Intranets enhance workflow
Internal intranets and cross-platform communication via the Internet have all but usurped the once ubiquitous Wide Area Networks (WANs). Best described as “mini-Internets” that only extend as far as a department’s four walls, intranets are transforming the way all levels of government function. Additionally, expanded outward through extranets, the technology is enhancing public service by allowing members of the general public and other constituencies to gain limited access to government information.
Through an intranet-based document management system, Tulare County, Calif.’s Health and Human Services Agency is realizing the full benefits of an intranet/extranet combination. Recently introduced, the system has eased the burden of creating, revising and searching for documents on the agency’s intranet and extranet.
“The system greatly reduces the time required to publish and provide access to information such as policy statements, project reports, forms and publications,” says Doug Littlejohn, user support systems manager for the Visalia, Calif.-based agency. “We can publish an entire manual online in about 30 minutes.”
Responsible for administering mental health, child-protective, environmental health, workfare and direct health services throughout the county, the Health and Human Services Agency was created two years ago by combining more than a dozen departments. As might be expected, the new agency inherited a significant paper load.
“We gained thousands upon thousands of documents stored in many different ways, and a lot of time was lost just looking for information,” Littlejohn says. “Once found, it was often difficult to determine whether the information was the most up-to-date available.”
By putting its documents on an intranet, the agency is giving its 2,000 employees a fast, easy and accurate way of searching for information electronically. Using the system’s search capabilities, they can access current data instantly. The system also allows them to view diverse document types in their original formats.
The intranet provides a low-cost alternative to distributing paper copies of documents throughout the agency and encourages greater sharing of information. “It’s an ideal way to get all that paper under control, and we’re quite keen on the workflow aspect,” Littlejohn says.
Given the agency’s mandate, security is a natural concern. The system allows the agency to structure security at multiple levels, so information can only be accessed by appropriate users. For example, program information that includes budgets would only be accessible to those with higher levels of security clearance.
Tight security controls also exist for publishing and managing documents on the agency’s extranet, which is designed to serve the general public and outside groups. “Much of the material available — such as job listings and information about various state and local programs — is of broad interest,” Littlejohn explains. “However, since the extranet is tied into our networking, strong safeguards are essential, particularly as we increase the ability for visitors to drill down deeper into our web site to retrieve documents.
“The system interfaces through a standard browser, and most people are familiar with browsers today,” Littlejohn says. “There’s minimal training involved, and we are saving a great deal of time and money by dealing with much less paper.” Overall, the intranet-extranet combination is providing an inexpensive, efficient way for the agency to disseminate information, reduce costs and improve service.