Legal Aid WA polishes off content management

Legal Aid Western Australia will shortly finish implementing a new Web-based content management system based on Hummingbird's Red Dot software, with the assistance of services group Alphawest. Speaking with ZDNet Australia late last week, the statutory body's information manager, Terry Gaston, said Legal Aid WA was "probably the largest legal firm in the state, in terms of the numbers of lawyers and paralegals".

Legal Aid Western Australia will shortly finish implementing a new Web-based content management system based on Hummingbird's Red Dot software, with the assistance of services group Alphawest.

Speaking with ZDNet Australia late last week, the statutory body's information manager, Terry Gaston, said Legal Aid WA was "probably the largest legal firm in the state, in terms of the numbers of lawyers and paralegals".

Terry Gaston

"We already had a legal resources database, which was something that we developed in-house with ASP.NET," Gaston explained. "It was doing a reasonable job, but the user base really required an update, an improved system and an improved way of managing the content."

Legal Aid has migrated a considerable amount of legal content into the new Red Dot environment, and is currently completing user acceptance testing as a last step before going live.

Gaston picked Red Dot due to its enterprise-level capabilities, in addition to its compatibility with other Hummingbird apps in use across Legal Aid WA.

"One of the key reasons for going with Red Dot is we're committed to Hummingbird's suite of document and records management tools," said Gaston. "We've already implemented records management across the organisation, and document management across mainly the business component of the organisation."

"We're about to implement document management across the legal area, but we've got some business rules to sort out, and issues with security and conflicts etc to work through before we do that."

Although a large number of users need access to the new content management system, Legal Aid only bought an entry-level licence due to the fact just a handful of users would actually need to modify the content.

"The application will be ported out through our intranet and extranet to our strategic partners," said Gaston, noting Legal Aid had a number of community legal centres and other "shopfront lawyer" type facilities.

Bringing in the big guns
"We've worked with Alphawest in the past," said Gaston, adding his group and the Optus subsidiary had previously been involved with a national initiative aimed at replacing a 15-year-old green-screen line of business application used by Legal Aid WA and others.

"That arrangement actually did not continue; it turned into too big an exercise with too many states having too many different requirements," the information manager said. The application is based on an Ingres database and provides functionality to manage the legal aid process.

But despite the eventual collapse, Legal Aid ended up buying Hummingbird's document management software as recommended by the initiative. "Alphawest has been providing ongoing support to us in that implementation," said Gaston.

The issues with the line of business application -- dubbed Legal Aid Office -- have not gone away, with a replacement still needing to be found.

"We're in the process of completing our functional requirements," said Gaston. "We're looking at doing a prototype for one component of that system towards the end of this year."

"Again, we're looking at the Hummingbird space, to assist us there, but we think there may also be other products required, and another product that we're looking at, but haven't committed to is a product called Visual Files."

Gaston certainly recommends to other IT managers and CIOs Legal Aid's approach of using enterprise document and records management systems.

"I strongly recommend, particularly if companies are in the government or semi-government sector, that they do document management properly with a records management base to it rather than just merrily saving documents, and assuming that the search tool will find them," he said.

"What the records component does is place like with like, so that if you look for a document, you'll find that document but you'll also find it in the context of other documents."

He admitted training users to use a document management system, and getting the information in the system to start off with took a little more effort. "But you reap your rewards in retrieval later on," he said.

The importance of document and records management systems was only growing, according to Gaston, an IT veteran who has worked extensively within government.

"I've been implementing document management systems since about 1998, and some of my harshest critics have been my colleagues from the IT space. But it's absolutely changing now, and it's been the business and the compliance requirements of government that have turned that around," he said.

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