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Compliance simplified

Regulations continue to proliferate to the point where individuals who are not experts in an area often need to be able to address compliance. For example, grant applicants to California’s State Water Resources Control Board must include quality assurance project plans (QAPPs) that comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s  requirements. However, many grant applicants were having difficulty with providing such information in a way that met EPA’s specifications. The result was that grant reviewers ended up sending the proposals back to the applicants for additional work, slowing the process and increasing costs.

One of the programs that requires a QAPP is the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP), an extensive program that monitors many indicators of water quality, including pH, presence of metals and bacteria through laboratory analysis. To help grant applicants meet the proposal requirements, the director of the program asked Instant Reference Sources to develop an expert system that would lead applicants through the process of writing a QAPP. Lawrence H. Keith, Ph.D., president of Instant Reference Sources, had used Corvid, a rule-based expert system from Exsys in previous development efforts, and selected it for this project as well.

The SWAMP Advisor leads grant applicants through a series of questions derived from the water monitoring requirements. The screen displays the questions and, depending on the user’s answers, presents text that can be cut and pasted into the QAPP. In addition, text and audio explanations of the regulations are provided.

"The SWAMP Advisor provides a QAPP for the project, and offers links to relevant documents, forms and Web sites," says Keith, who is a subject matter expert in analytical chemistry. "Corvid uses if/then statements to set up a decision tree. It’s an easy-to-use development tool."

Compliance is a good match for expert systems, according to Dustin Huntington, CEO of Exsys. "Many regulations can be put into rule form quite readily," he says, "and in cases where there are gray areas, working out the inconsistencies is a valuable exercise."

Corvid has a default interface but it can also be used with Adobe’s Flash. That allows the expert system to provide the underlying logic, and it allows Flash to provide a dynamic interface. Corvid has been used to ensure compliance with environmental laws affecting federal facilities such as Argonne National Laboratory, and facilities subject to regulations by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

Expediting RM

Compliance with records management (RM) regulations is another area in which ease of use is an important factor. Document management software products geared for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are incorporating techniques that make compliance easier for employees who must classify documents for RM purposes.

CNG-SAFE is a document and records management solution from CNG geared toward SMBs. "Our customers typically are small insurance, medical and accounting firms that want an efficient way to manage their document repositories," says Jim True, VP of business development. Examples are:

  • Rick Nay Insurance Services, which provides commercial insurance for trucks, and needed to manage its documents and retain them for a specified time;
  • Zangmeister Center, a cancer care center that wanted to consolidate and manage patient records from multiple repositories; and
  • Kirshon & Company, a small CPA firm that required rules-based document retention and audit capabilities.

CNG-SAFE has four retention classes:

  • Modifiable: The schedule can be set or changed by the user, who selects the interval from a list of options.
  • Fixed: The schedule can be set or changed only by an administrator.
  • Indefinite: It is used in cases for which the start point of the retention period is not known at the time the record is created.
  • Permanent: This sets a retention period that cannot be changed, and permits only document deletion at the end of the period.

In addition, retention periods can be suspended when a document or group of documents is placed on legal hold.

Retention classes are set up and assigned to document templates for use across the organization. The administrator is guided through a five-step sequence of setting up a document template.

"During setup, the administrator selects pull-down options to establish how retention will be applied, and enters other criteria that will establish how each document will be named and where the template will be used," True explains.

Depending on how the administrator set up the retention class and period, the user will either be allowed to select the retention period from a drop down menu, or the document template will automatically set the retention period. In the latter case, the user simply needs to select the template that corresponds to the kinds of document they are filing in CNG-SAFE. Document templates simplify, and in many cases completely automate, the necessary retention policies for compliance. "CNG-SAFE also automatically enforces rights to a repository, folder or document based on the person’s role," adds True.

Organizations must go through the process of learning what the retention schedule is for different types of information. However, once the rules are known, having an easy-to-use software solution can take a lot of the pain out of compliance.

More input for RM choice

One trend in records management across companies both small and large is the increasing focus on business users. "Records management used to be an IT purchase," says Tracy Caughell, director of product management at Open Text, "but now the involvement is much broader."

Records management staff and legal counsel are two groups that are now more frequently included in the software and hardware selection process. "It helps if these groups are involved from the beginning," says Caughell. "For example, SEC regulations require non-alterable media. The records management experts will be more aware of this than the IT staff."

The net result is that when the RM system is set up, it is more likely to match up with legal and business requirements. Open Text allows records management to be carried out in the background, with default rules for how to manage each type of content. That reduces the demand on users to make decisions about how to categorize a record and provides greater consistency.

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