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Today most government IT departments are less in the data processing business than they are in the document- and records-management business. But while the information specialists struggle heroically to manage vast amounts of electronic records and pick up records management expertise, outside the IT shop much of management is trying to catch up with the new reality

Feeling the Squeeze

York lies between Lake Simcoe and Toronto, with a 2005 population of 890,000, expected to surpass 1.5 million residents by 2020. The entire York Region is part of the Greater Toronto Area. Like other local governments, it records and receives correspondence, minutes and briefing notes, content posted on public Web sites or e-mails recording communication with government staff and contractors or suppliers every day.

It is already feeling the squeeze of new provisions under the Canadian Municipal Act of 2001, which forces municipalities to retain all of their paper and electronic records in a secure and accessible manner. Equally the Evidence Act mandates that governments not only maintain the integrity of court documents but show the processes that surround them. And like other governments at all levels, its workers have legislated responsibilities towards documents and records to ensure compliance with Freedom of Information (FOI) requirements. Kelly says York Region began looking at the mounting document management problem in 2000 in response to the growing proliferation of documents across the municipality.

So in December 2002 York began deployment of an enterprise content management (ECM) system to preserve, protect and manage its electronic documents and records as part of its RIM program. The fully integrated document and records management, imaging and workflow technologies gives York an organized, secure environment to manage the complete life cycle of electronic documents from creation to ultimate disposition.

"Compliance with provincial legislation and the crisis of September 11 [2001] prompted us to look seriously at alternatives to our traditional record-keeping practices," Kelly says. "The document and records management and imaging solutions have automated our paper-based system. With the secure search, retrieval and backup/restore capabilities, the [York] Region's staff can better manage and access our electronic content, improving our approval cycles and enhancing productivity."

With this system, which York Region has called "eDOCS", every document, record and file activity is carefully maintained in a detailed audit trail. Electronic information is stored, managed and categorized in a single, integrated interface and shared document management repositories. With the software, York Region staff can convert paper-based documents into electronic data through the capture, mark-up and optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities, enabling access and storage of paper-based and electronic documents in a single document management repository. Users can quickly categorize electronic information using intuitive Web and Windows interfaces where they can easily search for, share and access protected records. The familiar interfaces reduce training requirements, easing administration burdens.

"Over time, the RIM program has expanded to meet the needs of customers and our electronic environment including training in the use of the software, setting policies and business rules and a much bigger linkage between the RIM staff, IT and the individual users," Kelly says.

But records and information manager Clayson says management's evolution in this area has been gradual: awareness of the demands of records and information had until recently passed them by. In fact, several years after its initial introduction, it was obvious many of them were clearly in need of a reminder of the role and value of York's relatively low-profile RIM program.

"As we got the pilot project rolling and extended it to some of the support staff, including our commissioner's assistants, of which there are six or seven, they approached us and indicated they needed more records and information management training," Kelly says. "People in the past had not had to apply classification codes to their electronic documents on what we call the 'network'."

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