Langford adapts portal to reduce municipal paper use

Looking for a better way to keep track of nearly two million pages of text, as well as facilitate better collaboration amongst its staff, the City of Langford in British Columbia has gone paperless.

Langford has turned to

Vancouver’s Habanero Consulting Group to customize a solution based on Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server that will leverage its existing investment in Microsoft products, including Windows, Office and Exchange Server,

Mike Palmer, Langford’s information systems administrator, said the city already had an ad hoc file management system in place, based on a municipal government file management guide designed for hard-copy files. Palmer said he took that hierarchy and recreated it as a set of folders on its file server, with a strict naming convention.

“It was a regimented system, but it was more of a document management policy rather than a system,” said Palmer.

Langford had begun to move to electronic files because of a lack of space for file storage in their older city hall. All documents over two years old, which weren’t often accessed anyway, were scanned into their system.

Palmer said he had been looking for a more formal document management system for a few years, and was especially interested in the greater controls they gave administrators. He was also interested in collaboration and portals, because Langford has many teams of employees in different departments working together on sets of documents.

“We wanted better collaboration, but sometimes document management systems are so strictly enforced that end users are frustrated because they just can’t quickly create a document, they have to fill out this library card of information,” said Palmer. “I wanted better controls, better search abilities, and to help our teams of users work more efficiently.”

The city looked at a number of products, but Palmer said he settled on Microsoft’s SharePoint for a number of reasons. Landford wanted to be a strictly Microsoft shop, and having already invested in the latest versions of Exchange Server and Office its users were already familiar with the environment. He also liked the functionality SharePoint offers.

Since it can index content both inside and outside the portal, Langford’s legacy documents can still reside in the old file hierarchy and be accessed through SharePoint’s search engine. While the past six months of documents were migrated into SharePoint, the legacy documents stayed in the old hierarchy.

Palmer said the biggest advantage so far as been improved collaboration. Langford’s staff work in teams, so if the planning department is working on a development permit application three or four people may be involved, working on the same documents.

“We’ve organized team sites as a snapshot into what’s going on with all those documents,” said Palmer.

The team sites have lists showing if certain processes are complete, links to templates staff may need, and give the ability to lock files they may be using.

“It has helped get rid of multiple versions of the same documents,” said Palmer.

Rick Martin, Habanero’s municipalities practice leader, said SharePoint was a natural fit for Langford, allowing the city to leverage its existing investment in Microsoft software.

One of the biggest advantages Martin points to is the ability to access files from outside the office if need be, so people on the road can pull-up documents they may need.

“Langford is just opening a second office and they don’t need to worry about transporting files, its all accessible through their intranet,” said Martin.

Martin said Habanero did some minor customization and configuration to SharePoint for Langford, aligning it with their business processes.

“Out of the box it would only give them so much functionality,” said Martin. “By setting it up so it was aligned and supporting their business processes it allowed them to get a whole lot more functionality, especially around the collaboration aspects.”

When going paperless a system crash can be deadly, so Martin said Langford is careful to do incremental back-ups nightly and a full back-up daily. Still, Martin said the paperless route is becoming increasingly popular for many municipalities, big and small.

“We’re doing a huge amount of work with municipalities across BC,” said Martin. “We’re getting a huge amount of interest, from smaller municipalities like Langford to the larger Lower Mainland communities as well.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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