eCabinet sets out to scale government paper mountain

16 Jul 2004

The new jewel in Ireland’s e-government crown was put on show yesterday when Mary Hanafin TD, Minister with responsibility for the Information Society, officially launched the first phase of eCabinet.

Described by the Minister as “an initiative that makes the Irish Government a world leader in this area” the €4.5m project was said to have come in on time and within budget. The document management system, which is available to civil servants and every Government department, aims to dramatically decrease paperwork and improve workflow.

The prime objective is to provide an electronic web-based alternative to preparing, refining and circulating cabinet documentation. Phase one enables TDs and civil servants to draft memoranda that are submitted for consideration by the cabinet secretariat. Within a year the cabinet will be working off bespoke tablet PCs with each Minister accessing electronic documents at their weekly meetings.

The project hopes to make a dent on the 1.2 million pages of paper that are generated each year by the cabinet. Qualitative gains are expected with ‘real time’ memoranda where authorised parties can quickly contribute to a document as it works its way through the process.

The tender for the system was won by Research Corporation, a US firm headquartered in Florida that has been delivering similar document management systems to the US government and financial institutions since 2000. eCabinet is constructed around a service orientated architecture that draws on both Microsoft’s .Net and Java architecture. The desktop to the web server is based on .Net using XML authoring tools which preserve different formatting generated by different Departments. Backend services are Java based.

“It’s the first truly interoperable system across all departments,” said assistant secretary Peter Ryan.

Fujitsu Services was chosen to implement the security component of the system. At present eCabinet is restricted to central Government buildings using the Government VPN, although plans to introduce remote access will eventually pose an even greater challenge to keeping it secure.

So far 200 people have been introduced to the new processes through familiarisation sessions, but the intuitive nature of the interface is hoped to take some of the pain out of the learning curve. Windows-style wizard menus help the user create a memorandum in a step-by step stages. Web specialists Fusio and Elucidate were brought in to design a web interface that was as intuitive as possible.

While eCabinet will eventually replace manual distribution of documents, civil servants at the launch were quick to stress that the new electronic templates strictly adhere to the rules and protocols outlined in the Cabinet Handbook. Mindful of the eVoting debacle, there were also assurances that there would be always be a clear audit trail and paper-based alternatives.

By Ian Campbell