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Case Studies

Drawing Management in Local Government

Redcliffe City Council, Queensland

All public authorities are now subject to quite demanding rules regarding the keeping of documentation trails of all activities and installations. To comply with these rules, some form of data management and indexing system is vital. At the same time, the ever-increasing volume of paper records and the longer periods that the rules now require records to be kept, is giving new impetus to the idea of converting all records to electronic form, because of its very compact storage possibilities, easy and cheap duplication for security backups, fast retrieval by flexible search criteria and the possibility of search and viewing from remote locations.

The City of Redcliffe in Queensland is a peninsular on Moreton Bay immediately north of Brisbane that has several commercial centres and industrial zones. It is a booming residential area and a centre for boating and fishing and access to Moreton Island. The Council headquarters is in a modern building in the town centre. This district played a very important role in the early history of convict and free European settlement. Hence, its genealogical records are of widespread interest.

Redcliffe City Council saw the need for a data management system and to move to all-electronic record storage. They also wanted to be able to make access to information available from many locations and ultimately by on-site workers, and to provide access from remote locations such as home and office computers. As well as using an electronic system to comply with all statutory requirements regarding record keeping, the Council also wanted the system to help control the workflow of Council activities, which also have to be more fully documented than previously, and to assist with business contingency planning and disaster response planning.

At Redcliffe City Council, there were three sections of Council activity initially selected for data storage and access support. Each is subject to differing requirements for record archiving periods and access criteria. These are plumbing, which includes all underground pipe connections to properties and public road areas; engineering, which is mainly civil works; and Cemetery records. The plumbing records often need to be accessed at short notice so that contractors can avoid digging up underground services, and they are continually subject to alteration. Cemetery records require indefinitely long term archiving, rarely get altered, and the public is increasingly requesting access for family history purposes, often from far beyond the Council's boundaries.

Most record material originates as paper documents and needs to be scanned for electronic storage. Engineering plans may be in large format paper form, or in electronic CAD data format. The system needs to be able to index all types of information, and easily display electronic data to anyone performing a search. For the most flexible access from enquirers, a web based solution was desirable.

Redcliffe City Council's data system is quite extensive and includes several network servers running Windows 2000, UNIX and Linux. The network runs on 100-BaseT Ethernet and there are about 200 users on Windows NT4 workstations. Windows XP workstations are being introduced. There is an internal intranet running on web technology and an Internet web server for public access (http://www.redcliffe.qld.gov.au/). The Council already had several database systems and a Geographical Information System (GIS) for property record purposes. Most other records were stored in paper form and on microfiche. Retrieving and making paper copies of documents and plans for enquirers at the public counters is a time consuming and labour-intensive operation.

The Council called for proposals for a data management system, with the main evaluation criteria being :

  • Value for money.
  • Versatility of interfacing with other products – e.g. GIS System - ArcView.
  • Ability to import data from all likely sources and formats.
  • Ability to store scans of drawings and also link to the original drawing data in CAD form.
  • Ease of operation of the user interfaces.
  • Ease of installation.
  • Ease of customising and designing screen forms.
  • Ease of on-going alteration of the set-up.
  • Ready availability of quality support (evaluated by references).

Dv TDM, from Acumen Data Pty Ltd, was selected and the services to be provided with the contract for supply included project management, implementation, training, customisation, integration and scanning equipment. CadStation Solutions Pty Ltd is the Brisbane agent for Acumen Data, and they supplied all the software and hardware and provided all the above associated services. CadStation Solutions continue to provide support and customisation expertise for Dv TDM at Redcliffe Council as the staged implementation proceeds. Dv TDM was installed using the option of its included database system, Borland InterBase, which is a Client/Server type of system that runs continually on one of the network servers.

The primary Dv TDM user interface is a Windows application, installed initially on five workstations but will be increased to twelve as the project progresses. It is on these workstation interfaces that Council staff will maintain and update the information stored in Dv TDM. For day-to-day access to the data, including the ability to print, the Web-browser version of Dv TDM is used. This is installed on the intranet server, and hence allows any member of Council staff to use it from any workstation at any Council location via the normal Web browser. This facility incorporates full access control so that only authorised staff can carry out specific actions or access certain types of information. At this stage, the Web interface system provides a search, view and print facility only. All maintenance of information is carried out on the Dv TDM Windows workstations. With the introduction of the new version of the Dv TDM Web Interface into the Council by the end of 2003, more options will be available in this interface, including editing.

The next stage is to make Dv TDM's web interface available to field staff via hand-held computers with dial-in or radio access. This depends upon the cost effectiveness of data communication to field based staff.

To cope with the initial major task of entering the large amount of existing data into the new system, one person was appointed on a contract to do nothing else over about a two-year period. There are about 60,000 documents involved.

An A0 size Contex large format scanner is used for engineering drawings in dye-line or tracing form, and a high-speed bulk-feed A4 size scanner is used for normal office documents. Care and expertise is needed to obtain adequate results from faded or darkened old material, especially dyeline plans, but most of the scanning is a routine task that proceeds quickly, especially with the bulk feed A4 scanner. The addition of data attributes to associate with each scan is the more demanding and laborious task. During this bulk data entry phase, a scanning program called ScanVueEntry is used. This allows the operator to enter data attributes on screen as each document is scanned, and adjust the scanning quality interactively. The scans and associated data are stored in a temporary data table which is then imported into Dv TDM as a batch operation at intervals. This has been much quicker and more effective than individual entry directly into the system.

This work is now well under way. The Plumbing section's information has been entered and is progressively accessible on-line. The requirements specification for the Engineering system is in progress by CadStation Solutions. The next stage will be Cemeteries, for which a different set of screen forms and procedures will be needed. No doubt genealogists around the world will be very happy when Redcliffe completes this task.

Even at this early stage the system is saving search and access time, and allowing information to be quickly inspected without needing any manual retrieval. Under the current system the public has to go through a two stage procedure to obtain copies of records - requesting and paying at one counter and then collecting at another after staff have found and copied the requested item. Soon, this will all be done at one general enquiry counter where the data will be accessed with Dv TDM and printed immediately.

 

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