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Digging deep

Digging Deep - Local Government July 2017 - Featured Image

When an out-of-the box solution couldn’t do what Wellington City wanted, its archives team joined forces with specialists from Techtonics to co-create its own archives system. The project has just been awarded the 2017 ALGIM Information and Records Management Project of the Year. Adrian Humphris, team leader City Archives, explains.

What problem were you trying to resolve?
Wellington City Council had implemented Opentext Content Server as the council’s information repository. This replaced a number of different systems that had been used to manage both physical and electronic records, including the collection management system used to look after the council’s archives.
City Archives has a strong customer focus, managing up to 1000 information requests a month. These include anything from providing the council’s building consent search service to providing information to the LIM team and other internal staff, as well as providing access to the archives for historic research.
So it was important in moving to Content Server that City Archives had the functionality and tools needed to carry out this reference work efficiently.
However, on the go-live date in April 2016 we found that the out-of-the-box implementation of Content Server did not have the functionality we needed. It was also overly complicated and hard to use.

  • Carrying out a search was really slow or just timed out.
  • Worse, it didn’t find things we knew were there.
  • Because the results paginated, we had to do the search several times to select what we need from each page.
  • We couldn’t sort our results, and important information was missing if items had been scanned or access was restricted.
  • We couldn’t print lists or summaries for customers or for our own use, and our retrieval slips didn’t work.
  • There were many, many screens to navigate and clicks to click, often leading down paths of no return.
  • Basically, the search didn’t work, and we had no simple view of what we were working on.

This meant we could not efficiently carry out our reference services, which impacted on our customers.
As a response, the project was set up to build an interface to manage customer requests and to provide a specialised search that would work.
How did you go about it?
It made sense to bring in the specialists. We teamed up with Techtonics, specialists in information management, infrastructure services and enterprise content management. We had two goals: to build an environment that would work for us; but also to understand it, document it and develop the skill base needed to maintain and enhance it.
So a key requirement for the vendor partnership was the transfer of knowledge and skills allowing us to upskill and manage our new environment.
Rather than just buying a product or service, we wanted a true partnership. Because of this the project was approached slightly differently.
We used a phased approach, with a focus on team collaboration and knowledge sharing, and an iterative approach to problem solving and delivery.
Techtonics started by sitting with our staff and getting a real understanding of what we actually do and how we work. This not only made us feel special but meant they really knew our business, so the improvements and solution they proposed were based in reality.
This was captured in the solution design, and deliverables were prioritised and separated into three implementation phases.
The first two phases delivered key aspects of the solution, and provided a framework we could develop and refine as the project progressed.
The last phase reassessed what had been delivered to date, identified anything outstanding, highlighted new opportunities for improvements and prioritised the remaining budget to ensure we got the most bang for our dollars.
There was an iterative approach to building, testing and implementing each component. The project team maintained open and regular communications, sharing how work was going, and confirming when things were going as expected or if we needed to review our requirements.
This regular contact (both formal and casual) helped to achieve positive communications and understanding towards delivering the most effective solution.
As each component was delivered for testing or into production, a review was conducted with the project team. This reflection let us reprioritise upcoming deliverables, and keep an eye on costs and the resources we had available.
Reviewing and discussing these important aspects ensured the project team and project sponsors had clear expectations of what was happening and, most importantly, that there were no surprises.
Deciding to emphasise collaboration and flexibility over rigidly delivering a set of requirements is not a common approach for a customer / vendor joint project. But the value we got from it was far greater than if we had just paid upfront and been delivered a solution with our original requirements.
This approach ensured changes were not only well managed but welcomed.
Being flexible ensured the project team had autonomy and could focus on the tasks and outcomes at hand, while City Archives and Toni (our boss) were reassured they were receiving the maximum return from our investment.
Also, the transfer of knowledge to Archives staff has allowed us to make changes and implement additional components.
Some of these we had asked Techtonics to do. But with our new knowledge we could do ourselves, meaning they could then focus on new functionality.
And despite this flexible approach, everything was completed on time and under budget.
What technology did you use?
Content Server web report capabilities, with some display coding and custom tagging.
What were the end results?
We are now immersed in our new world, which does what we need, is intuitive, easy to use, and ours to play with. What’s even better is, we know what’s going on.
We have learnt how everything fits together and works, meaning we can make changes or fix things if needed, and continue to improve the environment – those ad hoc tweaks as understanding grows.
For example, our retrieval slip report started as 23 nested web reports. But with a bit of know-how we replaced that with a single web report.
The focus for ongoing management and support is now about improvements and enhancements as opposed to issues and break fixes. These can easily be handled by City Archives, with less reliance on vendors. This also means any funding we get can be freed up for new project work, not for maintenance.
The dashboard and search functions are also being rolled out to other teams within council.
We have an instance of the Dashboard for our Digi Hub team, which has greatly simplified and sped up their processes for extracting metadata for items to be scanned.
We are also rolling out a custom search to our key council users. This gives them better visibility and access to our content, and allows them to manage their requests in their own environment.
As well as giving them confidence in finding what they need from Archives, it also enhances their perception of our role as information providers. It also benefits us, as working more closely with them helps us understand how we may be able to better work with those units in the future.
Interestingly, it also shows them the potential for the Content Server environment and how it can be adapted for specific user needs.
Finally, from our own perspective, more efficient reference processes and searching means shorter turnaround times for customers, which has freed up time we can use to do other work.
What did you learn from this piece of work?

  • Be flexible and willing to adapt and change as your knowledge grows and opportunities present themselves.
  • We backed our own ability and made sound decisions about what Techtonics should deliver and what we could do, and as a result achieved more than we thought was possible.
  • Have the right attitude. Our approach might not necessarily be the right approach for all projects and the outcome can depend a lot on the individuals involved.
  • The dedication and attitude of Techtonics as well as the archives team were major factors in our success; everyone was engaged, cared and wanted the best outcome.
  • Communication is really important. In this case, there was a back and forth dialogue. And the willingness on both sides to discuss and adapt solutions was demonstrated in the effectiveness of the solution.
  • We were able to effectively communicate our needs, in a way that a possible solution could be designed – and the design reflected how well we had been listened to.

Which members of the Archives team were given this award?
The project team consisted of Techtonics and a couple of key Archives staff: the team leader and one of our archivists. However, everyone in the team was involved in testing and offering feedback on the solution as it was implemented, so in many ways the award should go to the whole team.


  • Adrian Humphris is team leader City Archives, Information Centre, Business Information and Technology, at Wellington City Council.

This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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