HHS tackles recordkeeping with workflow

The Department of Health and Human Services is deploying a workflow system in Secretary Donna Shalala's office that will include electronic recordkeeping capabilities - possibly the first such system to be installed in the top reaches of a federal agency.

The installation is significant because it is "high profile" and will show how records management can be integrated with an agency's automated business processes, said Richard Medina, senior research analyst with Doculabs Inc., Chicago. "None of the vendors do this, but it's a good application for beginning to do what's called process records management," he said.

The system, designed by Prescience Systems Corp., Oakton, Va., uses Work Management for Microsoft Exchange, a suite of imaging, workflow and document management software from Eastman Software Inc., together with ForeMost, an electronic records management (ERM) package from Provenance Systems Inc. The new Strategic Work Information and Folder Transfer (SWIFT) system will be rolled out to 125 users in the HHS Immediate Office of the Secretary and HHS agencies this summer.

"We're approaching it as a full-life-cycle electronic management system aimed at those executive secretary functions," said Mike Carleton, chief information officer for the secretary's office. Although no one else in HHS will be required to adopt the system, Carleton said his office is working with other agencies on "some standards that will give us interoperability among correspondence-control systems."

Eastman Software announced the deal, worth about $400,000, and demonstrated the system at the FOSE trade show last week in Washington, D.C.

As federal agencies tackle their requirements for electronic records management, most are finding they need solutions that are tightly integrated with the front-end applications they use to conduct their day-to-day business. For this reason, document management and workflow vendors are coupling their products with ERM applications.

SWIFT will be used for reviewing and approving replies to correspondence, regulations and reports to Congress. It will replace a DOS-based system that was used to keep track of paper documents.

Like most workflow systems, SWIFT collects the documents that relate to a task in an electronic folder and uses a customer's messaging system to route the documents to people who need to act on them. The ERM portion of the system will enable users to file their documents and assign disposition instructions to them according to HHS' recordkeeping plan.

John Whittle, managing director at Prescience, said his company is still developing SWIFT's ERM features but added that they will be ready for deployment with the rest of the system.

Nora Carswell, project officer for SWIFT, said the system potentially could be widely adopted because end users do not need any resident client software, such as Outlook, the messaging client for Microsoft Exchange, to tap into it. Instead, users will be able to participate in the review process using Outlook Forms, a feature that allows information to be shared through a World Wide Web browser.

Carswell said SWIFT will save the agency time and money by cutting down on the amount of paper that officials have to ship between the secretary's office and other HHS sites when documents need to be reviewed. In the future, the system also will help HHS avoid having to pay for storing paper records.

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