For centuries, the Tower Hamlets area was a key location within Britain’s port industry. Today, it has been transformed into one of London’s fastest growing and most densely populated boroughs, including being home to the iconic business district, Canary Wharf. In 2012, it was one of the five host boroughs for the Summer Olympic Games.
This continuous growth has required the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (LBTH) – which regulates and administers development via each of its three Town Planning, Building Control and Land Charge functions – to find ways to best deliver its services at the greatest efficiency and the lowest cost. In 1988, LBTH’s Development & Renewal (D&R) service implemented its Acolaid land management system, followed by a document management solution (DMS) in 2000. By 2007 however, all three functions were still largely dependent on paper-based processes and manual data entry, owing largely to a combination of difficulties and constraints in using their legacy document management system.
A comprehensive four-year Digitisation Programme began with a vision to bring both enterprise content management (ECM) and business process management (BPM) functionality to D&R’s own functions and processes. These heavily paper-based service areas were inundated with on-site and archived documents, which created two time consuming issues: searching for the correct documents became increasingly difficult and indexing all documents seemed impossible.
- The Land Charges Service was managing 15,000 paper files by hand – using a typewriter to register Land Charge entries on index cards. Information requests would routinely take the target turnaround time of 10 days and was resource intensive.
- The Town Planning Service began their efforts in the year 2000 to scan and capture their documents into a document management solution but 400,000 paper files dating back to 1948 remained untouched. The lack of BPM functionality in the DMS system created search issues as it could not link information to enable spatial searches using Acolaid or ESRI GIS, making the accurate tracking of planning decisions difficult.
- The Building Control Service abandoned their previous DMS after a year, citing similar indexing difficulties, leaving 1500 boxes containing 50,000 files – three million pages and 100,000 drawings – unscanned.
It was critical to LBTH to find a suitable solution that could easily integrate with an Acolaid land management system and an ESRI property GIS system that were already in place.
“After looking at multiple ECM solutions for this project, we chose Laserfiche because of its flexibility,” explains Louis Du Preez, IT project manager for LBTH when the project began. “It really did meet all of our requirements and more. It’s simple and flexible and the integrations are extremely easy to do – it makes it that much more affordable.”
Du Preez worked with Laserfiche Value Added Reseller Harvey Burgess of Global ECM Solutions to implement a pilot program in Land Charges, followed by an enterprise 100-user Laserfiche Rio implementation in 2009. Within the 4-year project, the heavy paper-based departments were able to successfully digitise using Laserfiche—15,000 paper files from the Land Charges service, 400,000 paper files dating back to 1948 in the Planning service and Building Control’s 50,000 files that their previous DMS system could not index. With a comprehensive ECM solution now in place, LBTH propelled the digitisation project a step further to automate numerous business processes – including Building Control applications registration, monitoring of works and construction completions – which helped to eliminate time-consuming administrative tasks.
Laserfiche Rio’s success is spreading across LBTH as the Environmental Health and Asset Management service has now implemented its own Laserfiche system.
“It was great to have the peace of mind of knowing that with Laserfiche, you can start with a very small system and upgrade it to an enterprise-wide solution – and can still integrate with all the state of the art software solutions at any time,” says Du Preez.
Improving productivity with geo-spatial searches
“Back in 2006, the Land Charges Service felt that the goal of automating geo-spatial searches seemed impossible,” Du Preez remembers.
All of the indexing was still being performed manually with a typewriter. Searches against the property often surpassed the turnaround time of 10 days as paper requests had to be sent off to all relevant departments. Staff members were experiencing a lot of unnecessary and time-consuming delays.
In order to automate the search process, 15,000 files, each one representing an area with a polygon drawn using ESRI GIS, were captured into Acolaid and scanned and indexed into the Laserfiche system. The automation shortened the search time from days to hours.
It is important for the Land Charges service to perform very precise geo-spatial searches and, as Du Preez adds, “Laserfiche is able to do what our other DMS system couldn’t. Large files can now be broken down electronically into smaller files that cover smaller geographic areas. The capturing became easier to do and information is now easily accessible to the users.”
Being able to perform automated and accurate geo-spatial searches helped Land Charges become more efficient, saving staff time and frustration.
This same efficiency was applied to the Planning Service, where Laserfiche replaced elements of the previous DMS. All planning decisions from 1948 onward were captured to Laserfiche, which made for quicker access to planning decision histories and in turn, helped LBTH review proposals for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Integrating Laserfiche + Land Management
In the Building Control Service, three million pages in 38,000 files were scanned and indexed – some dating as far back as 1895 – eliminating 1500 boxes taking up 40 square metres of office space. At the same time, Building Control decisions from as far back as 1986 were made available through Acolaid via Affinity. Also, using reports generated by Laserfiche, D&R officials determined that a third-party scanning company had been overcharging the Council by £50,000 for oversized scans during just the first half of the project, a projected total savings of over £100,000.
In 2008, Laserfiche was integrated with Acolaid, enabling all of the critical documents generated from Acolaid to be directly stored into Laserfiche through the Laserfiche Snapshot function. The seamless integration meant that documents no longer had to be manually transferred. Using Laserfiche Web Access, LBTH town planning case files can now be viewed outside of internal servers through its Public Registers or by external viewing folders, making service delivery to the public much more efficient and effective.
Internally, throughout D&R, security rights are granted to appropriate staff allowing access to information such as drawings, e-mails and Microsoft office format files directly from Laserfiche. Data accessibility has been improved and information can flow seamlessly across the service.
Building Control’s previous system did not have a business process function to automate basic administrative tasks, which meant a lot of time was spent on activities such as metadata entry. These tasks were time-consuming, prone to error and required manual verification. Laserfiche Workflow automated the entry and update process, prevented manual errors, saved staff time and allowed greater productivity.
By streamlining business processes, LBTH is now more transparent and information accessibility has greatly improved. Automation of business processes has elevated staff morale through more efficient ways of working and collaboration. Through workflow implementation, business processes are dissected and analysed eliminating redundant and overlapping responsibilities. According to Philip J. Price, Project Manager, Business Process Consultant for LBTH, “standardisation of actions that came from the business process analysis facilitated culture change in the workplace and our staff really feel more empowered.”
A Smarter Working Strategy
D&R have adopted a Smarter Working strategy, placing a strong emphasis on paperless remote working including an ability to work from home. Before the implementation of ECM the service experienced limited working space and reduced storage allowances but now these problems have been overcome.
“Having Laserfiche gives staff the ability to access documents through a virtual desktop (VDI) outside of internal servers. We have also implemented the Laserfiche Mobile iPhone app, so Building Control officers and staff on building sites can directly view any case file from their mobile phones. This has really allowed them flexibility without the restriction of having to carry around a large amount of paper files with them,” says Price.
With government cut-backs and councils looking for ways to do more with less, digitising government enterprise has helped the LBTH cut down on cost, become more efficient and provide better public services. “Laserfiche has really played a fundamental part in our smarter working strategy. Across the board, all of our information is now easily accessible, which allows information to be viewed through various internal and external means and they are now only constricted by rights and no longer by technology limitations. Laserfiche helped overcome this,” says Price.
Laserfiche’s deployment, flexibility and user-friendliness allowed it to be implemented through different phases across D&R while maintaining minimal staff disruption.
“The gradual accumulation of Laserfiche components over some years via various successful projects can now in combination be utilised to fulfil an overarching ECM template at low cost,” says Price.
“The Laserfiche ECM solution allowed us to raise efficiency while lowering costs for the LBTH. I strongly feel that Laserfiche has had a profound impact on LBTH and it can continue to adapt with our Council’s evolving ECM strategy. It is truly a complete solution.”