The FOI Act requires local authorities to provide unfettered access to documents that escape classification as not for public consumption. FOI requests must be addressed within 28 days. Meanwhile, EDRM rules require councils to move from manual to electronic systems and processes wherever possible to reduce cost, improve service, minimise delays and promote efficiency.
Another key driver for improving the way that the council collates, delivers and manages information was the need for increased taxpayer transparency and accountability. Seamus McGivern, Assistant Director of Finance and IT, explained: "There's a degree of public cynicism about what the Council does and where money from taxation goes. So one of our objectives was to demonstrate in keeping with current government policy "Best Value." This is part of our commitment to being accountable to Newry & Mourne's citizens and stakeholders."
However, the Council was not set up to deliver information in an efficient and timely manner because, like many councils, its processes relied upon paper and manual handling. As information requests came into the authority, the lion's share of documents would have to be located, managed and delivered by a council official at considerable cost and effort.
The way in which the Council prepared and delivered committee papers for councillors was one example of inefficiency already scheduled for improvement. Driven largely by people-intensive paper and email-based processes, it could take up to three days for officials to compile and deliver documents to elected members. The Council's aim was to automate the collation of pertinent documents, and then to automate the generation of reports, agenda and papers. The timing of the legislative and internal challenges could not have been better. The project to streamline the delivery of information to councillors dovetailed neatly with FOI and EDRM requirements.
The ramifications of the Freedom of Information Act dramatically increased the extent of our plans. We had to know where all our information was then design an approach that enabled us to deliver it efficiently, said McGivern.
The Council was already an established user of Lotus Notes and Domino Document management, so Lotus software was the first choice for the new project. However, the council was uncertain whether Lotus Solutions could meet the challenges. "We didn't want to commit to a Notes/Domino solution then discover that it could not support all our goals," explained McGivern.
It was at this point that McGivern discovered Time Solutions, a leading IBM software, services and solution provider and IBM Business Partner. "Fate brought Newry and Time together, but once we discovered their breadth and depth of IBM skills, we were convinced they were the right people for the job," he said.
Time Solutions approach of putting business requirements first and Solutions considerations second was well received by Newry the Council. " It didn't take Time long to get up-to-speed with the Council's vision for a new document management system. That gave us real confidence in their Lotus abilities and experience." he explained.
Time's initial engagement involved the completion of a TimeAssessment project to establish the suitability of Domino Document Manager, and the Council's readiness to implement. The company achieved strong user acceptance for the proposed approach across the Council through the creation of project advocates and various workshops involving key users.
"We considered many different document management systems and suppliers, but felt that Domino Document Manager was the most appropriate fit for us. The Portal Partnership's strong consultancy skills, particularly in the area of creating user buy-in, as well as their technical abilities, gave us a great deal of confidence. The end result is a clear and comprehensive route forward," said McGivern.
The TimeAssessment engagement led to the total redesign of Newry's document management system (DM) across all departments. The new system employs industry standard file types and provides high levels of security. It also boasts full index searching, structured email management and user-friendly administration. Whatever information is held in the new DM system it will be accessible to people on-demand, a far cry from the old paper-based system.
"For the first time, we're automating the paper-flow in key council processes. This will expedite the creation of committee papers as well as the delivery of documents to local people," said McGivern.
The DM system will be built around a file-plan that includes familiar concepts, such as file rooms, cabinets and binders; however documents can be searched by their content, as well as by indices. Workflow approval cycles will be used to maintain the integrity of information and documents will be consolidated into packages to save resources.
Whenever a document comes into the Council it is scanned and stored on the system, which provides Newry with a valuable audit trail for all documents. This enables officers and administrators to track the progress of each communication as it progresses through council departments.
That means our staff can focus on more specialised tasks while we maintain high levels of taxpayer service. We believe this will result in us being viewed as effective public servants committed to delivering a ?Best Value" service," said McGivern. For a low initial investment, Time Solutions has provided Newry with an open, robust and secure framework for future FOI and EDRM compliance. It will also help Newry to move from being a bureaucratic local authority to an organisation that shares knowledge with all its stakeholders.
The Council already anticipates significant direct savings from the implementation. The DMS will eventually provide an information-rich backbone to the authority's operations where 85 to 95 per cent of the Council's communications will be made electronically.
"With Time Solutions' help we'll ensure that the easiest place to store a document is the right place and we'll satisfy challenging FOI and EDRM legal requirements. "We'll also open our doors to the public in a previously unheard of manner," said McGivern. "We're looking forward to the day when most requests are received and dealt with via the website without anyone in the Council getting involved."
Tags: Compliance, Deduplication, Tiered Storage