York Region meets record-keeping legislation

One of Ontario’s regional municipalities is moving past the pilot phase of a project to better manage its documents and comply with emerging record-related legislation.

York Region said it has already rolled out Hummingbird Communications‘ Enterprise product to approximately 200 users, beginning with a pilot of about 50 licences in its clerk and legal services department. The long-term plan could eventually see the technology extended to many other parts of the organization and total 1,000 licences, according to regional clerk Denis Kelly.

“”We’re between phase one and two really,”” he said. “”We’re seeing what other branches would be candidates for its use at this point.””

Kelly said York Region began looking at the problem in 2000 in response to the growing proliferation of documents across the municipality. An internal study found more than 30 million paper-based records just in the general office areas, and a estimate of total electronic documents is still to come. The municipality’s network has 3TB of disk space, which would allow it to total about 50 million to 70 million at most.

More pressing, Kelly said, was the emergence of new provisions under the Municipal Act of 2001 which says municipalities shall retain records in a secure and accessible manner. The Evidence Act, meanwhile, mandates that governments not only maintain the integrity of court documents but show the processes that surround them.

Cheryl McKinnon, Hummingbird’s product manager in the government solutions group, said legislative changes have provided a wake-up call to public sector organizations to review how they handle information.

“”As a citizen, as a taxpayer, if I want to know about the steps to a certain project or why a decision was made, I’m entitled to that electronic information just like I would be able to get access to the paper file,”” she said. “”It’s really incumbent upon regional, city or town governments to really make sure they’re taking care of the electronic information with rules attached.””

York Region hired CGI to provide a needs analysis for its electronic documents project and technical specs that went into its request for proposal. The project included a large batch conversion of all records dating back to 1971, the year the municipality was founded, allowing users to search any item, including bylaws, within minutes.

“”There’s a theory that you need to change workflow before you bring in a system like this, but based on my experience, you need to know what the system can do for you before you change your workflow,”” Kelly said. “”We’ve already changed some workflow relating to council committee records and making them more electronic. We’re saving time doing that.””

McKinnon agreed, suggesting that customers look at the technology and find out what gaps it can fill and perhaps what gaps it can’t fill, then tweaking business processes.

“”They obviously know how to run regional government business,”” she said. “”I think it can be very risky for an organization to overhaul all of their business processes assuming that the technology is going to take care of it for them.””

Kelly said a internal survey after the initial implementation has indicated users already find it easier to retrieve the documents of others and to store their own.

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