Tech Success: The paper chase stops here
- By Brad Grimes
- Jan 08, 2004
Document management is at heart of big savings for Army
John Leahy III, chief of staff at Sun Microsystems Federal Inc., said the Army did not have to build a complex system in separate steps because his company was able to deliver a complete system, including servers, storage, software and service.
Sun Microsystems Federal Inc
Making a business case for government information technology can be a challenge, but sometimes the solution makes a case for itself.
The Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky., was drowning in paperwork when it decided to build a document management system with technology from Sun Microsystems Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., and Documentum Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif. Since the system launched in February 2003, the command has trimmed its paper use, lowered costs and improved productivity.
"We've turned this into an electronic process that over time could be fully paperless," said Gary Bishop, chief of Web applications and technologies at the Army Accessions Command, which oversees recruiting.
That would be a significant change for the Recruiting Command, which annually processes about 250,000 potential recruits, including roughly 100,000 enlistees. Each enlistment generates between 50 and 150 documents, including medical records, high school transcripts and birth certificates. That's up to 15 million documents a year in original copies alone. And as soldiers move through the process, their document packets fan out across the country.
"One copy stays at the military entrance processing station, one copy goes with the soldier, one goes to the battalion and one heads to the records center," Bishop said.
By digitizing the original documents, the Army loses the need for multiple copies and builds a central repository of records.
The document management project, known as the Guidance Counselor Redesign/Electronic Records Management module, is part of a five-year, $132 million contract awarded in 2001 to Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas. That put EDS in charge of the Recruiting Command's transition to a Web-based system that moves the command toward a paperless operation.
The new Army Recruiting Information Support System (ARISS), which EDS developed, lets recruiters create virtual offices. Through a secure workstation, the recruiter can access multimedia presentations, electronic enlistment forms, e-mail and other automation programs.
The document management system was built by Sun Services and Documentum, and integrated with ARISS project.
Documentum's software automatically creates an electronic folder to hold a soldier's digitized records. It then sends the folder into a workflow process that lets Army personnel add to it, review its contents and approve the folder for distribution or storage.
The Recruiting Command's Documentum solution also incorporates electronic signature technology from Montreal-based Silanis Technology Inc. to add security to the approval process. Through unique electronic signatures, the system ensures that the proper people have signed for the digital records.
Silanis' ApproveIt Desktop software also has been used at other government organizations, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to automate approvals.
The Documentum solution runs on Sun's top-of-the-line Sun Fire 15K server, which has 106 UltraSPARC processors. The Recruiting Command and Army Accessions Command use the Sun Fire 15K for several business systems in addition to the guidance counselor module, so it was important that the server be able to handle a heavy load.
"Considering the volume of documents, we needed a system that would be scalable and that would provide recovery capabilities," Bishop said. "The Army can't afford to be down at any point during the year. We need to keep that supply of soldiers coming into the Army."
The Sun Fire 15K server attaches to a storage area network based on Sun StorEdge systems running Sun's SAM-FS file system software. SAM-FS helps the command manage its growing data repository and see the data it has accumulated. The Recruiting Command can keep several months' worth of data online for easy access.
"We were able to give the Army a complete solution, with servers, storage, software and service, so it didn't have to build this complex system in separate steps," said John Leahy III, chief of staff at Sun Microsystems Federal.
The Recruiting Command eliminated about 25 percent of the paper it used to generate and improved productivity by 40 percent, Bishop said. Fewer people handle data, there's better access to information and time is saved by not making copies of records.
The guidance counselor module will pay for itself in three years, mostly through lower cost of ownership, said Hal Stern, vice president and chief technology officer for Sun Services. "By launching the solution on a larger system with the appropriate availability technology built in, the Army gets a system that costs less over time," he said.
Bishop and his team are working with the Army to move away from paper records. If the Army can digitize its Personnel Enlisted Records Management System, it would create a single repository for the data records of every soldier from enlistment to retirement.
"When that becomes integrated with the system at recruiting command," Bishop said, "we'd be in a position where we could move all information around paperlessly."
If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Brad Grimes at email@example.com.