Electronic data and records management systems (EDRMSs) have a discouragingly low rate of success in implementation, Hamilton City Council records manager Tracey-Lee Bell told the Association of Local Government Information Management (Algim) symposium held in Wellington late last month.
The challenge in Hamilton’s case was complicated by the fact that the EDRMS project was “first cab off the rank” for a complete redesign of the Council’s systems, known as Project Phoenix. “We would set the framework for the whole project and if our timetable slipped, so would everything else.”
In the event, the project ran to plan. Implementation started in June last year and the system moved into production with a pilot group of users on March 26; users have been moving across since then and now 90 percent are on the new system. There were problems with locations such as the zoo, which had low bandwidth connections, but these were overcome with reconfiguration.
Acceptance by staff “exceeded our expectations”, Bell says; it was not an easy transition for them, as they had been used to having their own private file-space; and there were 43 logically separate drives across the organisation and 728 top-level folders.
Under the new system, based on the TRIM (Tower Records and Information Management) software, staff had to be accustomed to sharing documents and a more open style of access, as well as file-naming conventions; when a document was only for your use “you could call it anything you liked”, she says. There were files with names starting with eight As, to get them to the top of a directory listing.
The chief answer to overcoming the potential barrier for staff usage was to engage them at every step, Bell says, particularly involving the subject-matter experts. The high-level database structure was sketched out and a draft for each business unit’s structure sent out to the staff, allowing them to suggest amendments.
The council had enough ICT staff to do the development work but no specialist records team, so two consultants were brought in. A change manager and a communications manager were also appointed and their services proved invaluable, she says.
Training also had to be carefully planned, with a specific course for high-intensity users and a shorter one for the bulk of users; computer-based training modules were also provided. However, the question most users wanted answered was “not how to use the system, but why we were using it.” This was handled by conversations with subject-matter experts and 43 one-hour meetings between Bell and the staff of each department to equip them with basic knowledge of the thinking behind the new system and prepare them for training.
A crucial factor was to identify the “WIFMs”, says Bell – answering every user’s top question: “what’s in it for me?” And the development was not called the EDRMS; from the beginning it was “smart records management”.