Vic council sets sail with SharePoint

Victoria’s Baw Baw Shire Council is underway with an ambitious program to put SharePoint at the heart of its document management strategy, explains Don Tylee, Manager Business Information.

Australian systems integrator Unique World is assisting the council with the pilot deployment of a document and records management strategy employing SharePoint 2007 and the RecordPoint records management platform.

Don Tylee, Manager Business Information at Baw Baw Shire Council, is exploring the potential for SharePoint to provide a single view of multiple streams of information as part of the drive to improve efficiency.

“We generate a lot of information and people expect us to be able to access it promptly,” said Tylee.

“We are looking at RecordPoint to provide an efficient record document system that is usable by all staff.”

Baw Baw Council is the first local government organisation in Australia to install the Australian-developed RecordPoint/SharePoint solution, with a pilot that has been underway since 2009.

Tylee is keen to establish whether Council staff will really find it easy to use, and not try to bypass it.

“Will it help capture email (and intranet and internet) as records? Will it help our record-keepers retain and then dispose of documents in the required timeframes -as a newish product, I wanted to confirm these aspects before committing further,” he said. “If we go ahead with SharePoint as our document management platform, then in the future we will definitely look at it for our intranet and our extranet. It makes sense to keep building on that platform.

“Once we have documents hosted on SharePoint then we can build additional presentation layers for the intranet and our Council Web site, using RecordPoint to store these views as a record.

“We can also give people the ability to create MySites and see how it evolves and if we need to we can put some business rules around it.”

Baw Baw Council currently uses the hosted Intranet Dashboard platform as a portal for staff, while the RecFind EDRMS, presently used by around 30 staff, has been deployed for the past 15 years to capture key Council paper documents such as correspondence.

“Three years ago we completed a Better Access To Documents Project to move from silo-based shared drives to a whole of organisation structure build on a functional analysis rather than teams - a precursor to moving the organisation to a fully distributed document management environment,” said Tylee.

More than 4000 boxes of physical archives will probably stay where they are as the level of likely usage does not justify a major back-scanning program.

“The recent change to the Victorian Evidence Act has allowed the Public Records Office to change its standards on record-keeping so that it can be legally possible to now scan and destroy paper (in most cases and after careful process) so my drive is also to stop creating paper.

“We have begun to review the electronic migration of some of our major paper-based processes, such as planning applications and septic permits, but one of our key barriers is the inability of applicants to supply us with electronic documents that will hold up legally. There is some way to go as we have to work with our community to change our input processes too, and we see that as a collaborative process. Our external formal interactions are largely paper-based although we are progressively adding electronic options as we can. Many formal records exist in our databases e.g. finance, but some are printed to paper for completeness of our files.”

A million or so existing electronic files that live in shared drives and RecFind as read-only documents will probably stay where they are with a search capability added via SharePoint.

“My ambition is to have a single search portal that can access these multiple sources (including the indexes to the paper system),” said Tylee.

“We don’t want to put in something that requires our users to learn a whole new application, we want a single Electronic Document Management Environment (EDME) where people can accomplish their work, and we are on the way. As of now I can view SharePoint TeamSite Libraries, manage email and access Microsoft Dynamics CRM files all within Outlook. Instead of asking staff to begin their day opening Word to create a new document, for instance an Event contract, we want them to go to their relevant TeamSite library, click to create a new contract and it automatically creates one in Word based on a preformatted template and then saves it in the appropriate folder with the relevant metadata.

“Instead of creating a document in Word, then later on figuring out where to save it, you are thinking within the function you are going to perform.”

Integration with the Council’s enterprise applications is being mapped out to provide the ability for InfoCouncil (an agenda and minutes system) to retrieve documents from SharePoint.

“We are trying to eliminate paper and get business process benefits out of this program,” said Tylee. “SharePoint is often brought in as a collaboration platform, but we have been looking at it initially to help solve our core business processes and stop duplication of information. The other collaborative things in SharePoint like the discussion forums and Wikis will start to grow naturally as people are very comfortable with the Microsoft interface, and we won’t need to drive them towards that.

“RecordPoint is a different way of thinking; it’s really just a set of business rules set on top of SharePoint to provide us with VERS and records compliance. All the user sees is native SharePoint, which allows us to create a front end for the organisation and then map it to our records in the back-end. In our pilot we are talking to different business units to create a file structure based on the way they work so it becomes intuitive for them to save and find documents.

“We don’t want staff to have to make the choice whether to call a document a record, we will make that for them depending on where they put it in their TeamSite.”

As with most organisations, Baw Baw Council has faced a challenge in developing a way for staff to treat emails as records, and it is currently exploring a solution that employs the Colligo Contributor Add-In for Outlook.

“This presents the SharePoint 2010 TeamSite libraries as folders in the Outlook Inbox so it provides an easy transition for our staff to migrate the way they save and manage their emails. It is then possible to automate the creation of metadata and set business rules around that.

“Our vision is drag and drop email management,’” said Tylee.

“We have a hybrid records system that has evolved since we began implementing computer systems 20 years ago, although we still have 30,000 paper files for properties, permits and subject filing system. I do think we can become almost fully electronic in our records within 10-15 years.” Don Tylee, Manager Business Information at Baw Baw Shire Council

At a Glance
Baw Baw Shire Council: $A48M annual budget, 180 computer users
Enterprise applications: Technology One Financials & Payroll, Property and Land, Microsoft Dynamics CRM
Collaboration and records: Intranet Dashboard, RecFind EDRMS
Standard Operating Environment: Windows XP, Office 2003, Exchange 2010.