, reaching a record 7,100 in 2012.
To accommodate the growing caseload, the office has hired additional staff and enlarged the office and waiting area.
In a bid to reduce the sometimes lengthy wait times and serve clients more efficiently, veteran services staff teamed with programmers from the county’s Information Technology (IT) Department to develop an automated system that allows clients to check in using a touch-screen computer monitor.
The new check-in system allows veterans to specify the purpose of their visit and also indicate which service officer they wish to see.
That information is instantly relayed to veteran services staff, allowing them to closely monitor wait times and better prepare for their session with clients.
“Because we know who we’re seeing and the purpose of the visit, we can pull their file and have information ready to better address any concerns,” said Anoka County Veteran Services Director John Kriesel.
“It is helping us streamline the process while serving our clients more effectively.”
Kriesel originally planned to purchase off-the-shelf automated check-in software, but balked at the $10,000-$20,000 price tag.
Instead, he turned to county IT staff who developed the new automated system in just under two months. The cost? Approximately 40 hours of staff time and $500 for a touch-screen monitor.
“Developing the system in-house cost far less, plus allowed us to customize it by adding the ability to track a client’s age, residence, service needs and other information,” said Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah.
“We’re now looking at adapting this program to other areas of the county, such as economic assistance. The goal is to continue to serve our clients well but use technology to work smarter, saving time and money.”
Veterans have been quick to adapt to the new check-in system, according to Kriesel.
“It’s easy to use and our clients are appreciating the decrease in wait times,” he said.