Lewisham swaps paper for Infopath Sharepoint e-forms

Lewisham Borough Council in South London is trialling Microsoft's Infopath electronic forms software and portal software...

Lewisham Borough Council in South London is trialling Microsoft's Infopath electronic forms software and portal software Sharepoint - two new features in the Office 2003 suite.

The aim of project is to test the viability of using the software to cut paperwork and data entry.

Mike Ireland, project manager from Lewisham's public services division, said the project ties in with the council's public services agreement to improve efficiency, productivity and citizen services by 2004.

Forms created in Infopath are based on internet data standard XML and support the government interoperability standard, eGif, to allow data sharing across departments.

The project uses several components of Microsoft's .net technology for web services, including the XML-based Infopath electronic forms software and Sharepoint Portal Server. Ireland said, "Lewisham made a strategic decision to adopt Microsoft .net to meet the government's 2005 targets."

The technology is being deployed in the field to council inspectors who validate requests for council tax exemption or discounts. The inspector selects a property to check, using information from an application based on Microsoft Sharepoint 2003 Portal Server, which provides a portal to enable inspectors to download the relevant Infopath forms and record details on a Tablet PC.

The inspector selects a property by entering a council tax reference number. It is then cross-referenced with the council tax mainframe. The mainframe data is downloaded into an e-form on the inspector's Tablet PC, which can be used to gather the required information when an inspector visits a property.

The e-form is transferred from the Tablet to the council tax mainframe system without the need for rekeying. Among the benefits are time savings for staff, more efficient council tax fraud detection and reduced paperwork.

Sean Duffy, public services IT contractor for Steria, who worked on the Lewisham project, said, "The software has given us a way to integrate Lewisham's IT systems and share information." The most difficult part of the project was supporting eGif, he said. The whole project took one month. The work involved modification to the mainframe system to support data entry via XML

Ireland said the trial could be extended to cover other local government services at Lewisham and could allow a council inspector to perform several duties.

How it works

Electronic forms based on Infopath and Sharepoint software allow field staff to complete data entry forms on Tablet PC

Sharepoint provides a portal where council inspectors select pre-populated forms by entering a council tax reference number

Back at the council's office, data collected in the field using the Tablet PC is uploaded over a USB cable into the council's mainframe council tax system.

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