SharePoint framework helps build Australia’s digital future

A three-year project to put SharePoint 2007 and TRIM at the heart of an integrated records and information system for over 750 staff at The Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy is nearing completion.

One of the most critical portfolios in the Australian federal public service, the DBCDE oversees high profile projects such as the National Broadband network and the switchover to digital television.

Manager Information Management, Henry Tabisz, was brought onboard to oversee the project in 2008. He quickly came face to face with some major challenges.

The most obvious of these was user resistance to change, and the need for an information management framework, and policies and systems to support that.

“We spent a lot of time concentrating on how to provide better value for users, said Tabisz. “This project was one of the hardest I have ever done because nobody wanted it except management - it was hard to convince users of the benefits.”

In August 2007, the Department Secretary had committed to delivering a simple and reliable information and records management system with better capability to track electronic business intelligence. Implementation of the new solution had to improve information management and record-keeping.

The proposed solution had delivered easy to use interfaces with additional Web 2.0 functionality for improved user collaboration.

The requirements list included a major push to increase compliance with statutory obligations and deliver improved knowledge sharing.

TRIM had been implemented in the 1990s for managing archiving of paper records, but the move to using it for storing electronic documents and email had not been popular.

“It had been implemented as an IT solution without proper business rules, which meant that for most staff TRIM just became a four letter word.”

To improve collaboration and provide a friendly user interface, the decision was made to hide TRIM 6.2 behind a SharePoint 2007 interface developed in Silverlight. TRIM has also been moved from an Oracle platform to Microsoft SQL Server 2005, while the standard operating environment at DBCD is migrating from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Compliance is a tough concept to sell to business users in today’s employment environment, where most workers expect to have moved on from their current job within two to three years, and are happy to leave behind what will no longer concern them.

After spending 12 years working in the Federal public service, either developing applications or overseeing the task as a project manager, Tabisz found the new role came with some unique challenges.

“When I was in application development I got a lot of satisfaction delivering functionality people wanted and helping people do their jobs better. Now I had the task of delivering something people did not want and actually slowed them down in a lot of things they were doing.”

The task of creating an information management framework and policy from the ground up was arduous and time consuming. After naively assuming it could be knocked off in a couple of weeks, the real time frame stretched over six months, including extensive consultation with management throughout the department.

At the end of this process, the department settled on a list of “Ten Commandments” (see list below).

“The new FOI Act strengthens the business case for this initiative because there is this enormous cost of publishing constantly and proactively a lot of information. Management can now see the benefits of the system in saving time and money chasing information across network drives and in email,” said Tabisz.

A pilot SharePoint project was deployed in 2009 for around 70 staff at Australian Broadband Guarantee, a division of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Moving to the SharePoint 2007 platform showed up benefits in helping staff find information and collaborate with others in the organisation. There was also the challenge of migrating users of shared drives with confusing folder structures, where documents can exist in dozens of different places in different versions.

A survey of the pilot participants found that the number of emails registered in the system rose from 1450 in August 2009 to 5221 in October 2009, while new hard copy folder creation fell from 46 in May/June 2009 to 1 in November 2009.

In December 2009 the greenlight was given for a full rollout to the whole department, branch by branch.

Email management remained a big challenge. All Outlook users are now prompted for a folder where official mail must be saved after it is sent. Initially this applied to all mail, however staff have now been spared the need to click a category listing for any mail they choose to designate as “unofficial”.

Other tasks that have been completed as part of the information architecture makeover include a new business classification scheme. This has been kept intentionally simple, instead of coming up with many thousands of categories and becoming bogged down in complexity, it has been kept to well under 100 entries.

“Keeping the number of categories down will also simplify the disposal authority,” said Tabisz.

“We had to teach people about business classification, and training of at least three hours duration has been made compulsory. It has taken a lot of work from my team.”

Ensuring that metadata creation begins at a document’s origins has required ensuring that staff approach their job differently. Instead of creating a document in Word or Excel, they are directed to navigate to the destination folder displayed in SharePoint and begin with an existing template that automatically inherits the metadata.

The new information architecture has reduced the creation of paper files considerably, apart from some exceptions such as personnel and security records that may need to follow staff onto other government departments if they move on. Otherwise all paper arriving in the mailroom including invoices is scanned and the originals archived.

While the department has achieved much in the past three years, it is looking ahead to the challenge of migrating to TRIM 7 and SharePoint 2010, with a trial expected to take place in March 2011.

One of the features offered by the new versions that Tabisz is looking forward to is the ability for all collaborative sites to be automatically saved to the appropriate folders without any manual intervention.

Meanwhile staff are enjoying the ability to search multiple data stores from a single interface and achieve access to the full range of departmental resources from a single sign on. The Department is acquiring an enterprise search platform that will also provide access to email archives.


1 All business-related information created/modified within the Department, or received from outside the Department, will be considered a ‘record’ that must be stored appropriately in the IMS. Personal documents, including emails, will be maintained in the same manner but stored in a personal space in the IMS.

2 The staff member that first receives information from outside the Department (eg an email) or the staff member that creates or modifies a document (including emails) will be responsible for saving/filing this document in the information management system (IMS).

3 The G:\ drive will be made ‘read-only’ once the relevant documents have been moved into the IMS.

4 Each branch will uphold its folder structure with guidelines from Information Management team according to National Archives of Australia principles.

5 To ensure information currency and version control, staff are strongly encouraged to send links to documents in the IMS rather than attachments when composing internal emails.

6 Hard copy files should only be created in very limited circumstances.

7 All documents should be created according to departmentally agreed naming conventions.

8 The Information Management team will manage the IMS to ensure compliance with the internal and external policies that govern information management.

9 Access to documents made available on the intranet will increasingly use links to the IMS document.

10 Other departmental records systems ( e.g. PCMS) will be formally reviewed and integrated with the IMS where possible.