A human services intranet for communities

Access to information and services remains a powerful driver inthe public sector for the adoption of basic enabling technologieslike Web content management. But IT shops in government and healthagencies are increasingly turning to the more commandingfunctionality that ties the software to business processapplications in the back end.

Better content management means public-facing Web portals arebenefiting from wider knowledge sharing across the organization andenhanced workflow productivity behind the scenes. Users ofMicrosoft’s SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePointServices, for example, say the platform’s collaborative tools arehelping to sort data into information that’s relevant and useful tothe end user.

It’s like a human services intranet for communities to shareinformation resources and collaborate in both a public and privateenvironment, says Jody Cameron, who has tied together 1,200not-for-profit organizations across the City of GreaterSudbury.

“Human services organizations provide tremendous value to thecommunity. But they never seem to have the capacity to be able toutilize technology because it’s usually been cost-prohibitive forthem,” says Cameron, project manager for the City’s mysudbury.cainitiative.

The City of Greater Sudbury uses Microsoft’s Content ManagementServer for its corporate Web site, but Cameron has implemented theSharePoint Portal and Services to extend that informationmanagement functionality to every not-for-profit organization inthe City’s database.

“They each get their own SharePoint site to build a communityportal, and that means citizens can become more aware of what thesenot-for-profit organizations are doing,” says Cameron.

The benefits reach further than improved access to informationas each organization is able to integrate its SharePoint site withother applications in the back-end. Communities can offer onlineservices such as soccer registration and volunteer services.

The Elizabeth Centre, a long-term care facility, is able tomanage the supply and demand of volunteers, for example. People cansearch opportunities and apply online through the SharePointcommunity site.

For the Niagara Health System, a collection of seven hospitalsites across the regional municipality of Niagara, WindowsSharePoint Services is giving physicians a place to collaborateonline and helping to better manage internal documents.

Dale Maw, Niagara Health’s regional director of informationtechnology, describes Windows SharePoint Services as an integratedportfolio of collaboration and communication services designed toconnect people, information, processes and systems.

The software is packaged as part of Windows Server 2003 R2, oravailable as a free download with Windows Server 2003, and Maw sayshe was initially hooked by the collaborative tools built into anintuitive Web presentation.

“Our physician community, between 30 and 40 members of theMedical Advisory Committee, wanted a place to collaborate outsideof our organization, a place they could hit from the Internet, toupload and share documents,” says Maw.

“So basically we decentralized our control from ICT out into thecommunity, for who has access to what. Now we just say, put it upon your SharePoint site and collaborate as, and whenever, youwant.”

The other problem was internal. Maw says he supports about 4,500users, who were having difficulty finding and tracking documents.”We were using the e-mail server as a collaboration server,” hesays. “Information just gets lost in the milieu of what you’redoing on a daily basis.”

Taking structured and unstructured information and putting itinto a Web-friendly environment was where SharePoint really startedto evolve, says Joel Martin, vice-president of enterprise softwarefor Toronto-based research company IDC Canada Ltd.

“Through the portal you’re able to build information intostructured workflows and team collaboration, tie together businessprocesses, and gain access to interactive information such asbusiness intelligence,” says Martin.

Users are able to pull data from SQL databases and enterpriseapplications to create a role-based, contextual view of relevantinformation, he says, adding that SharePoint’s real strength isthat it’s native to other Office applications.

Microsoft plans to fold the full functionality of ContentManagement Server into its upcoming release of SharePoint Server2007.

“This will enable enterprise-scale search features and contentmanagement across the entire organization,” says Carsten Knoch, whowas involved in both Sudbury and Niagara’s SharePoint deployments,as vice-president of project delivery for Toronto-based servicesprovider Navantis Inc.

Microsoft is also working to expand its content managementfunctionality to include interfaces and templates for recordsmanagement, says Elizabeth Caley, SharePoint product manager forMicrosoft Canada Co.