Beaufort News

County invests in iPads to cut paper-pushing costs

If you see a Beaufort County council member or your librarian wielding an iPad, you might think they're enjoying a gift from Santa. But it's actually a present from county government, one designed to save money and increase efficiency.

The county bought 15 of the tablet computers late last year, which are being tested and distributed. One will reside with the clerk to County Council, three with the Management Information Systems department, four with the library system and seven with individual council members.

More of the computers will be purchased as the program is evaluated, and the other four council members should have their iPads by July, said Bryan Hill, deputy county administrator.

The computers cost the county about $400 each, but the investment will pay off by reducing the need for paper agendas and meeting notes, Hill said.

"It costs to produce a meeting," Hill said. "This is one way of becoming a paperless council."

To illustrate, the county staff estimated how much it cost to prepare for the Sept. 13 County Council meeting.

The week before, staff assembled "data packages," which included the agenda, minutes from previous meetings and information on the items under consideration, such as maps, building designs and contracts. Each package contained 2,000 pages.

Paper copies were made for the 11 council members and four other administrators and staff members. Two council members picked up their copies at the county office; the other nine received them by courier.

Paper, printing, courier and personnel costs for the packages added up to a little more than $600 for that one meeting.

County Council has two full meetings and five committee meetings every month.

"There's a lot of paper that goes through this office," said Sue Rainey, clerk to council. "We would collate sometimes until 7 o'clock at night."

The iPads will allow council members to receive the information electronically.

The Beaufort County Library will use its iPads to find books and items in its catalog. Currently, queries from a patron often require a librarian to return to the reference desk. The new technology will allow them to answer questions on the go.

"They carry the iPad with them, and in the stacks the person asks that question, and the librarian at that point pulls out the iPad and does the appropriate browsing of the databases," said Stuart Forrest, Beaufort County Library systems specialist.

Forrest said the Beaufort branch has been testing the device for about three weeks. Two more will go in service at the Bluffton and Hilton Head branches next week, and Forrest will keep the fourth for support purposes.

The iPad, made by Apple Computer, is similar to the iPhone, which took the wireless world by storm when it was introduced in 2007. Forrest said several librarians are already familiar with the iPhone. That, along with the computers' simplicity, make integrating the devices easy.

"An iPad is so intuitive to use, you don't need much specific training," he said.