Council ends benefits paper-chase

A document management system has improved services at Telford & Wrekin Council, writes Karl Cushing

A document management system has improved services at Telford & Wrekin Council, writes Karl Cushing

Telford & Wrekin Council is using an electronic document management (EDM) system to improve customer service by providing front-line staff in its revenues and benefits department with better support and rapid access to information.

The council started looking into adopting an EDM system for its council tax, benefits, business rates, commercial rents and sales ledger debts in April 2000, before settling on the Docs On-Line service from software firm Anite Public Sector in August 2000.

Anite began by scanning benefits documents dated between August 1999 and 2000 - more than 850,000 files - onto the EDM system. This meant that benefits and customer service staff were able to access recent documents as soon as the system went live.

All correspondence sent to the council is now directed to the Docs On-Line processing centre in Sale, Cheshire, where it is opened and the documents batched, scanned, indexed and returnable personal documents - about 20% of the documents received - logged for return to their owners. The document images are then delivered overnight to the council's servers using a frame-relay communications link, where they are allocated to the relevant staff.

Anite staff handle about 100,000 pages a month for the council, which now only deals with exceptional cases itself. The company also provides application management services, training and weekly performance reports, which form the basis for regular meetings between the two parties.

Andrew Meredith, revenue manager at Telford & Wrekin Council, says the system has brought multiple benefits.

It enabled all documents dated before August 2000 to be moved off-site, freeing up enough space for the benefits teams to move back into the civic offices. The system also allowed the benefits service to start looking at performance management and helped the council set up a contact centre.

Another benefit is that the EDM system is integrated with the council's benefits and council tax systems. "They use common indexing," explains Meredith. "You can hot-key from one to the other."

Meredith says Anite staff have been "very good and very responsive" and the company has met its core service level agreement objective of ensuring that 98% of documents are in council workers' in-trays within 24 hours. He estimates that clerical effort in post handling and document storage has been reduced by about 50%, and there has been minimal downtime since the system went live on 26 February last year.

The council is currently formulating a document disposal policy with Anite, which will allow documents to be securely destroyed three months after scanning, and it is looking at ways of rolling the EDM system out further.

"All the staff can see the benefits, and the contact centre and processing staff think it is the best thing since sliced bread," says Meredith. "But the major benefit for us is the improved service for the customer."

Read more on IT risk management