Awards - Paperless Document Exchange (DEC)

Published on: 09/06/2009
Document

In 2005 the State Chancellery of the Republic of Estonia launched the project for connecting records management systems so as to guarantee interoperability and the gradual transition to paperless document exchange in the public sector. Electronic records management systems (ERMS) running on different software are now able to exchange documents (records) in the secure X-Road data exchange environment through a specially created Document Exchange Centre (DEC).

The DEC is an information system providing a common central document exchange service for various ERMSs as well as other information systems dealing with documents. ERMSs of public sector institutions have an interface with the DEC. They periodically send documents to other systems and receive them.

The metadata of documents are exchanged in XML format. Harmonised XML forms are being developed for the creation, processing, and automatic transmission of letters, legal acts, EU documents, invoices, and other types of documents.

In the management of the project, the Open Method of Coordination (soft governance) is used.

 

Impact

In June 2009, there are 280 users of DEC in Estonia – including 100% of ministries, 100% of county governments, 85% of state agencies, 65% of local governments, and 33% of constitutional institutions. The number of documents exchanged during the first 5 months of 2009 has increased 5 times compared with the same period of the previous year.

DEC has enabled to exchange documents safely and conveniently between dispersed ERMSs, simplifying also registration processes in ERMSs (through automated extraction of metadata from XML files). Moreover, the document exchange project has facilitated transition to paperless administration in public sector institutions. DEC has created a basis for connecting ERMSs to other information systems and state registers, enabling thus the development of e-services.

 

Lessons learnt

·     Soft coordination enhances horizontal cooperation between specialists of different institutions.

·     Transition to electronic records management and paperless administration is a long-term process, which is better to be organized gradually, by groups of agencies and document types.

·     In order to ensure interoperability between dispersed systems, multilateral agreements and central solutions are the most suitable.

·     Transition to electronic document exchange facilitates transition to paperless administration in general.

·     For paperless administration and document exchange, organizational, legal and political interoperability are at least as important as technical and semantic interoperability.

Policy Context

The strategy for Estonian information society 2013 and the Government Development Program 2007-2011 plan to guarantee paperless records management in the public sector by 2011, including paperless document exchange between the public sector institutions. Because of dispersed development, different records management software is used in the Estonian public sector institutions, which makes the development of inter-institutional electronic documents (records) exchange difficult. Therefore, the interoperability of records management systems is the key aspect in increasing the public sector effectiveness. In 2007, the amendment of Government regulation no. 80 was adopted to ensure electronic document exchange. 

In the EU perspective, the Paperless Document Exchange project is closely related to i2010 strategy "European information society for growth and employment" and the European Interoperability Framework.

Description of target users and groups

The main target group of the Paperless Document Exchange project are the public sector institutions. As document exchange covers different types of documents (including invoices, applications, etc), citizens and business enterprises are also involved.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The stages of transition to electronic records exchange

1)       The standardization of elements of records – the objective was to compile a list of mandatory elements and the respective XML schema for the document type ‘letter’. Based on the list of elements with descriptions, the Estonian national standard EVS 882-1:2006 “Information and documentation. Elements of records.” was adopted.

2)       The standardization of records management metadata –  the metadata set was worked out, based on which the institutions could unify the composition of their metadata components, so that metadata would support the exchange of documents between ERMSs and would allow for detailed searches simultaneously in several systems. The following characteristics of metadata were taken into consideration:

·         Recycling – metadata created for records management must be recyclable in other fields and must conform to the metadata standards in other fields of activity (e.g. archive management).

·         Multi-levelness – based on international standards for archive descriptions, multi-level descriptions must be employed in records management.

·         Modularity – metadata must be presented in groups, which can be employed by organizations either one at a time or in combination with other metadata schemes.

·         When employing metadata, a certain amount of metadata components is mandatory for all organizations and additional metadata are optional.

3)       In the first stage (pilot project), during 2005 a working application was worked out for organizing the electronic records exchange in four ministries for the exchange of digital records by interfacing different electronic records management systems, and introduced in three ministries using identical records management software and one ministry using different software. The development of the necessary data exchange interface for interfacing the records management systems was based on the specifications of the documents exchange centre and X-road. In the data exchange interface, the XML format was used to display the records and the SOAP protocol for forwarding them. The main emphasis in the pilot project was the creation of preconditions for directed semantic interoperability.

4)       In the second stage of the electronic records exchange project, all the ministries, counties and  governmental agencies are involved. The emphasis was on the more extensive realization of software interoperability, using a centralized document exchange centre as a buffer for the exchange of desynchronised records between records management systems. The Document Exchange Centre (DEC) was established. The aim was to establish automatic exchange of XML-based metadata („envelope“).

5)       The next stage is the implementation of XML-based records (letters, legal acts, EU documents, invoices etc). It includes the following tasks:

-          The detailed charting of the life cycle of a record and an optimized procedural scheme and compilation of basic requirements for stages of document forwarding.

-          The standardization of different types of records – presents a list of elements with descriptions, and the respective XML schema.

-          The creation of a tool which will make the compilation and editing of XML-based documents possible.

-          The implementation of a compilation and processing procedure for XML-based records.

Coordination and management

The State Chancellery of the Republic of Estonia coordinates the whole project of paperless document exchange, with close cooperation of all ministries. The methods of soft coordination are used. The Document Exchange Centre as a sub-project is managed by the Estonian Informatics Centre of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications.

 

Technology solution

Estonian state information systems’ data transport layer X-Road is a technical and organizational environment that enables secure data transfer between digital state databases and enables secure data transfer between individuals and state institutions. It also coordinates the access of individuals to information being processed in state databases.

X-Road is one of the six core state information systems that provide support to all state information systems. It is a standard data communication layer between databases and information systems that allows information systems with differing underlying platforms to transfer data. Platform independence is achieved by using the SOAP and XML-RPC protocols. From 2009 onwards, SOAP will remain the only supported protocol.

The Document Exchange Centre (DEC) is an information system providing a common central document exchange service for various records managements systems as well as other information systems dealing with documents. The objectives of the DEC are the following: interfacing dispersed information systems through the secure data exchange layer X-Road; short-term preservation of documents and, in the future, also provision of services that will support the proceeding of documents. Using the DEC as a central asynchronous buffering component on the distributed X-Road infrastructure is justified by the need to simplify the joining of records management systems with the state document exchange infrastructure as well as to ensure the reliability of document exchange.

 

Technology choice: Standards-based technology, Mainly (or only) open standards, Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The transition to document exchange through the Document Exchange Centre (DEC) and the implementation of harmonized XLM forms for documents will make the administrative and records management processes more effective, faster, and more transparent. The entire life cycle of a record will be reflected in its metadata, enabling us to:

  • monitor and control the progress;
  • obtain access to the document at every stage of the process;
  • guarantee the authenticity, reliability, usability and integrity of the record at all times.

A record can be automatically transmitted through the DEC from one records management system to another without being converted into paper format at any stage. The need for repeated entry of digitally created records disappears, which means that:

  • errors produced through the repeated entry are avoided;
  • officials are able to work more quickly and easily and with greater efficiency.

In the course of the project conditions will be created for the long-term preservation of digital records. In addition, the transition to an XML-based creative process and automatic forwarding will provide both ordinary citizens and the creators of the records with the opportunity to better monitor the progress.

In June 2009, 280 users of the DEC – including 100% of ministries, 100% of county governments, 85% of state agencies, 65% of local governments, and 33% of constitutional institutions of Estonia – exchange documents safely and conveniently between dispersed ERMSs. The number of documents exchanged during the first 5 months of 2009 has increased 5 times compared with the same period of the previous year, and is continuously growing.

DEC has enabled to simplify registration processes in ERMSs (through automated extraction of metadata from XML files). Moreover, the DEC project has facilitated transition to paperless administration in public sector institutions. DEC has created a basis for connecting ERMSs to other information systems and state registers, enabling thus the development of e-services. As document exchange covers different types of documents (including invoices, applications, etc), citizens and business enterprises will also benefit.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

We have done lot of presentations at different conferences (eGovernment interoperability conference, eGovernment conferences, DLM Forum conferences, etc.)  and for different guests from all over the world. The project has also been shared at seminars and workshops organised by the State Chancellery of the Republic of Estonia, various ministries, and other institutions.

Lessons learnt

1, Transition to electronic records management and paperless administration is a long-term process, which is better to be organized gradually, by groups of agencies and document types.

2. Transition to electronic document exchange facilitates transition to paperless administration in general.

3. For paperless administration and document exchange, organizational, legal and political interoperability are at least as important as technical and semantic interoperability.

Scope: Local (city or municipality), National