The Havebury Housing Partnership currently manages some 6,000 homes across West Suffolk which is no easy task, generating mountains of documents across many of its departments. Tenancy agreements and correspondence, property records, financial records are just a few of the categories of paper that Havebury inherited and has been adding to daily over the last three years. Some 10,000 invoices alone come through the finance department for approval every year.
When the organisation first started out, however, it didnt have any offices of its own - let alone adequate filing cabinet storage for all the records it now needed to house. We had five different locations, recalls Haveburys director of finance, David Hall. This gave us a couple of major problems firstly, the sheer lack of storage space, and secondly, if someone needed a document that was in another building, they had to physically go and get it.
Clearly, this was not viable as an ongoing strategy, so when Haveburys housing management database provider, Capita Software Services, recommended a document management system for bringing the organisations document chaos under control, Havebury acted quickly.
Finding EASY SOFTWARE wasnt difficult, as they were based just across the car park from our premises at the time, David laughs. Their location couldnt have been more convenient!
Pragmatically, Havebury also considered two other options one, a partner application offered in connection with the organisations Academy housing management system, and one other off-the-shelf document management system.
We chose EASY SOFTWARE because, in addition to meeting our specifications, they were within budget, could provide good references from similar organisations and companies local to us, and were so close to us. This meant that we received excellent support, and could use their high-volume scanning facility to capture our existing documents.
To date, Havebury has invested in four of EASYs products: EASY ARCHIVE; EASY CAPTURE; EASY Search and Jukebox. These off-the-shelf solutions were all readily compatible with Haveburys existing IT systems the Academy housing management application, and its SunSystems financial management software. Says David: We have Dell servers, Acer IT equipment, a standard network and a Windows operating environment, so none of this posed a problem, but the critical thing was that the document management system could interact with our key applications, and with EASY this was all fine. The software also needed to be user-friendly and easy to learn, and be reliable and well supported. EASY ticked all of these boxes.
Havebury was also impressed that EASY showed a strong desire to work with its existing software providers, Capita and Castle Computer Services, to ensure that everything went smoothly. This contributed to the systems rapid implementation time the contract with EASY SOFTWARE was signed in January 2003 and Havebury was using the software within just three to six months.
We were very pleased, David says. We needed some handholding because, although we have our own IT people, they were not experienced in document management, so we had to have all the appropriate training. EASY provided us with excellent levels of support all the way along, and soon had us up and running.
Although no software customisation was required, the system had to be configured so that it recognised the particular fields under which documents would need to be archived, so they could be accessed rapidly in future. Again, EASY provided the necessary support to help Havebury define these categories, and David was impressed that the EASY team had such a good grasp of what his organisation needed.
Today, Havebury is using the EASY product suite in two main areas: for archiving all of the organisations invoices; and in human resources, for managing personnel files.
Says David: We now image and archive all of our invoices electronically, so that we can search them rapidly on screen, and dispose of the hard copies. It works very well. This could be saving us an hour or more a week. Its best for locating old invoices now theres no more searching in dusty boxes, which is very useful!
An even bigger saving is on storage space: while 10,000 invoices a year needed stacks of box archives, or rooms full of filing cabinets, electronic storage has enabled this to be whittled down to a handful of disks. Indeed, when Havebury relocated to its permanent offices a head office in Bury St Edmunds and a regional office in Haverhill it deliberately chose premises that were low on storage capacity, to save on building costs.
The other clear advantage to using electronic storage is that copies can be made and stored off site, protecting the content in case of a fire, flood, or other calamity. This is important not only for the safeguarding of Haveburys own operational activities, but in ensuring that the organisation complies with information-related regulations such as the Data Protection Act.
Its a similar story in the human resources department, where EASYs software is being used to capture and manage employee contracts, application forms and other correspondence. We have 230 employees and, on average, 10% staff turnover a year, so again, this saves on physical storage.
Although its still too early to quantify the benefits in absolute terms David will be doing a full ROI report next year once the EASY system has been more widely deployed throughout the company the difference the software is making is already remarkable, he says. I am already confident that this has proved to be a very sound investment.
David finds the QuickSearch facility particularly helpful when approving invoices, he adds. Hot-keying will also be highly valuable when we start to use this in future. This will enable workers to call up related documents at the touch of a button, he explains enabling a thread of earlier correspondence to be easily retrieved, for example.
This feature is expected to be particularly valuable once Havebury starts using the software for managing tenant and housing documents and related correspondence early next year, as part of the next phase of the project. This is expected to yield the biggest gains of all from the EASY system. All of these files are currently stored in paper records, David says. It will make the world of difference once we can access these quickly, on screen.
The fact that the documents will then be accessible over the company network by employees in other locations is critical too, as Havebury has many mobile staff, in addition to those based at its second premises. Once the documents can be accessed electronically, multiple workers will be able to view the same content at the same time, regardless of where they are based.
Future plans also include adding more workflow functionality, to make processes such as invoice handling more efficient. This is being considered for the next budget year, David says. EASY has devised a Visio-based workflow system which can be easily modified if processes change. We talked it through at one of our regular meetings, and what they demonstrated was very good. That we can add on to the functionality we already have has great appeal, he adds.