- 06 June, 2003 13:11
With paper use running to 10,000 pages per employee per year, Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission was drowning in a sea of white A4. Three years later, the organisation has transformed itself into a paperless office -- and you can almost hear the trees sighing with relief.
Dr Tony Marxsen is as concerned about the environment as the next guy — but that’s not the reason he headed a three-year project to transform Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission (TAC) into a paperless office. As Marxsen can tell you, going digital isn’t always about saving trees. Sometimes it’s about saving your organisation, too.
“When I joined, the thing that struck me about the TAC was that I’d never seen so much paper in an organisation before,” Marxsen says. “Every claim had its own paper file, ranging from 20 pages to a small truckload. There were three-quarters of a million of them and our paper use was running at 10,000 pages of white A4 per employee per year! There were files on every desk. We had large compactuses on every floor and a whole warehouse of less active files out in the suburbs.”
As executive general manager of client services, Marxsen is responsible for managing the TAC’s IT infrastructure and supporting the commission’s 830 or so desktops. More importantly, however, it’s also Marxsen’s duty to make sure that the 20,000 claims the agency handles each year are processed as smoothly as possible. Not a small task for any CIO, but in Marxsen’s case it’s a job that was made all the more difficult by the fact that the when he arrived at the TAC in late 1999, the organisation was literally drowning in paper.
Paper Wait“Everyone at the TAC is passionate about delivering better service to our clients,” Marxsen says. “After all, they are people injured in accidents and the last thing they need is bureaucratic procedures.” But by 1999, he says, it had become clear to TAC’s management that the paper-based system which had been in place since the commission was founded was no longer working.
The TAC was set up in 1986 by the Victorian government to pay for the care and benefits of people injured in transport accidents. Funding comes from payments made by motorists when they register their vehicles with VicRoads. What makes the TAC’s situation unique within Australian government, however, is that there is no statute of limitations that applies to the commission’s activity. If a person is injured in a car accident when they are a baby, then that person may be on TAC’s books for the duration of their life. Claims can stay active for decades — and so does their associated paperwork.
The result, says Marxsen, was an constantly-growing archive of printed material that was threatening to overwhelm the agency. The surplus of paper not only presented the commission with serious storage problems, it also held up the processing of claims and posed security risks to TAC clients’ sensitive personal information.
“At any time, we might have five people — a claim manager, a rehabilitation expert, a vocational specialist, a medical panel member, a lawyer — all working on the same complex claim, with all but one waiting for their turn with the file,” Marxsen says. When clients called, the TAC had no way of ensuring the person handling the call had all the latest information pertaining to the claim — it could be in a file sitting on someone else’s desk.
Having identified paper files as the main barrier to improving service delivery, the TAC’s solution was to create an electronic client management system. As Marxsen envisioned it, the system — known as eFile — would streamline claim processing, reduce the load on call centre staff and provide a secure, reliable archive of the crucial documents that accompany each accident claim.
“Even with the best people and processes in the world, when you have 3000 items of mail and 1000 pages of fax arriving every day, stuff still occasionally got lost or misdirected,” Marxsen says. “Moving from paper to eFile offered us the best chance of making sure we never again lose anything and we always respond well. There were a lot of other benefits, but service delivery was the real driver.”
Since the TAC outsources its most of its IT function (less than 10 per cent of the commission’s annual IT spend is salaries, Marxsen claims), outside help was needed to design and implement the new electronic claims management system. The overall architecture of the eFile system was done by DMR, with a great deal of input from in-house TAC technology specialists. Fujitsu provided infrastructure, application and user support, while Pickfords/Decipha supplied the imaging solution that enables the system to scan and store incoming, paper-based correspondence. The eFile system itself comprises a large document repository running on Domino, a compact index database using DB2 and a Java transaction manager using Websphere. The Domino repository holds the official company record of a claim or transaction, including all the associated metadata and index data. Links to other TAC systems are provided using e-mails with XML content and an MQ link to the mainframe, but the desktop client is thin, just a browser.
The underlying infrastructure is three servers, one each for Domino, DB2 and Websphere. A fourth server acts as a “spare tyre”; the TAC keeps a set of mirror system disks for each of the three servers stored in a safe, and in the event of a server failure these can be swapped into the fourth server so it can be simply rebooted to “become” one of the other three. Normally the fourth server runs a Domino replica which gives the TAC an online backup copy of the large document repository. The key feature of eFile, says Marxsen, is its e-mail notification feature. Whenever a phone call comes in to the TAC’s general enquiries team, the person who receives the enquiry immediately creates a record of that phone call. If they can’t resolve the issue on the spot, they then send an e-mail to the case manager notifying them of the client’s call. The case manager receives an e-mail with a link that takes them straight to a view of the claim, so they can see what’s been happening.
“You can imagine the impact this has had,” Marxsen says. “If someone calls us now, the person who receives the call has all of the story — every interaction — visible on the screen. They can speak to the caller about any aspect of their claim.”
The TAC first took eFile live in March 2002. The plan was to introduce core features first and add more advanced functionality gradually, so the initial launch version of eFile consisted primarily of the document repository, index and file viewer. Built into this original system were such crucial features as claims search, the ability to add notes to files and Marxsen’s killer app: the ability to notify managers about claims activity via e-mail. All in all, Marxsen says, the TAC had to move about 1.2 million items into the new system from an old mainframe system that contained ad hoc working notes on claims. In December 2002 the TAC added the ability to make scanned images of its inbound mail, making it possible to save e-mails, faxes and other correspondence, and attach them to the appropriate claim file. For instance if a medical report is sent to the TAC, it is scanned into eFile — offsite, for security reasons — and transmitted to its offices as an e-mail message via a private link from the commission’s imaging services provider. “Since December we’ve had 3000 items a day going in from that source,” says Marxsen.
Soon after, the TAC also made the first moves to integrate the system with the organisation’s other internal applications, such as those used to manage provision and funding of care to TAC clients. “Funding approvals are very important records,” Marxsen explains, “so now the applications which handle those funding decisions automatically send documents to eFile to say that a particular amount of treatment has been approved — and all that is visible on the individual claims.”
Next up for eFile is a planned project to back-capture the commission’s active files and add them to the eFile archive. “We will only be scanning only the more active files — probably no more 10,000 out of 750,000 — but those 10,000 represent a huge amount of activity within the TAC,” Marxsen says.
Comply and Rely
The legal and policy challenges the TAC faced to make eFile a reality can best be summed up in two words: compliance and reliance. “With nearly every aspect of the system, we had to ask ourselves two very important questions: ‘Are we complying with all the legislation that applies to us?’ and ‘Can we rely on these documents in court if we need to?’” Marxsen says.
Both of those questions are not as easy to answer as you might think. Victoria’s Transport Accident Act, passed in 1986, was the piece of legislation which brought the commission into existence and it also laid down guidelines and codes of conduct regarding the benefits the TAC can pay and other conditions that apply. But when it comes to the state and federal legislation that the TAC must comply with, The Transport Accident Act is only the tip of a very large iceberg — one that also includes: The Public Records Act, The Health Records Act, Freedom of Information Act, The Accident Compensation Act, The Tax Acts and all relevant ATO regulations, The Legal Practices Act, The Privacy of Information Act, and at least another half dozen other legislative items.
On the reliance side, the situation is equally complex. In judicial matters, the TAC is bound to another long list of legislative acts, including the Evidence Act, The County Court Act, The Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT) Act and The Electronic Transactions Act, as well as the court rules and practice notes for the Supreme Court and county courts. However, unlike other states such as NSW, which has reformed its rules of evidence to accommodate digital documents, The Evidence Act of Victoria has yet to be brought up to date. Although The Evidence Act is due to be overhauled soon, this left eFile’s designers lacking a set of formal evidence guidelines to work with. Instead, the TAC constructed eFile to support The Commonwealth Evidence Act, the legislation that most states have agreed to use as a model for introducing digital evidence in court. “What we’ve done is very supportive of The Commonwealth Evidence Act,” Marxsen says. “We sought detailed legal advice and we’re fully confident that these documents are admissible and that we’ve met every requirement in the relevant acts to make them so.”
Legal requirements such as these go hand in hand with security and privacy issues that no government agency in the TAC’s situation can afford to neglect. The eFile system has been designed to support the TAC’s strict “need-to-know” privacy regime. “A lot of other organisations don’t have that legal aspect to the documents that they keep on file,” Marxsen says. “Some might have the same freedom of information requirements as us, and others might have the same longevity requirements, but most of them are dealing with relatively transient documents in a non-litigious context.”
“Prudence and internal policy dictate that we support a need-to-know approach to privacy. We regard our clients’ information as their information, not ours,” he says.
Nothing to Lose
According to Marxsen, since taking the system live 15 months ago the business benefits of eFile have been twofold. For one, less paper means cost savings; the TAC is buying less paper and no longer has to worry so much about storage space. “There’s been savings on paper, and the number of physical moves of paper files has gone down to half of what it once was,” Marxsen says.
More importantly, the TAC’s ability to deal with clients’ enquiries and to resolve issues on the first call has also improved enormously. Marxsen claims the TAC now resolves about 60 per cent of client issues on the first call. “We can see our hand-off rate has dropped off from our general enquiries team to other areas of the organisation. And our clients are giving us better scores on our ability to resolve those issues on our customer satisfaction surveys.”
And — no surprise — TAC is not keeping any paper around that it doesn’t have to. If a letter is sent to the organisation, it is imaged into eFile and the TAC destroys the original. Marxsen says that while the TAC has decided to hang on to some court documents and other files until the Victorian Evidence Act is reformed, 80-90 per cent of them are destroyed. The eFile copy then becomes the only existing copy, unless a sender has kept one for himself. Marxsen for one, views this step as “a quantum leap” — not only in terms of TAC’s operational efficiency, but also in terms of the security of the claims information it handles. “The paper files were always a risk,” he says. “when you’ve only got a single copy of a file, if it gets burnt or damaged by water, you stand to lose it all. With eFile we now have absolute confidence we can’t lose it.”
The Non-Paper RouteHow to make it happen
ADD FUNCTIONALITY ONE STEP AT A TIME. Going paperless is not an activity that you can adopt a “big bang” approach to, says Marxsen. “We got eFile running at first with just the ability to input records of phone calls and meetings, and to generate file notes. Later we introduced the imaging and storage of incoming mail, and in the next year we’ll start back-capturing our old, active files. When you start, be aware that it’s a continuous process of improvement.”
GET THE USER INTERFACE RIGHT. The more intuitive and attractive you can make the interface, the more acceptance you will get and the less change management challenge you’ll have, says Marxsen. “It has to be popular with users,” says Marxsen. “Staff loved eFile from day one because they appreciated immediately the additional information they got and the convenience of it all.”
INVOLVE THE USERS. Marxsen says another way to lessen the pain of transition is to consult with the users right from the start. “From the outset, we had user groups looking at the design, the user interface and the work practices aspects of the system, and all of their input was fed into the final version,” he says.
To accomplish this goal, TAC identified workers it considered to be “super-users”, people who were the technology champions in their areas of the organisation. These super-users would meet regularly to make suggestions and critique the prototypes for the new system. “I think we drove our supplier mad with all the iterations we went through with the user interface, but it was well worth it in the end,” Marxsen says.
DON’T EXPECT TO GET RID OF ALL PAPER. Plenty of tasks are still best done using paper documents, such as allowing a file to be reviewed for freedom of information purposes. “Some things are still best done on paper, especially legal activities, so one thing we were sure to provide was the ability to bulk print a whole claim file so that someone could work through it on paper,” Marxsen says.
DON’T ALLOW PAPER AND DIGITAL FILES TO MIX. Electronic files and paper don’t co-exist very easily, so don’t plan on a long transition. “Try and get through it quickly,” Marxsen says. “Otherwise, people will start to make individual choices about what they prefer and they’ll neglect to look at one or the other.”
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