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Collaborative computing: a must for government

Enhances life for agencies, workers, clients and taxpayers

Collaborative computing is fundamental to an effective, efficient government at any level. Local, state and federal workers are spread all over the place. The government is by the people and for the people, so it needs to be near the people.

One difficulty in collaborative computing in government is that while many functions are paper-driven, records must be readily accessible to a variety of knowledge workers at far-flung locales. The information in an unemployment claim filed by mail or an application for welfare benefits filled out in a local office need to be accessible to the knowledge worker trying to serve the public.

B>Groupware helps caseworkers coordinate services

At the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation, collaborative computing makes it possible for 350-plus caseworkers in 36 offices around the state to support 25,000 individuals with mental retardation.

To help their clients live as fully and independently as possible, the department's case managers and service coordinators work with the individuals, their families and service providers to develop plans tailored to fit each person's needs. Those documents, central to each case, are called Individual Service Plans (ISPs).

The ISPs are now available to caseworkers in local offices through Lotus Notes groupware from Lotus Development (Cambridge, MA). The department wants to expand the system to include job skill assessments and provide access to parents or guardians to those job plans over the Internet.

"Notes has automated our processes and provided our case managers and service coordinators with a method of increased efficiency for serving individuals. For example, if a family member comes into a regional office to inquire about the services being provided to an individual, any authorized user can access the ISP for that individual and discuss the status of the services rendered," said Bob Trombly, director of MIS for the Massachusetts DMR. Prior to the implementation of Lotus Notes, it was virtually impossible to share such information throughout the organization.

"Obtaining access to documents was often extremely difficult and time-consuming because the paper files were locally based and inaccessible to regional offices," Trombly explained. Documentation was located in numerous offices throughout the state in a variety of formats. "Furthermore, we were unable to break down the information by service provider or cross-reference the data, hindering the development of purchase of service (POS) providers contracts," he said.

"We needed a system that was customizable and compatible with our other enterprise systems," Trombly added. "In January 1997, we implemented the Lotus Notes system to enhance the efficiency of our case management efforts, and it continues to evolve."

Notes offers a flexible document database, as well as the workflow and E-mail capabilities DMR required. "The Lotus Notes system gives us the potential to become virtually paperless--internally at least," said Trombly. In addition, DMR plans to install the Domino server outside the firewall, allowing vendors to access the system, while still enforcing the necessary security requirements to protect the information from unauthorized users.

Using the Lotus Notes groupware and messaging solution, DMR is overcoming its information management challenges, empowering its employees and focusing its business more on the individual's needs.

Once a person has been deemed eligible and prioritized for service, the case manager creates an individual profile for that person, populating much of the demographic data in the profile from DMR's SQL Server data via ODBC. After the profile is developed, the caseworker invites the concerned individuals (the client, provider, staff, family, etc.) to a meeting to discuss the services needed. Notes automatically generates and dispatches notifications and letters for those meetings. After the meeting, the caseworker records goals and assigns implementation and oversight responsibilities to various individuals and providers. The caseworker enters the information in Notes and develops an ISP, which is submitted to a supervisor for approval via Lotus' workflow capabilities. Once approved, the plan is distributed via fax, Lotus Notes Mail, or regular mail to the meeting attendees.

"The implementation of Notes Mail has significantly enhanced daily communications," Trombly said. "DMR servers are simultaneously updated, providing real-time access to information for users located throughout the state, including remote users."

Notes is compatible with DMR's other enterprise systems. Lotus' ODBC connectivity enables the department to import enterprise data into the electronic ISP database to populate forms, thus eliminating data rekeying. Standard forms can be used or customized forms can be developed.

Via Notes' workflow, the forms-based information and other documents can be routed through the business process. Case managers are able to monitor the routed documents, eliminating any unnecessary bottlenecks. "My vision for the future is no internal paper. Paperwork will come to users in their E-mail boxes, they act on it and route it on to approval and implementation," said Trombly.

The Lotus Notes groupware also helped ease the preparation of documentation for federal reimbursement, Trombly said.

The next step for DMR is to involve the service providers in the approval process by furnishing electronic access to information. "The assessments required prior to the meeting and the support strategies that document how the goals are to be achieved, as well as provider electronic approval of the plan, are all really ripe for the Web," he said.

The DMR community includes approximately 40,000 people. Electronics will give those 40,000 people enhanced communications, coordination and collaboration, all of which help better serve individuals with mental retardation. DMR also continues to enhance its Lotus Notes applications with greater reporting and workflow capabilities, as well as to develop new applications for other DMR processes.

Also, in the near future, Trombly said, job skills assessments will be put on the system, and parents and guardians will be able to review job objectives online.

Florida's consumer finance watchdog offices collaborate

The Florida General Counsel's Office just completed a project to provide attorneys in offices hundreds of miles apart with the ability to browse reviews and opinions in a central database.

Since 1994, the General Counsel's Office has been scanning documents called final orders, which incorporate a history of fines and license revocations against state-licensed consumer finance and sales finance companies, into a single-user LaserFiche (Torrance, CA) document imaging system, according to administrative assistant Mary Howell. The software now provides electronic search capability for tens of thousands of pages.

The regional legal offices in Miami, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Tampa and Pensacola were given online access to the database over the past several months. Staff attorneys now can access consumer information about the track records of mortgage lenders, mortgage bankers and securities brokers with a retrieval rate of less than eight seconds, even at peak network times.

"We decided to allow our remote offices direct access to the final orders and index system (LaserFiche database), which was located in our law library," said Howell. "Technology became available to our office for connection of our remote sites with the installation of T-1 lines."

To network the various cities, LaserFiche needed to be on a server accessible to the remote offices. R&S Integrated Products & Services (Lakeland, FL), a LaserFiche VAR, was contacted to upgrade the system to multiuser software and place the database on a new server.

"Initially, there were reservations about file access times for the images," said Robert Porter, president of R&S. "However, after establishing average image access times of one to four seconds, the project moved forward."

By applying LaserFiche security, the image database can be set for read-only access for typical users and/or the public. A LaserFiche station is available to the public at the Tallahassee library, and Florida plans to provide Internet access to the general public in the future, according to Howell.

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