Only Way Forward is Paperless

With COVID-19 there is a profound need for paperless administration, helping keep staff safe by facilitating social distancing, home working and empowering Councils.

Unlike the last pandemic in 1918 we have the technology in 2020 to make paperless administration a practical proposition for every Local Council, no matter how small or how challenging IT is to officers and Councillors. Let me be frank, the biggest challenge is not the technology but the people using it. Not many embrace change for change sake; “If it’s not broken, don’t change it” is a common yard stick many of us use. For 28 years I have been helping Clerks and my company has developed a comprehensive portfolio of applications, mobile apps, portals, IT support and IT solutions. During this period the sector has evolved from black and white screens, floppy discs and daisy wheel printers to cloud based solutions accessible on almost any internet device. There is an increasing trend towards “bring your own device” (BYOD) for the current “Council on the go”, be that a laptop, tablet or mobile, especially whilst working from home during a pandemic because there are often not enough Council laptops for all officers to take home.

What Is Paperless?
(1) Council Services – Only use applications supporting public facing services such as a “Report it” facility on the Council’s website which will record the problem or complaint in an auditable and actionable application that officers can use
to manage the Council’s response. Other examples are bookings and genealogical searches via the Council website. All paperless.
(2) Processes and Procedures – Use applications that are accessible when and where needed and electronically transfer information to other applications. For instance, use an agendas and minutes application that enables Councillors to annotate their private copies online using a Council controlled application for GDPR compliance. Use an inspection app on a tablet for cemetery memorials and playgrounds. Then use the app to photograph that vandalised swing, record the GPS location of where the photograph was taken and store the inspection details for 25 years in case of a compensation claim. Another example is using a timesheet mobile phone app for grounds maintenance staff that links to both a job management application and a finance application strengthening budgetary control.
(3) Documents Received – All documents are electronically stored, usually in portable document format (PDF). Original paper documents are scanned using a multi-functional printer / scanner, and increasingly with COVID-19 using compact, portable multi-page scanners such as a Fujitsu ScanSnap. These PDF documents need to be linked to software applications. For instance, when Councillors authorise supplier payments, they need to see a copy of the supplier invoice, and with COVID-19 they need to be able to do this online rather than at the office or in a face to face Council meeting.
(4) Documents Produced – Produce, store and email PDFs instead of printing and posting. For instance, your finance application should email orders and invoices and store an auditable copy to show compliance with financial regulations.
(5) Digital Mapping – Use applications that link to digital maps, e.g. to record the location of an allotment, asset, grave, market stall or planning application.
(6) Climate Change Agenda – Paperless administration enables virtual meetings thereby reducing travel.
(7) Security
– only use Local Council solutions that are:
– Hosted in the UK due to GDPR, Brexit & US Privacy Shield concerns,
– Include escrow; a supplier independent guarantee
for the safety of your data and applications

Paperless administration has come of age, so start with Microsoft Office 365 and upgrade to cloud based Local Council applications such as AdvantEDGE, Epitaph and HeritEDGE available from EDGE IT Systems Limited.