Municipality of York shrinks paper mountain with eDocs

The Regional Municipality of York is working with its IT staff to train senior managers on its electronic records system and to complete a rollout it began in pilot three years ago.

Speaking at the Information Highways 2006 conference last week, regional clerk Denis Kelly said the records and information management system, called eDocs, has been made the No. 1 priority in a list of 32 IT strategies which have been approved by the local government. The rollout will also include an effort to consolidate the approximately 300 codes York uses to classify files (of which most users only need to know about 10) and the development of a schedule for how long records should be maintained.

Kelly said document and content management was a big issue at York Region, which is Canada’s sixth largest municipality. According to its own internal research, York is grappling with about 38 million paper records and nine million e-mail messages a year. This is creating storage capacity issues, Kelly added, which the eDocs system is designed to help solve.

“Our IT people are really concerned about this,” Kelly said. “There isn’t even enough air conditioning for all those servers, and they’re just humming away.”

York Region began its pilot in 2003 using Toronto-based Hummingbird’s content management software, Enterprise, to about 50 users in its clerical and legal services departments. Usage of the system has shot up 12 times since then, Kelly told the Information Highways audience, and eDocs has evolved to manage e-mail messages, CAD drawings, maps and spreadsheets, among other forms of content.

The number of phones and PCs available to municipal staff has increased about four times between 1998 and 2005, Kelly added, which has had a domino effect on the number of documents created and managed by the organization. Backup tapes, meanwhile, contain a great deal of “discoverable” information that could be useful to some departments, but because they are used primarily for business continuity reasons employees may not know this, he said.

“This was news to our IT people,” he said. “They thought their job was the managing of storage and hardware and that sort of thing.”

Among those in records-keeping professions, April is records and information management month. A non-profit group called the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) is trying to raise awareness around the issues organizations like York are facing by offering a series of tips around training and measuring the effectiveness of electronic record keeping practices.

“We’re constantly seeing new headlines and stories about organizations who, because of the way their e-mail is managed, are getting fined by courts, or being brought up in front of Privacy commissioner if they’re in Canada,” ARMA International spokeswoman Cyndy Launchbaugh said. “Upper management needs to be aware and to support the due diligence and so on, but the tips are for those who may be in legal and IT management and archive (jobs) that are actively involved in managing the records.”

Kelly said the message is slowly making its way through the enterprise. “In 10 years this will all be an academic discussion,” he said. “Everyone is going to be using these kinds of systems.”

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