Case Study – Department of Veteran Affairs

Case study - Transition into a digital environment

Summary

The People Services Branch transitioned from printing electronically created documents from certain transactions to digitising personnel records in colour to retain meaningful markings. The EDRMS is now used for records management and replicates traditional separation of content.  The outcome met all business requirements and expectations.

Agency overview

The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) is the primary service delivery agency responsible for developing and implementing programs that assist veteran and defence force communities. DVA also provides administrative support and staff for the Repatriation Commission and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission (MRCC). The Department also administers other legislation, including the Defence Service Homes Act 1918 and the War Graves Act 1980.

Introduction

The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) is making a slow, but continuous transition into being a digital environment.

The first implementation of Electronic Document Management in a DVA business area commenced in 1998, following the implementation of TRIM. A pilot was conducted in the Parliamentary area using TRIM to manage Ministerial Representations. This progressed in phases from just workflow management of paper processing until it captured all documents, processing and approvals. This soon spread to other functions in the parliamentary area.

Subsequently DVA administrative areas began to transition from being totally paper based to being electronic.

Client business record keeping is still predominantly based around the paper documents received from clients, though much of the internal response creates documents that are generated electronically. Numerous trials have been conducted to assess suitability of technology or process, or to gauge the scope or the agency cultural issues.

Some client business areas have successfully transitioned to being electronic. The Single Access Mechanism (SAM) team sources Defence service and medical records for the entire Department and distribute them electronically via TRIM. The Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, DHOAS, has incoming documents scanned by the contracted mail provider (Decipha), which are saved into TRIM, and processing and approvals are managed electronically. The Choice and Maintainability of Veterans Services (CMVS) projects use TRIM as the document store. The projects include online claim lodgement by veteran clients, liaison with external providers and client processing. Documents received or generated by CMVS Systems are automatically saved into TRIM.

Project objectives

Spurred on by the National Archive's digital transition strategy and the need to ascertain the pros and cons for moving an established business unit into the digital environment, a management decision was made to digitise Personnel files and to transition the area to working completely electronically.

Project execution

In April 2014 the Department advised staff it would cease creating paper administrative records except where there was an exceptional requirement. This was facilitated by the agency adoption of the policy to allow the disposal of source material once successfully digitised, as enabled by General Records Authority 31.

Information and Records Management Section (IRM) sought advice from other agencies including Parliamentary Services which had recently performed a similar task.

IRM and PSG engaged through a collaborative working group to discuss the business process and workflows, access requirements, TRIM training, titling conventions and to address any other issues which may cause angst amongst the Personnel and Payroll teams.

Personnel records were digitised by LexData. The digitised records are coloured, character recognized PDFs. Colour was specified as it was found historic business practice was to mark old cards with different coloured pencils and pens, so colour preserved the integrity and relationships of the markings. The PDF format and resolution are compliant with National Archives of Australia (NAA) scanning guidelines.

The Decision was made to scan the file in chronological order into a series of documents of up to 60 images per PDF document. This was done to balance keeping the documents to a reasonable size for the network and to make it easier to ‘leaf through the file’ instead of having to open every document individually. Extant business practice was to place sensitive documents such as medical reports into envelopes to prevent inadvertent disclosure to HR staff without a need to know, so these were created as a separate PDF per envelope and labelled as such.

Containers were created in TRIM for each current staff member using the HR system number as part of the record number and the title was the person's full name in a standardized format and included any relevant alias or former name. As TRIM was to be used for records management, not case management, the only additional metadata captured was that needed to manage the lifecycle of the record and to assist with alternative methods of identification. This is limited to just the AGS number and the date of birth.  TRIM was configured to allow sub containers to be created to replicate the practice of creating a separate manila folder inside the main personnel file for topics such as discipline, conflict of interest and Long Service Processing. TRIM internal security restricts access to PSG staff.

Images were provided on external hard drives and were populated into TRIM by IRM staff. After scanning, the original files were sent to an offsite DVA archival repository. A post implementation review will determine if and when the source records will be disposed of. While the scanning process was very technologically advanced and able to detect post-it notes on pages, part pages, changes in thickness that might be pages stuck together, due to the overall volume some files or parts were missed and the source records need to be checked by IRM staff on occasion.

Training and process reengineering was managed in house by staff on the working group. Increasingly, documents are being provided electronically to PSG though they do have access to multifunction devices for on-site scanning if required.

Project outcomes

The personnel management software used by the Department has dramatically reduced the amount of paper documents like leave approvals being placed onto file, but for other transactions and enquiries People Services Group (PSG) staff would print off electronically created documents and emails to place on file. Many PSG staff were already familiar with using TRIM for other administrative or policy work.

Despite greatly underestimating the number of pages on a file and therefore images to be rendered, the digitisation process went smoothly thanks to the professionalism of LexData. The project took 6 weeks for a cost of $75,000. Approximately 500,000 images were captured from the records of approximately 2,200 staff.

Project impact

People Services Group has not missed a beat and now has successfully fully transitioned to working in the digital world. They are a stand out success story where collaboration and inclusiveness were essential in delivering an outcome to meet all business requirements and expectations.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017