Islington Council solves records headache with Alfresco

Islington Council has implemented an open source digital records management system from Alfresco that has dramatically cut the time required to find documents, and provided cost savings of "several hundred thousand pounds".

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Islington Council has implemented an open source digital records management system from Alfresco that has dramatically cut the time required to find documents, and provided cost savings of "several hundred thousand pounds".

Finding records had become a serious problem at the council, where they had been stored in an unstructured way across different shared drives. Jeremy Tuck, chief information officer at the council, told Computerworld UK: “In one instance, we spent 420 people hours trying to collect 36 staff contracts.”

Tuck, who had been programme manager at Camden Council prior to working at Islington, persuaded Islington to use Alfresco after the open source provider had developed records management for the US Department of Defence, high standards that Islington felt proved its strengths.

After implementing Alfresco’s enterprise content and records management systems last year, and adding a small customised layer, the council’s 4,000 staff can now find records “within minutes” on a core records library. They can access the Alfresco system via the intranet, with records are divided into different classes such as job descriptions. Records are also more easily searchable, and can be accessed according to permissions set out by the council’s management.

Islington did the main software rollout in January to April 2007, in time for the close of the council’s financial year, completing integration with the intranet by November - an important step as the intranet is widely used for other tasks including human resources processes. Since then, the council has analysed its shared drives and organised more historical records under the new system.

Alfresco's ECM and records management systems now support the entire Islington intranet, making it a “more blog type experience and easy to update”. Staff have been trained on how to file records correctly under the new system.

Tuck said Islington also gained from major cost savings, having bought the software support and maintenance for £150,000 as opposed to “up to half a million pounds” on proprietary systems. It looked at systems such as Tower Software Trim, EMC Documentum, Xerox Docushare and Microsoft SharePoint. Many of these would have also required buying separate records management modules, he explained.

“Cost was a driver,” Tuck said. “Many organisations buy something expensive, but we didn’t have a large budget.”

Nevertheless, it had been hard to sell the concept to management of moving to a large system to a supplier they did not know, Tuck said. The choice of open source was also difficult, because Islington mainly uses Microsoft systems. “Convincing the organisation that this was a viable model was a challenge. There was a lot of apprehension around risk and reputation. Alfresco is a young company, and local authorities like suppliers to prove their abilities.”

The council also uses HP servers and two Microsoft SQL server databases. Citrix remote hosting supports its flexible working strategy, which includes shared desks and remote working.

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