Parliamentary Workflow System picks up steam

The engine room of Australia’s Democracy is being overhauled with the rollout of a new Web-based Parliamentary Workflow System (PWS) for 40 Australian federal government agencies. The new system promising greater transparency, cost efficiencies and  improved record-keeping  among other benefits, is now six months ahead of schedule, with the completed rollout expected  by July 2016.

By August 1, 2014 there will be 20 Commonwealth agencies fully transitioned to the solution which is employed for management of a wide range of interactions including ministerial correspondence; ministerial briefings and submissions; responses to Parliamentary Questions on Notice (QoNs); and briefings for Ministers responding to parliamentary questions.

Susan Monkley, CIO, Deputy CEO for the lead Service Provider agency rolling out the PWS, the Shared Services Centre for the Department of Education | Department of Employment, said “I personally am delighted at how well this is progressing, the level of engagement with client agencies, the collaboration between my team and the Department of Finance, and the professionalism and dedication of my team.”

In addition to the 40 agencies covered under the current transition schedule, there has also been interest expressed by other agencies and from the states and territories.

The PWS is being implemented via $A10m allocated by the Labor government in 2012 to have the Department of Education (formally the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations - DEEWR) build a shared ministerials solution, with the stated aim of saving the Government $A30 million over 10 years.

The web based system utilises standard Microsoft server and office products, based on .NET version 3.5 and hosted on virtualised servers utilising SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 and supports the use of Office 2007 and later in agencies.

Australian Government agencies are at varying levels of deployment of electronic document and records management, with a range of different EDRMS platforms deployed.

An early requirement to integrate the PWS with these EDRMS systems was replaced by a decision to reduce cost and make the PWS record-keeping compliant.

“The PWS does not interact with EDRMSs,” said Monkley.

“Work is underway in collaboration in the National Archives Australia to make the PWS compliant with the international record keeping provisions of ISO 16175 and is scheduled to be completed in 2014-15.

“Workflow specific to parliamentary correspondence management is not supported by other EDRMS and document management products without significant modification,” said Monkley 

“There is no need for integration with an agency’s EDRMS or a separate repository.  The PWS stores records in a centrally hosted repository. 

“The PWS requires minimal configuration allowing agencies to accommodate agency specific reference data, document templates and branding requirements.  Customisation is not required as the PWS is designed to support a single standard model for parliamentary workflow activity.”

Some of the promoted advantages of the new PWS include:

Elimination of manual and paper-based processing for agencies;

Records managed consistently in a secure environment with appropriate audit, version and security controls;

Improved tracking and reporting; and

A higher degree of accountability and timeliness in processing records.

The PWS supports both digital and paper-based document processing, with a generic workflow for all document types. 

After a Parliamentary Document Record (PDR) is registered in the PWS, supporting documentation can be scanned or attached to the PDR, the PDR is assigned through the workflow to the various user roles and a response is prepared.  

The content is cleared by a senior officer and then assigned to the minister’s office for processing. The PDR maintains the workflow history, response document version history and audit trail.  There can be some variation in the document workflow between user roles and document types. 

PWS allows printed copies to be registered and tracked and signed copies to be scanned and attached to PDRs.  

Kofax subsidiary dotimage software has supplied a capture solution to allow physical documents to be scanned directly into the PWS application in a single operation for attachment to a PDR.  Alternatively, documents can be scanned to the desktop or network device then attached to a relevant PDR.

A drive to the use of “off-the-shelf software” was highlighted in the Australian Public Service  Information and Communications Technology Strategy 2012 - 2015.

Monkley firmly supports the wider deployment of the former DEEWR’s in-house solution which flows from an initial development of a Parliamentary Document Management System (PDMS) in 2007.

“The use of standard products, virtualisation, and the reuse of existing solutions means lowered customisation and integration costs ,” said Monkley.

“Some customised development was necessary to meet Whole of Government processing and security requirements with  no existing products complying without extensive modification.” 

There are some IT challenges involved in migrating agencies to the new Whole of Government PWS, such as ensuring they have the required network connectivity and appropriate desktop and server infrastructure.

However this is only a minor obstacle according to Monkley.

“The major challenge is in managing the business change across an agency to adopt a Whole of Government approach to parliamentary workflow.  Agencies adopting the PWS are required to transition from agency specific to standard Whole of Government workflow practices.

“While we provide assistance and resources to agencies to manage the transition they remain responsible for the communications strategy, change management strategy, staff training and roll out of the PWS within their agency.

 “Early engagement with agencies was critical to managing expectations and to ensure appropriate planning for the success of the measure.  

“Agencies that take a project management approach and establish a dedicated project team have a higher rate of success in completing connectivity and transition within the transition schedule and budget,” said Monkley.

Current agencies due to be fully transitioned by August 1 2014 (this can vary over time as agencies can be subject to future machinery of government changes)

  1. Department of Environment, 
  2. Murray Darling Basin Authority
  3. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  4. National Water Commission
  5. Bureau of Meteorology
  6. Sydney Harbour Federation Trust
  7. Australian Federal Police, Customs
  8. Australian Public Service Commission
  9. Department of Health
  10. Australian Bureau of Statistics
  11. Department of Industry
  12. Department of Infrastructure.
  13. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau
  14. National Capital Authority
  15. Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  16. The Department of Finance
  17. Comsuper 
  18. Australian Electoral Commission 
  19. Treasury 
  20. Australian Office of Finance Management