NSW Council endorses new search engine for local government

Lake Macquarie City Council on the NSW central coast has given a solid endorsement to new search engine technology developed for the local government sector by IT services and solutions provider iPlatinum.

Using iPlatinum’s iFerret Enterprise Search technology Lake Macquarie staff are better able to understand a given situation about a customer, a property or a Council asset and make correct and timely decisions and achieve superior outcomes says the Council’s corporate information manager, Mark Piper.

Lake Macquarie is one of a growing base of 15 councils for whom iFerret provides far more comprehensive search capability than general purpose search engines.

iFerret gives local government staff the ability to locate and retrieve information that might otherwise remain hidden in databases, networks and document management systems. It does so using simple search methods and filtering techniques.

Trevor Wilson of iPlatinum explains that “organisations have long realised that there is a wealth of information that is not used adequately because staff either don’t know the information exists or have trouble accessing that information in context. This is where iFerret excels.

“As intuitively as searching on the Internet, any user can now find any piece of information which he has permission to access, whether that information is in a document management systems, file system, email or a database,” he said.

At Lake Macquarie 17 staff in a pilot scheme that preceded the enterprise-wide roll-out of iFerret were saving an average of more than 2 hours a week searching for information across the Council’s digital assets including records management and email systems.

Mark Piper says iFerret appealed to the Council because it knew it was not making full use of the information it held due to separate information repositories and that metadata was inconsistent.

Meanwhile customers were expecting more timely responses to their enquiries and there was increasing awareness in the wider community of its rights to access information under Government Information Public Access (GIPA) act.

“Within Council we wanted to ensure better informed decision-making by using existing resources and putting knowledge in the hands of every staff member,” Mr Piper said.

Project manager in charge of the implementation of iFerret, Julie Walker, said a customer service officer’s search for a particular sub-division is an excellent example of iFerret’s capabilities.

She explains that the Council’s Pathway property system requires searching by application number, by the property or applicant’s name or by the full address. Of these the customer knew only the suburb. Using iFerret and Pathway as the data source, the customer service officer searched using three phrases, "suburb name", " “developer name" and "subdivision". 

This immediately located the correct application number for the subdivision enabling the customer to view the application from an application tracking page on the Council’s website. 

“The customer service officer would have never been able to locate it in Pathway without the full property address,” Ms Walker explains.

With a population of more than 200,000, which is expected to grow by some 30 percent over the next 20 years, Lake Macquarie City Council lies between Sydney and Newcastle, embracing such towns as Belmont, Cardiff, Charlestown, Morisset, Swansea and Toronto.