Approaches to EDRMS in local government

I went down to Dorchester last Friday to speak at the March 20 meeting of the South West Group of the  Records Management South West Group.

The meeting was about Enterprise Content Management (ECM)/ Electronic Document and Records Management systems (EDRMS), but also included some very lively debates about SharePoint.

At the meeting we heard about the innovative approaches two local authorities are taking to EDRMS/ECM.

The different approaches of Local Government and Central Government to EDRMS

Central Government sector set the lead for EDRMS in the UK. The main wave of central government EDRM implementations took place between  2001 and 2006.  Local authorities started implementing EDRM later than central government, and have done so in a different way.

The central government EDRMS model involved:

  • rolling EDRMS out across the whole Government department or agency
  • setting up  one corporate fileplan to cover all of their work
  • asking all individuals and teams to create folders within the fileplan for each piece of work that they carry out.  

It would be hard for local authorities to follow that model.  County Councils are large organisations (most have over 10,000 staff) with a diverse range of functions.  A corporate EDRMS roll out to a big County Council would be difficult because of the size of the file plan necessary to cover all their work, and because of the the timescale needed to roll the EDRMS out to all staff. 

The challenge with fileplans is that you can only hope to define the first three levels corporately.  Beneath that you are getting into the nitty gritty of the work and need to spend  time with each team or department to map their specific work into the fileplan. Once you get past 3,000 staff within an organisation the timescale and the effort involved for a corporate EDRMS based around a corporate fileplan becomes almost impossible to manage.

Dorset County Council’s approach

David Reeve spoke to us about the EDRMS implementation (ShARE) at Dorset CC. Dorset started implementing their EDRM system in 2004. Instead of a straight division by division corporate roll out they have taken the approach of plugging the EDRMS in behind different line of business databases. These are databases that manage data about a particular area of work but that lack the capability of managing documents and records.

In the first phase Dorset plugged the EDRMS behind their adult social care database, their highways maintenance database and their property database. Social workers can access the case file for an adult directly from the adult care database, Highway engineers can access the case file for a piece of maintenance work from the highways database etc..

Corporate benefits have been derived because the case files from these different areas of work:

  • are kept on a single corporate EDRMS
  • are organised by the agreed Dorset County Council fileplan (the top two levels of which were agreed at the start of the project)
  • can have retention rules applied to them

Dorset have avoided the main disadvantage of corporate fileplans (the fact that users are asked to use a large hierarchical classification covering the whole organisation to navigate to stuff). Users can instead access case files through their line of business databases.

But there is no getting round the problem of scaleability.  In this excellent paper about the project, David states that integrating the EDRM system with existing databases

‘is a complex and time consuming process.  If this process was done on a corporate scale the project would take many years to complete’.

In the same paper David wrote about the further challenge of rolling out the EDRMS to staff who do not have a line of business database, and where the EDRMS needs therefore to work with the simple shared drive. Again it is time and scale that is the problem:

‘It will take significant time and effort to develop the corporate file-plan and migrate information from the current, unstructured shared drives to ShARE. It is estimated that a team of 2 people working on the file-plan development will take 5 years to complete the rolling implementation

Wiltshire County Council’s approach

Many organisations are facing a choice as to whether to go for the flexibility of SharePoint or the structure and governance capabilities offered by an EDRMS/ECM. Chris Tinsley described  Wiltshire County Council’s  ‘horses for courses’ approach. They give the TRIM EDRMS system to areas of the Council where there is strong compliance needs around the records; and SharePoint to departments where the information risks are less and the primary need is for collaboration.  Wiltshire are also hoping to implement an integrated version of SharePoint and TRIM shortly.

SharePoint debates

The debates about SharePoint were started when David Reeve showed a slide outlining his reservations about records management in SharePoint.  The slide sparked a stream of comments from the floor.  The majority of comments  expressed concern at the records management capabilities of the product, and at the ways in which organisations were rolling it out without paying sufficient atttention to the governance and information management issues it poses.  The criticism was not unanimous however, and a lively debate ensued.   I have outlined some of the implications SharePoint poses for records management here

4 thoughts on “Approaches to EDRMS in local government

  1. James does not do himself full credit, his very well laid out critism of SharePoint as an EDRM product and as a Web 2.0 product left us all with very little room to argue. Most of the “debate” seemed to be about SharePoint’s degree of badness. I quite like the look and feel of SharePoint and so do my users, it allows them to retain some of the control and customisation that many EDRM systems do not allow. That of course doesn’t make it a good EDRM system.

    Many of the delegates at the South West RMS are struggling to move forward and control their information. As James rightly points out a fileplan to cover a Local Authority is massive and possibly unworkable in the long term. You would never build a business that looks like a Local Authority. How I would love to work for a simple, single purpose Government Department.

    I like to think of our meeting as therapy sessions for the under funded. What seems to be clear is that many IT departments are pushing SharePoint on to people who don’t want it as part of their Microsoft Enterprise agreement.

    We the user meanwhile stnd staring in to the headlights like a tartled rabbit, waiting for a viable solution to hit us between the eyes.

    1. Hi Chris

      Its good to hear that your colleagues like using their SharePoint facility. You are in a very interesting situation having both EDRMS and SharePoint users in the your organisation. Do you notice much of a difference in user feedack from those using EDRM and those using SharePoint?

      Microsoft seems in many organisations to be bundling up SharePoint with negotiations over Office and Windows upgrades. I won’t pretend I am comfortable with that. However once an organisation, for whatever reason, has decided to purchase and implement SharePoint then the best thing we can do is to help the organisation take advantage of SharePoint’s strengths and mitigate its weaknesses.

      And that means working to get SharePoint simple enough for teams to make sense of and work with, but rich enough for them to derive benefit from it. It also means working to get procedures set tight enough for SharePoint to be governable but flexible enough for colleagues to be able to innovate and be creative with it.

      Your point about us being caught like rabbits in the headlights in front of the rise of SharePoint is true. I think as a profession we have now reached the point where we can articulate the weaknesses of SharePoint from a records management point of view, but we need to move on from that to generate and share best practices on managing documents and records in SharePoint, with and without EDRMS.

      We really could do with some decent case studies of succesful records management approaches to SharePoint: but they seem as rare as hens teeth at the moment: I didn’t hear of any at the recent RMS conference.

  2. James / anyone:
    Does anyone know if the hen has grown any teeth yet? We at Ceredigion County Council
    are very interested to know if anyone has implemented MOSS 2010 for RM yet…

    1. Hi Jason, the early adopters of SharePoint 2010 have tended to be organisations that didn’t have an existing SharePoint 2007 implementation. Organisations that had a SharePoint 2007 implementations have not rushed to upgrade to SharePoint 2010 (because of the need for all the testing/buying new hardware/scheduling downtime etc). This means the organisations with the most experience of SharePoint (and most capable of adapting it for records management) have not yet started using SharePoint 2010. The first service pack has just been issued for SharePoint 2010 so I suspect we will see most of the SharePoint 2007 implementations upgrade over the next 6 to 12 months. There may be some good case studies of records management in SharePoint 2010 out there, but I haven’t heard of any.

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