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Issue Date: December 2000

Electronic document management in town planning department at Nelspruit TLC

December 2000

The Nelspruit TLC has recently installed a complete document management system in its Town Planning Department, using Cyco's AutoManager WorkFlow, from Cyco Software BV. The operation of both the town planning department and the building inspectorate has been transformed into a new era.
Nelspruit TLC had so many Town Planning Approval applications and drawings that a new storeroom was required, and this would have to be off site as there was no space for another records room. Following the merger of Nelspruit TLC with Kanyamazane, Matsulu and the Greater Msogwaba area, there are 67 000 erven in the TLC's area of responsibility, and with the development of the area, new applications would make the storage problem even worse.
Paper-based, sequential process
Paper-based, sequential process
Historical plans and applications
It was necessary to look for another solution and it was decided to scan the old plans and applications and manage the files, using a document management system that had particular capabilities for handling large size files, such as scanned images and CAD drawings. A major requirement was that the system should continue to work the way the Council wanted to operate, without being dictated to by a system that was not compatible with their operations. The ability to customise a database and the 'look' of the forms to match the existing paper approach would be a bonus. A further requirement was data security - the system must protect documents against fire, flood, theft or misplacement. Internationally it is estimated that 30% of drawing office time is spent looking for missing drawings or associated documents.
Electronic process using AM WorkFlow
Electronic process using AM WorkFlow
The solution
Franzwa Bouwer, the Assistant Head, Urban Planning Department approached Allyson Lawless for help as Nelspruit TLC are users of AllyCAD and AllyMap. With the company's document management experience in the municipal, mining and contracting fields, the world's most widely used technical document management solution, AutoManager WorkFlow from Cyco Software BV, was proposed. Referencing of the scanned images was done by importing their existing database into AutoManager WorkFlow. This database contained comprehensive details of stands, owners, physical addresses, stand sizes etc.
Franzwa Bouwer at his desk in Nelspruit
Franzwa Bouwer at his desk in Nelspruit
Screen cards were customised for the scanning process and the scanned image files were relocated to by AutoManager WorkFlow using a file path based on the erf number. This means that the files can be located logically although using the database functionality is a far easier way. Over 16 000 drawings and application letters have been scanned to date.
The AutoManager WorkFlow software is extremely powerful and is designed for much more than archiving historical records. It has been designed as a technical workflow package and allows redlining of drawings and comparison of revisions, issuing of documents through the briefcase function and tracking of documents through the system, plus the ability to publish data on the web.
Electronic approval of applications
Electronic approval of applications
Town planning approvals
The scanning process was the original project, but it soon became apparent that the system was much more powerful. "We soon realised that the system could be extended to electronic approvals of the current building plan applications, as well as filing the historical documents," says Bouwer. The changes in the process of approvals can be seen below:
"The exciting realisation," continues Bouwer, "was that the same database and application forms filled out manually for approvals could be duplicated on the computer screen. The electronic system therefore 'looks' the same and requires little or no training of staff, nor explanations for professionals submitting regular applications."
The drawings used by the building inspectors are printed from the system and have all the details of the application - address, architect, telephone numbers, stand sizes, % coverage etc. Drawings can be printed at larger or smaller scale, as sometimes applicants send in thumbnail sketches or exploded plans that are inconvenient on site. Previous applications are easy to find and can be checked against what is actually found on the erf.
AutoManager WorkFlow has a particular capability to set up simple macros for the various departments, to find the current applications that need their attention. The departments then make their comments in the Memo Fields and electronically sign the approvals.
"One of the biggest advantages of the Planning Approval System is that status report of which departments have processed the plans can be obtained at any time - no more walking around to find the outstanding files," says Bouwer. Approval letters are printed from the system in the same format as previously used in the paper-based process, including the comments made by the various departments.
"The support we have had from Allyson Lawless in setting the system up has been excellent, as we would expect from them!" adds Bouwer.
Johan Meyer, GM of PQ Consulting, the outsourced IT providers to Nelspruit TLC says, "Implementing AutoManager WorkFlow has been no problem at all, it is a really powerful package that has many more applications in Nelspruit TLC. We will certainly be looking to extend the system."
Town Planning Approval Application - this is the same layout as the previous paper-based form
Town Planning Approval Application - this is the same layout as the previous paper-based form
Extending the system
It has been planned that the AutoManager WorkFlow system will be extended to the Town Secretary's Department for all their by-laws, records and complaints. The historical files would not be scanned but electronic copies of by-laws and regulations would be included in the system, so that they can be accessed to respond to complaints. Responding to complaints would be done in a similar way to the building plan approvals.
Redlining of applications with 'pen in hand' icon for comments
Redlining of applications with 'pen in hand' icon for comments
The Town Planning Approvals System at Nelspruit TLC has moved into the electronic age without sacrificing its existing system and its familiarity. However, files are no longer lost, reports can be generated at any time and queries answered immediately. The information age has arrived in Mpumalanga in a big way.
Allyson Lawless
(011) 476 4100

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