AgriDOC takes information management to new heights

Imagine a single versatile system capable of managing everything from executive correspondence and ministerial inquiries, to cases, contracts and people…a multifaceted system that tracks everything from critical records, inquiries and intellectual property agreements to the hundreds of invitations and appeals a minister receives every day.

And imagine deploying such a system during a crisis – when pressures are heavy, timelines tight, and data levels burgeon to thrice their normal volumes.

Too good to be true?

Not to Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) that successfully implemented just such a system…and under pretty much the same circumstances as outlined above.

Dubbed the Executive Correspondence Management System (ECMS) – this unique information management solution was recently implemented as part of AgriDoc, a “docket” approach to collecting data – so information requests move through the system as an electronic, rather than a paper action item.

The new system harnesses the government of Canada’s records, document and information management system or RDIMS, along with elements of an enterprise content management solution from Toronto-based Hummingbird Ltd.

AgriDoc enables senior departmental officials to receive, handle, track and store critical correspondence from constituents and stakeholders. The deployment, AAFC says, has transformed it into a responsive and information-centric organization, while enhancing user productivity in a “business on the go” environment.

“AgricDoc aligns document-based information and provides teams with standard mechanisms to share and control information across departments,” said Dan Larocque, senior project manager, AAFC. Larocque, who manages the AgriDoc project, says it serves as a standard foundation on which to build repeatable information systems. “It allows us to reuse foundational tools so we don’t have to recreate new utilities each time we implement common services.”

RDIMS, he says, is a solid underpinning for the new AgriDoc initiative. “It has document repository capabilities and includes features such as search and retrieval, personal work space, desktop integration, sharing and access control, workflow routing, imaging, OCR, enterprise reporting, information classification, version control, audit trail, retention and disposal.”

Rapid rollout

The rollout of ECMS to more than 280 users began last June later in partnership with Hummingbird (product component development) and CGI Group (implementation). Deployment was completed in around five months…a very quick rollout by any standard. However a tight deployment timeline was not the only or even the main challenge, according to Jeff Lamirand, director, consulting services with CGI Group Inc.

He said the Mad Cow or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis struck around the time of the roll out. “We didn’t foresee BSE hitting so hard,” Lamirande admitted. He said the House of Commons was also in session, and that added to the pressure – as correspondence typically rises sharply during such periods.

Though correspondence volumes surged to 300 per cent regular volumes – deployment was completed on budget and in time, so by the Fall sitting of the House the system was tested and functional.

The powerful blend of product and business expertise was key to the project’s success, according to Lamirande. He said the ministerial correspondence team was actively involved in testing and vetting ideas and directions with product experts. “This enabled business processes to be mapped to actual product features.”

Business owner engagement, Lamirande said, was another key success factor. He said the director general of the IM services as well as the CIO kept on top of the application development process at every stage. “Throughout the development and deployment their support and endorsement was strong.”

The rollout and training, he said, were conducted almost simultaneously.

Training on the trot

Deployment to user desktops and training were done the same day with intensive coaching following on the heels of the general training.

Roaming coaches, Lamirande said, went to each floor of the Executive Correspondence unit, helping users handle the initial 10-12 pieces of incoming correspondence. “This handholding approach was essential for users to become completely comfortable, given the high pressures and short turnaround time.”

This initiative, said Larocque, serves as a powerful model, which can be duplicated when required.

“We’ve reached a point where unstructured-centric solutions can be built around the AgriDoc solution.” He said with AgriDoc as the foundation, other elements are being added including enterprise workflow content management, collaboration, and integration with electronic forms.

And ECMS is much more than an executive correspondence tool.

According to Larocque, it is also being used to manage thousands of invitations the minister receives to public activities, as well as requests to sit on boards and steering committees.

“It tracks the invitations, as well as the briefing and background research that goes into preparing the minister for these sessions.”

In addition, the tool manages people information, integrating the homegrown databases and enterprise systems (SAP and PeopleSoft) for departmental hiring and exit procedures.