Council sails on information management

Council sails on information management

When putting together its records management strategy Coffs Harbour City Council navigated through murky waters.

By Siobhan Chapman

Traditionally information management has been pushed down to the “back room” of local government operations. Yet, in the face of legislative changes and the rise of litigation cases, information management has become a top priority for all organisations, and Coffs Harbour City Council found it needed to put records management into the hands of its end-users.

The Council, situated on the North Coast of New South Wales, planted the seeds of an information management strategy in 1996, when IT manager Steve Bayliss and current general manager Mark Ferguson drafted up a document which was initially a game plan to update the Council’s IT and communications systems. The document - Building Communication Bridges Ð also paved the way for clearer handling and archiving of documents and easier access to information.

Coffs Harbour City Council (CHCC) has a staff of 450 providing services for 26,000 rate payers. In 1996, while the council was equipped with a mere 105 outdated “green screen” WANG terminals, Mr Bayliss put this overall statement of what the council wanted onto the marketplace. The document covered all their communication requirements, including telephony, email, Internet as well as records and document management.

Like most councils, CHCC has a vast range of responsibilities and assets to manage including tourism focused activities such as a regional airport, lifeguards and caravan parks. This diverse spectrum makes a document and records management system integral to the organisation.

But the council was suffering “all the usual inefficiencies associated with paper processes,” according to Mr Bayliss.

”The handling of hard copy files and the distance the paper travelled throughout the building meant the council had trouble finding which documents go where, finding files and then finding which files are associated with which files,” he said. “An all electronic environment was our vision. Not the paperless office, but the less-paper office”.

Since that original broad vision document hit the market, CHCC has gone a long way to achieving its vision of becoming an IT enabled organisation. CHCC has carried out a number of implementations that have changed the culture of the council to one of information sharing. However it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.


For its information management criteria, CHCC wanted a system that allowed the management of emails, electronic scanned and hard copy documents, preferably in one program. CHCC received nine tenders for record and document management systems. A selection team of users and management across all Council departments unanimously chose DataWorks, a solution developed by Queensland software house, Advanced Data Integration (ADI).

DataWorks was chosen because it had a strong track record in local governments. Today, the software is installed at more than 110 local government authorities around Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore Mr Bayliss said it was the “best fit” for the Council’s criteria, and went a long way to helping fulfil the less paper office vision. The DataWorks implementation was just one of a number of software roll-outs and hardware upgrades the Council undertook. Since 1996, the council has replaced its WANG terminals with PCs and replaced its corporate systems with Proclaim One, a system for Government property management from Technology One. CHCC has also introduced accounting software Finance One and MicrOpayÕs Ingenuity payroll and HR system.

Yet there were teething problems with the DataWorks roll out. Although they were “delighted” with the software, the council did not experience the smoothest of implementation processes.

”ADI talked to us about managing the cultural challenge, but we underestimated it. We also had technical issues,” Mr Bayliss said. “Data conversion proved to be a challenge.”

Under the less-paper office system, all correspondences were scanned and distributed electronically. However, “people just didn’t like reading things off the screen. They wanted the hard copy,” he said, adding staff had trouble finding things through the system.

Despite the problems, CHCC went live with DataWorks in August 1998. The technical difficulties did not stop but things began to really look up when, in 1999, the council took on a partnering role with ADI in the development of the DataWorks Minutes Manager Module, Mr Bayliss said.

In order to overcome the cultural challenge, and get records management away from the back room and into the hands of the end-user, the Council needed to develop the skill sets of its staff, as well as develop the software. As a first step on this path, the Council formed a DataWorks User Group of administrative staff with the opportunity for direct input into the software development.

”As a result, our users began to take ownership of DataWorks and found that it was a very user friendly and functional program,” Mr Bayliss said. “People could find information and particular documents on demand.”


The Council also implemented a comprehensive training program, the Coffs Information Management System (CIMS) project, which involved representatives across Council departments and an intensive consultation process to examine how to increase productivity.

Out of this process, the representatives selected one staff member, a leader, to train other Council staff in using DataWorks.

Greg Hackfath, a lifeguard with a strong training background and a keen interest in computer technology, was chosen to save the staff from drowning in the wave of new information processes and find their way to shore. Mr Hackfath developed a DataWorks training program specifically tailored to Coffs Harbour City Council’s needs.”Greg wasn’t an IT or records person talking at the staff. He was a well recognised and approachable guy who could speak their language and, as a result, people started to champion DataWorks,” Mr Bayliss said.

The staff responded to this. Some were coming back two and three times for further DataWorks training, according to Mr Bayliss. The Council jumped from a 35 to 45 per cent acceptance rate to 85 to 95 per cent acceptance and usage.

Today there are 300 concurrent users on the system. The Council has brought its cemetery register online and in 2001 upgraded to the DataWorks Customer Request Module.The Council’s increased investment in DataWorks, from the development of the software to the development of the staff, coincided with the legislative changes in NSW, which included the Personal Information Protection (PIP) Act, the NSW Local Government Act and the State Records Act.

”These changes placed a high degree of importance on the way councils managed their records,” Mr Bayliss said. “A lot of archival responsibilities were placed on local government as a result of legislation.”

”Records management has been pulled from the backroom and given priority,” he said. “We are able to manage and retrieve our information with ease, regardless of its format or where it was filed. This is the key. It doesn’t matter what type of information it is, DataWorks can manage it.”

Whilst risk management is such a high priority on the local government agenda, Chris Gorry, chief executive officer at ADI, said that it is important that the challenges of installing a new software system are being effectively met.

”Coffs Harbour City Council’s innovative approach has allowed them to meet their challenges and make DataWorks a pivotal management tool,” Mr Gorry said.

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