- What are private certification files?
- A storage problem
- Selection of private certification files
- Research and analysis
- Submission for funds for back-capture digitisation project
- Planning for the digitisation of incoming records
- A new world
- Back-capture digitisation of physical files
- Disposing of original paper records
- Successful outcomes
The Council introduced a business process digitisation program in 2008 for private certification files and conducted a back-capture digitisation project for existing paper files. These initiatives have increased process efficiency and reduced costs.
Applicants need approval from the Council of the City of Sydney to make certain alterations to buildings or to construct buildings within their Council area. The Council can certify that these meet their requirements or, since 1999, applicants can employ a private certifier.
Private certifiers are obliged to submit certain documentation to the Council including details of building works and conformity with fire safety regulations and building plans.
The private certification process can extend over time (ranging from several months to several years) from the initial registration of the construction or complying development certificate. Once a final occupation certificate is received and appropriate documentation has been sighted and approved, the item is marked as complete and no further action is required.
More than 10,000 hardcopy private certification files had been created by the Council in the period 1999-2008. Completed certification files and the associated plans were moved to the Government Records Repository (GRR) for storage. Un-finalised files occupied approximately 70 shelf metres in office environments. Annual growth was 1700 files per year.
Document Management staff had been considering ways of progressing the Council’s electronic records management strategy. They needed a pilot project which would give them the opportunity to ‘try their toe in the water' with moving from paper to digital business.
The records of the private certification process were selected for consideration due to the relative simplicity of the associated business processes and the fact that they were relatively low risk compared to records associated with other types of applications. An important driver was also the lack of storage space.
While this group of records was relatively discrete, there were some complicating factors making the project multi-dimensional. For example:
- these records were often mixed with other records
- the records of South Sydney and Leichhardt Councils had been amalgamated
- many boxes of these files were still held by staff who were actioning them.
The Document Management staff:
- analysed the private certification process, the record types, their function and the business units who actioned them
- explored the mechanisms and processes required to convert them from hard copy to digital form for capture in the Council's EDRMS, including the costs involved
- considered potential design options for a forward model of electronic capture and use as part of standard business operations
- evaluated potential digitisation service providers and high level requirements for digitisation that would meet future access requirements
- reviewed legislative obligations for records retention under the State Records Act and guidance on digitisation and digital recordkeeping.
The table below shows the private certification registration requirements.
|Private certification records||Private certification actions|
|Lodgement of costs for works for calculation of S61 contribution fee (if applicable)||
Register private certification in Pathway (Pathway is a business system used by many Councils for the management of their functions)
|S61 contribution lodged with fee||Receipt fee|
|Lodgement of Construction certificate and plans by Private Certifier with fee (including associated records such as Private Certifier application, documentation required to meet DA conditions, Fire Safety Schedule)||
Register private certification in Pathway
Create TRIM container for records (the file)
Register and file certificates
|'Commencement of Work' notification||Register and file record|
|'Interim Occupation Certificate' notification||Register and file record|
|'Final Occupation Certificate' (including associated records such as copies of compliance certificates, Fire Safety Certificate, Sydney Water certificates etc)||
Register and file records
Essential Services review and Pathway update
A budget submission for funds was made to engage a bureau to digitise all existing hard copy private certification files, including those in office space and about 280 metres of files and plans stored at the Government Records Repository (GRR). The once-only cost of $800 per linear metre was provided for in the Document Management operating budget.
As part of planning, existing practices were observed and documented in each unit that processed, contributed to or accessed private certification files.
The following change management initiatives were introduced as an integral part of the project:
- Buy-in was sought and received from various managers of the business units that would be affected by the change.
- The Project Managers identified five business units that would be affected by the changes. Cross functional meetings were held to achieve corporate understanding of the end-to-end process.
- All business units affected were involved in the solution design and testing, and contributed their knowledge of existing processes and associated risks.
- Managers for each area discussed the feasibility of potential options and agreed on the benefits of process redesign.
- Key staff were nominated to contribute to a working group. The working group helped to secure the cooperation of each business unit.
- Directors were briefed and the project plan was signed off by the Director, Planning and the Director, Corporate Services.
The Document Management staff remained open and responsive to business needs throughout the project.
Some users identified a requirement to put a sticky note on a hard copy file to alert others to look at a particular record or clause. Software was developed and incorporated so that the PDFs could allow the addition of sticky notes, called ‘comments’ to be added by Council staff.
Plans were then developed for converting the existing hard copy records and using workflow for the ongoing digital capture of new applications.
Once Document Management staff had a good solid understanding of the changes required, they could develop a detailed proposal for the ongoing management of private certification files, including current files and the back-capture digitisation of inactive files.
The new process went live on 1 July 2008. From this date private certification files have only been created and maintained digitally.
When incoming correspondence relating to private certification is received, it is digitised immediately by Document Management staff. Postal and couriered items are put through high volume scanners, providing text searchable PDFs in the Council's EDRMS. Faxes and emails are captured, registered and attached as digital records in the EDRMS. Records are action-tracked and distributed digitally to groups as appropriate. Once the paper is digitised, the hardcopy is boxed and kept for a short period prior to destruction.
Paper copies are only ever handled by the Document Management staff. Council staff access digital images from their own computers. The only paper records distributed are cheques for presentation at the bank, which are annotated with a reference from the EDRMS.
Dual monitors have been installed for key administrative staff to enable one screen to act as the source record screen (in place of previous hardcopy) while the second screen displays the required application for data input, typically Pathway (a business system used for the management of Council functions) or the EDRMS.
This process is now used as a model for further processes being managed electronically.
Note: A preferable module is to require private certifiers to submit records in digital form at the outset, to reduce the need for digitisation. A similar model has been successfully implemented for DA document lodgement. The logistics of this as a next phase are yet to be explored.
An imaging services tender had been developed by the South Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (SSROC) group. This tender was initially used for the selection of a service provider to conduct the back-capture digitisation.
Note: Since then the Council of the City of Sydney have developed their own tender documentation for digitisation. This tender includes specifications for archival digitisation projects and the back-capture digitisation of files and plans.
A sample of records was selected for a pilot digitisation by the service provider. This commenced an iterative process of refining the specifications to cater for features such as colour and rubber ink stamping.
All private certification files stored at Town Hall House and the Government Records Repository (GRR) were digitised. This process was carried out in several batches by the service provider.
A barcode was added to each physical box. A script written to update the EDRMS metadata including the number of the box files were contained in, the series, the assignee (organisation that undertook the digitisation), the home location, the retention schedule applied, the retention decision and the owner location.
Each paper file was digitised as a single, multi-page PDF image document.
The Document Management staff have been very happy with the quality of the digitisation. The conduct quality assurance checks (spot check samples of records) to detect errors.
Very occasionally two files may be captured as a single PDF image document. This is picked up in quality assurance checking and is simple to correct.
With metadata capture, the Document Management staff sought to reduce manual entry where possible.
The digital image is loaded to the existing file in the EDRMS where it inherits all the metadata of that file and the date of digitisation. Therefore staff members do not need retraining to locate the file they seek. The way they locate the file is unchanged; what has changed is that now the file’s content is available digitally.
The images were captured using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so they are now fully text searchable. Staff can search the content for text strings using the standard Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The majority of these files are not required as State archives but need to be retained for very long periods of time (e.g. the life of the building) under General retention and disposal authority: local Government Records. The Council, however, effectively maintain all files permanently as the structures include buildings in the Central Business District and surrounds.
Original paper records are being destroyed and digital images are being retained as official records in their place. Therefore, digitisation processes needed to meet the requirements of General retention and disposal authority: imaged records.
Note: Those files that are required as State archives created after 1 January 2000 may be destroyed providing the digitisation meets all the conditions outlined in the Authority. For pre-2000 files special authorisation for destruction from State Records’ Board would be required, which the Council may seek in the future.
The private certification files project was deemed a success. The old paper-based process was converted to a fully digital one. Back-capture digitisation of existing paper files has enabled useful space and cost savings.
It is estimated that the total savings to the Council by removing records (files and plans) from commercial storage will be $22,000 per annum. This would have incrementally increased by approximately $1000 each year had the paper-based records continued to be created. These figures include both storage and retrieval costs.
The process improvement also resulted in:
- time savings for users of the files as immediate online access is available, rather than having to wait for the retrieval and delivery of files
- time savings for Document Management and Archives staff as labour intensive tasks like sorting incoming records, making up physical files, distributing files, boxing, listing and transferring files to offsite storage, and processing requests for retrieval were greatly reduced.
The change management initiatives introduced meant that the change went quite smoothly and most staff have accepted the use of digital images in the place of the originals. Now, to create paper records, staff need to have explicit senior approval.
The project won a City Innovation in Business Process Improvement Award for excellence in 2009/2010.
Published June 2012