Company: TeamwareCustomer: CACFOASubmitted by: MCC InternationalDate: July 2000The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA) generally sits behind the scenes of the drama that is played by Britain’s Fire Service. Since 1974 this organisation has acted as a round-table and policy forum for the country’s senior Fire Officers. Although CACFOA is largely unknown to the man or woman in the street, the UK’s 58 fire brigades rely heavily on CACFOA’s electronic information system. This library – known as FINDS (Fire InterNetworking National Data service) – holds thousands of fire related documents. These range from guidance and policy documents to product and equipment specifications.

Keeping FINDS up-to-date and delivering its information in a timely compatible format is of ultimate importance. Add to this the rapid rate of increase in the amount of data FINDS has to store, their diverse array of formats, an increasing user base, and a major document management problem results. CACFOA were only too aware that FINDS needed a major overhaul from the day-to-day problems they were experiencing. Staff had to input documents – from policy documents to minutes of meetings – from 58 fire brigades. This limited the amount of documents that could be made available on the system.

“ There was a pressure on staff here to do data entry,” explains Mandy Briddick, Systems Supervisor at CACFOA. It was becoming apparent that information systems were delivering a vast amount of data in electronic formats in a disorganised manner, largely through the medium of electronic mail. A medium for the management of this data and thus organising it into a knowledge base, deliverable through web technologies was a paramount requirement. These pressures led to CACFOA to implement a brand new electronic document management system in January 2000. It also became the perfect opportunity to integrate the flexibility and scalability of WWW and intranet access into the FINDS resource. Working closely with Kainos Software, CACFOA selected Teamware’s Meridio to solve all of their problems and take them into the 21st century.

Teamware is a leading provider of process and workflow management software and its product Meridio is an enterprise level-multi-user enterprise document management system. Meridio has powerful ‘ out of the box’ capability for filing, version and access control supporting all types of documents and images. According to the Technical Development Officer at CACFOA Martin Kelly, the implementation of the new software was a painless process. Two programmers from Kainos’ Support & Development team spent two days installing the system and training CACFOA’s staff. “ The transition was very easy. I am confident that if there were any problems, they would have been addresses promptly.

You don’t end up with a horrible finger pointing exercise. They have been most obliging and we’ve been very comfortable with that,” said Kelly. Briddick said the major advantage of Teamware’s Meridio solution was its ability to let CACFOA give nationwide access to its database – through its intranet – and to let them file their own documents. The training of users to file their own documents will take place around the country from July and is expected to prompt a dramatic increase in the use of the database. “ We will make more people more aware of what’s on the database.

We will no longer be limited by what we (at the CACFOA office) can put on. By allowing the secretaries of the brigades committees to file their own documents, a wider range of information will be made available,” said Briddick. The unique design of Meridio makes this possible. It houses documents in their native format. Whether filed as PDF, HTML orMicrosoftWord, the system converts them to a readable format regardless of the software that the user is working with.

Kelly: “ This is very useful since a lot of our work needs portability across various platforms. It is a true document management system.” Documents do not now have to be converted to the ‘ lowest common denominator’ format and can now be viewed and printed in their original full presentation format by users with the relevant level of software. CACFOA has also found the system’s Web interface particularly useful to enable it to control the levels of user access to the system and manage the updating process of the database. Meridio gives users the ability to rapidly search and view the content of the database using whatever tools they have available.

All documents in the database can be accessed regardless of which tools – including Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Explorer or Netscape Navigator – are being used. According to Mandy Briddick, Meridio’s ability to integrate with a variety of products is a great advantage to CACFOA. Email messages can be filed straight to the database without requiring prior conversion. “ We have a national email system and we can now file messages and have then easily read on the Web. We don’t have to convert to HTML first,” she said. It is a similar scenario with Microsoft Word documents and again saves a great amount of time for the staff at CACFOA, who can instead be deployed on tasks that help to offer an improved level of service to their users.

Along with a significantly enhanced product now in operation Briddick also praised the level of support received from Teamware: “ They have given really good support for technology and user problems through their user line. They’ve been very helpful.” The success of FINDS is based on delivering as much information as possible to as many people as possible. And the most visible result of Teamware’s Meridio implementation at CACFOA has been FINDS ability to manage an expected increase from 600 users to almost 2, 500. The software is also expected to enable it to increase the number of fire-related organisations, such as the Fire Protection Association, who also use the system.

Briddick: “ The number of users will be quadrupling as we plan to open up to more departments in the various fire brigades. This would simply have been too much work to handle before.”