Southend Council enables flexible working with online document management system

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has effected a culture change to make its staff more flexible with the implementation of an electronic document management (EDM) system.

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Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has effected a culture change to make its staff more flexible with the implementation of an electronic document management (EDM) system.

The local authority implemented an EDM system from Civica across the organisation, under a five-year contract, in 2009. It replaced a legacy system that was only being used in social care, while the rest of the council was just using paper files or storing documents on their own computers.

“Initially it was run outside ICT as a corporate programme,” said Matthew White, ICT corporate business partner at Southend Council at the Civica Annual Conference in Manchester. 

“After a couple of years, because a lot of people were starting to use it, it needed more ICT involvement,” he told Computerworld

When ICT got involved was when White started on the project, three years ago. The system is Civica’s W2 EDM, which the council’s IT team manages in-house, with a full support contract with Civica.

Currently there are around 800 user accounts, which White said is continually increasing. The software runs on laptops, thin clients and PCs.

“It supports the home working agenda, to enable a different culture in terms of flexible working,” White said. “They can see the same document wherever they are. People can work from home or at different sites.”

While the culture change was an issue to start off with, White said that the senior management team were “encouraging” and it was helped by being part of a corporate drive to change.

“Some people are now coming forwards and seeing the benefits of it,” he said.

In terms of other advantages, the system has allowed the council to unify its post room, so that all post comes in at a single point.

The council has also been able to reduce office space, shutting offline sites and bringing as many people as possible into one building, thanks to the flexible working culture.

“It’s enabled, to a degree, us to remove filing,” White added.

The council holds just over two terabytes of document data in the system, and it scans or downloads into the system on average 80,000 documents a month. It is growing by about 54 gigs a month, and the council is still doing consolidation work. For example, its property ALMO (Arms-Length Management Organisation) is in the process of digitising 6,000 files and making their processes electronic.

The main challenge that the council came up against in digitising its documents was identifying where people held their data.

“They had paper, remote storage, on their own personal drives. It was difficult to find where they had data and to let them know that scanning stuff is safe,” said White.

White is referring to one of the main concerns of some departments, for example, which believed, wrongly, that they could not use scanned images for the courts.

“But that’s not the case,” said White.

Most of Southend Council is now on board with the document management system, so it is now looking at taking it to the next level.

“By utilising other parts of Civica software, we’re starting an online portal so that benefits and council tax customers can see documents online. Also, online planning applications, so that people can upload their documents with their planning applications,” said White.

In addition, this year White’s team will be focusing on joining up the council’s customer data better, integrating all the different customer data backend feeds.

It plans to continue working with Civica when the contract ends in the next six months.

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