DIGIPOLIS

Even now in the digital age, the large, vibrant city of Ghent receives a lot of non-digital correspondence. Dealing with this stream of paper took a lot of resources and was not very efficient. Until AMPLEXOR implemented a digital mailroom based on Alfresco, that is.

Introduction

Like in most Belgian cities, the administration of Ghent consists of several departments and is relatively decentralized. This poses considerable challenges when dealing with incoming paper correspondence, of which there is still a surprisingly large amount. Some letters need to be forwarded to specific departments or people, which is time-consuming. Even more intensive is the correspondence relevant to several parts of the administration, as everyone needs to be informed and kept in the loop. This is not easy; in the past there was a potential for mistakes when, for example, important documents needed to be scanned.


Some of the issues Ghent faced when dealing with correspondence were quite problematic, such as:

  • There was no easy tracking of postal articles traveling between different departments.
  • There was no guarantee that incoming post articles would be registered, and the quality of the scanning was not consistent.
  • Low employee motivation for registering postal articles, resulting in poor quality.
  • The process did not scale well as the mail volume increased.

Obviously, this ‘semi-analogue’ approach to dealing with mail was no longer suited to a modern working environment. That is why AMPLEXOR was asked to develop a fully digital mailroom for the city of Ghent, replacing the old-fashioned inbox in the wall with one that could be accessed easily and from anywhere. A digital mailroom would, amongst other things, also improve the way the administration dealt with complaints.

Ghent’s desire to opt for a digital mailroom was not only related to improving efficiency, but also had also to do with transparency and accountability. Belgian law requires that public organizations keep a register of all incoming and outgoing mail. In addition, it was necessary for the city’s employees to see at a glance if a letter had been replied to or not, for instance when answering a citizen’s phone call.  For an organization the size of Ghent, it is quite a formidable task to comply with that requirement if you are not working in a digital environment.

The challenge

The request for proposal issued by Ghent was for a document management system, with the digital mailroom acting as a pilot project. Conceptually the digital mailroom was not very complicated, although two extra functionalities were added: the solution needed to offer good oversight of all incoming and outgoing mail and had to possess the ability to connect new correspondence to existing related correspondence. The latter capability could be required when a new document in an ongoing complaint procedure arrives by post.


Nonetheless there was a challenging aspect to the project, as the digital mailroom needed to be easy to use and understand, even though there were quite diverse requirements from different parts of the organisation. These different requirements could potentially increase complexity, undermining the goal of user friendliness.


Looking at the requirements, AMPLEXOR suggested using Alfresco, complemented with Kofax for automating the scanning of paper documents into PDF documents. Other solutions used included Microsoft Dynamics (contact management) and Microsoft SQL Server. Integration with Outlook was implemented, so that users could receive and manage scanned mail in a familiar environment on their desktop and mobile devices.

Building it

Alfresco is recognized as a very able document management system, and has been used for diverse projects many times before by AMPLEXOR. In this case, Alfresco would be the foundation for a platform with several functions, aiming for more transparency and control:

  • managing mailboxes of thousands of users
  • (re)assigning mail items to departments or individuals
  • keeping a history of all actions on a mail item
  • bundling related mail items in cases
  • adding information to cases
  • obtaining and changing the status of mail items
  • offering oversight for existing cases and complaints
  • keeping a register of all mail traffic, with the added benefit of being able to keep an eye on the costs related to mailing.

As Ghent keeps a database of all contacts and citizens in Microsoft Dynamics, AMPLEXOR also needed to build a bridge to this master database.

With many projects we opt for an agile approach, but in this case AMPLEXOR worked in a more fixed, classical way. This meant an extensive functional analysis was done ahead of building. This entailed talking to about ten relevant staff members.


Thanks to the excellent communication with Digipolis, the IT department of Ghent, and the support offered by a project manager, a technical project leader, and a business project leader, the build phase progressed quickly. Some performance issues were encountered, but resolved by AMPLEXOR. In fact, to ensure the best performance we installed two Alfresco servers, load-balanced and functioning as a failover. After ensuring the servers were up and running, the day-to-day management was taken over by Digipolis.

 

Resolved

By January 2013 the digital mailroom project was finished. Functionally everything was there and all mail pieces could be tracked, so that at any time questions such as ‘when did it arrive?’, ‘who processed it?’ and ‘who received this letter?’ could be answered very quickly.

Even though the digital mailroom is used heavily by almost two thousand users for the city of Ghent right now, further increasing to about four thousand by end 2016, it has turned out to be an efficient and stable platform. Without a doubt the handling of mail pieces has improved immensely, far more efficient and more transparent than before.

 

Piet De Ceuleners Digipolis

Table of Contents

Download this case study to find out how AMPLEXOR built an Alfresco solution to increase the efficiency and quality of Ghent’s mail handling.

Even now in the digital age, the large, vibrant city of Ghent receives a lot of non-digital correspondence. Dealing with this stream of paper took a lot of resources and was not very efficient. Until AMPLEXOR implemented a digital mailroom based on Alfresco, that is.

  • Handle all forms of inbound communication
  • Data capture and document classification
  • Automatic delivery to relevant departments
  • Fully transparent information workflows

 

 

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