The great paper prison escape

Sifting through mountains of paper is an arduous task, and for some organizations, the cost and waste are compelling reasons for looking into alternate ways of sharing documents.

That was the very issue that compelled Zbigniew Ignatowicz, manager of information systems for the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), to investigate Web-based software options that could ease the collaboration pain for his organization’s members.

The SCC’s quest for paper-free communication stretches back to 1997. Responsible for developing a Canadian position on proposed new standards -documents 40 to 50 pages long on average – the SCC involves its volunteer, off-site members in an exhaustive revision process. The group has 15 members in its governing council who meet a few times per year, a committee of up to 50 people that get to read through and vote on the standards, and a support staff of about 65.

A large umbrella organization, the SCC is also involved in the activities of other standards partnerships and bodies, such as the National Standards System (NSS) and the International Standardization Organization (ISO).

All those affiliations, and the corresponding paper communication, were amounting to “quite a number of dollars spent on labour and photocopying,” Ignatowicz said – an estimated $300,000 a year. There was also a timeliness issue, he adds; the SCC was only meeting its voting deadlines about 50 per cent of the time.

At the time, Ignatowicz said, the SCC was using OpenText’s LiveLink collaboration and knowledge management software, but “the users didn’t like it at all – it was very hard, back then, to customize or do anything else with it.” After looking into a number of options, he selected version 1.0 of SiteScape Forum, Web-based team collaboration software from Maynard, Mass.-based SiteScape Inc.

According to Heidi Gabrielson, SiteScape’s vice-president of marketing, SiteScape Forum facilitates business processes including knowledge management, project management, and workflow. One of the product’s major features is its scalability, she said, adding that platform independence and the ability to run on a variety of Web browsers are also key. “Web browser flexibility is critical in a situation like [the SCC’s], which doesn’t control its users’ environments. It’s important that the collaboration system be flexible to support any customer,” she said.

Ignatowicz said so far, SiteScape Forum has been “very flexible,” and from the get-go, implementation and training went fairly smoothly, because “people are familiar with the browser technology and they encouraged other members to use it.”

The only hurdle was coming up with unified naming conventions, notifications and other preferences for the 5,000 people using the product. “Users are really attached to certain naming conventions and rules, and they’re sometimes afraid of change,” Ignatowicz said. But, he adds, the flexibility of SiteScape Forum makes it easy to make those changes and customizations.

Whereas at the beginning, the SCC tried a parallel paper/electronic collaboration approach, over the years it has moved into full electronic sharing mode, and is planning to upgrade to the latest version of SiteScape Enterprise Forum, 7.0, in the next couple of months.

According to Ignatowicz, in the first year of implementation, copier usage in the organization’s Standards Division was reduced by about one-third – or just under half a million copies – from the comparable period the previous year. Over the last five years, postage costs have gone down 78 per cent. As more agencies adopt SiteScape Forum, and as the SCC implements other SiteScape software, he said he expects more return on investment. The other good news: the group now meets about 99 per cent of its voting deadlines.

By June, the SCC plans to offer webinars, e-learning and virtual meetings for SCC members through Forum eMeeting, SiteScape’s real-time collaboration software. Full integration of eMeeting with SiteScape Enterprise Forum means users will be able to access a meeting by clicking on a tab on the same screen they always see – rather than switching to another program.