Services/Client Information Network, Health Canada Final Report

AIDS Committee of Toronto, March 1998

A Summary of the Original Project Goals & Objectives

When we approached Health Canada with this proposal in 1995, ACT had a creaky network of DOS and Windows-based computers that was on its last legs, and which despite expensive life support, delivered a net productivity loss to the organisation. Programmes and departments were electronically isolated from one another, and our workers had great difficulty sharing, retrieving and leveraging information easily. As an example, client information was spread out over DOS databases, WordPerfect files and spreadsheets, requiring a great deal of effort to bring a client profile together. Clearly, all of our systems needed updating and upgrading, but we didn't want to build a system that would continue to isolate workers and create more islands of information that couldn't come together any easier than what we already had.

Our original proposal planned that,

“A computer system will be developed that will allow various parts of our agency, as well as other agencies in our community, to communicate, co-ordinate and plan services that better serve the growing needs, and growing numbers of PHAs.”

The project's activities included: Development of a Community Advisory Body and a Technical Advisory Body; Pursuit of private funding; Consultation on community needs; Development of software; Implementation of the software within ACT; and finally, the non-commercial marketing of software to other service organisations working with PHAs.

The original project timeline was from December 1995 to March 1997. However, after the consultation and needs analysis were completed (described in the next section), it became apparent that this was an ambitious project, and that the work needed an additional year. Thus, the project's timeline was extended to March 1998.

The consultation and needs analysis also made it clear that in order to create, maintain and sustain a PHA-centred service information network, we would in fact need to create, maintain and sustain an agency-wide network that would, as a whole, support service delivery initiatives. The planned development activities were thus regrouped under three broad categories: information provision, client case management, and internal administration.

Out of the needs analysis and consultation, we identified and committed to developing two databases in each of the three categories that would form the foundation of the information network. All subsequent development work would flow from (or complement) these databases.

As part of this process, we committed to creating an infrastructure and/or capabilities that would meet ACT’s information management needs but which were not so ACT-specific that other agencies could not use it. It was important that we not create a dependency on ACT for long-term technical development and support.

Additionally, we committed to finding sources of private funding to acquire the hardware and support to build, maintain and sustain ACT’s network past the project's timeline.

A Short Review of the Consultation Process and Needs Analysis

The most important part of an information network is an understanding of what types of information you have to manage, and how you must facilitate the interaction and work flow between the service providers and service users that use and contribute to the information pool. Therefore, before we thought about what kind of hardware and software we should invest in, we talked to the people who would become the most invested in the system.

External consultations:

Seven key regional, provincial or national organisations were contacted for one-to-one interviews. And to get a sense of the automation needs, issues and concerns of the key agencies in the Toronto area, 159 surveys were mailed out. A community consultation meeting was also held on March 25th, 1996, which presented an overview of the project.

In regards to information provision, internal administration and client case management, the external surveys and one-to-one interviews looked for the following information:

what work flow issues are you currently facing?

what information must you currently collect and maintain?

what areas in you organisation should be linked to information and work flow tools to ensure accuracy, proper follow-up. etc.?

what are the specific measurable objectives you would like this computer project to meet?

what opportunities and obstacles do you see this computer project creating in regards to how you provide and maintain services and organisational structures?

what are the opportunities for agencies to pool knowledge, information and services?

what is your current level of computerisation?

Service providers that are closely tied to large, automated institutions expressed little interest in how ACT's internal tools might be of use to them. However, many of the ASOs we interviewed had pressing internal automation needs and were thinking of investing more time and money in updating their hardware and software, and so acknowledged an interest in the tools ACT would be developing. An overriding concern of all involved was, of course, confidentiality. Internal automation tools that were singled out for especial interest were:

Board and volunteer management tools

Policies and procedures databases

Resource manual databases

Client usage-tracking databases

Any tools that assisted in avoiding duplication of daily effort.

Among those who were very “with it” technically in terms of applications such as databases, most of their efforts to date had been concentrated on delivering services. These organisations have not had the resources to-date to focus inwardly on how to work more effectively as a team, so there is still a great opportunity for ACT to share our deliverables with others.

Internal Consultations

Internally, needs response forms were distributed throughout ACT, and people were given assistance to fill them in. In many instances, people were also interviewed.

The internal needs response forms looked for the following:

what information does each work area contain/track?

what other information should it link to? (i.e. what information does it currently tie into manually at present, and what information should it be tying into through automation?)

what work processes are currently involved in this component, and ideally, how could these work processes be fine tuned? How should the way people do these jobs change?

who will the users be, and what will the levels of access be?

when the project actually begins, how will ACT measure success for each of these components? What will the yardsticks be?

what are the timelines and priorities for each area?

From this feedback, we looked for administration areas where, right off the mark, it was apparent that significant time savings could be produced through automation. We didn't, however, look to automate processes exactly as we found them; instead, we followed this process:

  • We didn't create an ACT-specific database infrastructure.
  • We didn't automate stuff holus bolus as we found it, for we had no desire to set bad work flow in stone. Instead, we made existing processes relate back to ACT’s business plans and objectives. Those that didn't relate weren't automated, and were instead referred back to management for review.
  • We looked for redundant processes. Before we would agree to automate anything, we got all the players involved to put their heads together and collaborate on how to rationalise the work first. In many instances, this approach brought together workers to map out similar work processes for the first time.
  • We didn't look only at existing processes; we also looked at processes that might potentially be needed as per goals, objectives, and strategies contained in future service initiatives and strategic plans.
  • Finally, as a strategic consideration, we prioritised the "big payoff" items. We defined "big payoff": a) in terms of worker time freed up vs. automation effort required; and b) as success stories, so that staff and volunteer workers would be eager to continue the automation process, rather than having to be coaxed or dragged along it.

A Summary of our Hardware and Software Solutions

As part of developing an entirely new network, we needed to manage its users’ expectations because the technology would not all happen overnight. And we were clear with end users right from the beginning: the network would not necessarily make what they do initially easier; instead, it would actually change what they do and how they do it. This project forced us to rethink fundamentally the way we connect to and relates to our clients and “information and service suppliers”. Many of the approaches we took with an eye to breaking down barriers that created wait times and that added no value.

The Hardware Challenges

As stated, we had quite an inadequate and costly network structure at the beginning of this process. We used the following principles to help guide us through the immense task of upgrading our entire system:

all existing machines below a 486 processor were gradually replaced. Two and a half years ago, the minimum workstation was a 486/25 with 8 meg of RAM, running Windows for Workgroups. Today, new acquisitions now come in with a minimum of 586/100 with 16 meg of RAM. These should be running Win95.

All equipment, whether donated or new, should come with a 3 year warranty. This kind of warranty helps keep support costs to a minimum.

We keep an up-to-date inventory of all hardware, software licenses and warranties.

The server should be a P150 or higher with 64 meg RAM, 4 gig harddrive and a DAT backup drive. It should be running OS/2 Warp or NT server. We recommend the removal of Novell NetWare; with Windows for Workgroups/Win95 on the workstations and Warp or NT on the server, the extra maintenance and support cost of third-party networking cannot be justified.

Networking wiring should be 10-Base T. The network cards should be Ethernet. This is the industry standard and costs less than ACT's previous TokenRing environment.

For our needs, an 128k/ISDN line was brought directly in-house. Through this, we registered our Web site address directly to our own server.

The network operating protocol is IPX, to act as a fire wall between the Internet (TCP/IP) and internal operations.

The Software Challenges

From the community consultation / needs analysis, it was clear that a Microsoft-driven solution, replacing one type of word processing or database file with another, would not meet our groupware needs. Another challenge became apparent as we strategised with our peer organisations to seek ways to reduce the duplication of information and effort. Every organisation was grappling with its own funding constraints, and there was a strong consensus that a pooling of knowledge and information would allow each to concentrate on its core strengths. Clearly this would involve the Internet, but a Microsoft-only solution would not permit the kinds of beyond-the-walls collaboration and partnering needed without continual labour costs just to handle and covert information files.

Some basic rules we followed as we developed our software strategy included:

All software collateral should be kept in a central, secure location.

A standard desktop configuration be in place and deviated from only where a business need is documented.

No unlicensed or unauthorised software be allowed on ACT’s machines.

As stated, ACT began this project with a needs analysis. The needs analysis took place over three months, probing staff and volunteers for their ideas and needs, and bringing community partners across the country to the table to see how they could also benefit from the project. At the end of the analysis, we realised that Lotus Notes Domino Web Server provided the easy answer to allow us (and any organisation) to provide, maintain and update information in a secure fashion, yet required no greater knowledge from end users than clicking on a button and typing. A detailed project plan followed, with budgets and cost-benefit analyses, addressing the following areas:

~ information provision services to the community, through a Notes Server web site;

~ peer organisation collaboration, through a Notes server web site;

~ client case management services, through Lotus Notes;

~ internal work flow automation, through Lotus Notes.

Notes security and encryption abilities addressed the need for confidentially in our client case management and volunteer systems. Client information of all formats and types came together for the first time, so that counsellors would now have a complete picture of the organization's interaction with an individual.

Notes would also play a strong role in volunteer management to encourage, track and recognise the many contributions volunteers have made to the organisation. At a time of shrinking funding, volunteers will need to play a larger role than ever: Volunteer Management is using Notes to improve the retention rate for volunteers, and better match volunteers skills to needed tasks in the organisation and in the community.

The built in capabilities for community collaboration through Lotus Notes and the Internet was also a big selling feature. It could transform a passive, brochure-like Web site into a service-focused interactive Web site for individual and community clients. Peer organisations across the country could access, update and contribute to a pooled resource site running Notes through any Web browser. This would allow such things as pooled bibliography databases, shared policies and procedures, shared educational material, and co-ordination of service projects, wherever their geographic location. And those that choose to use Notes internally too would be able to share database development and to easily replicate the pooled data back in-house.

The Return on the Investment

ACT is using a stable, coherent network structure and Lotus Notes to do what seems the impossible: reduce our organisational costs while increasing the quality of services to our communities.

Clearly, we needed to invest a great deal in our hardware infrastructure. We now know from experience that this produces the lowest costs overall. And we now demand that any hardware acquisition (bought or donated) be good enough to give three to five years service in any business environment; any shorter period costs too much for support and installation.

Lotus Notes groupware capabilities provided the escape hatch for our staff and volunteers to completely rethink how we work. Through Notes, some service areas saved up to 60% of administration time, so that the time could be returned to delivering services. Statistical reporting, for instance, was taking 184 hours per month, and has now been reduced to 81 hours through Notes.

Through using Lotus Notes and Lotus Notes Domino server, ACT has been able to automate its operations internally and extend them externally at a fraction of what it would cost using any other software product. Lotus Notes has given us a level of automation which surpasses that of even many other similar-sized organisations in the private sector.

A Summary of our Database Development

As stated in the section on the project's original goals and objectives, we set out to create foundation databases in each of the information provision, client case management and internal automation categories, and then continued to build from there. This section will highlight some of the important development principles, will list the databases developed, and will report on what the outcomes have been in terms of information management, effect on work flow, and benefit to the agency, communities and clients.

1) Information Provision databases

The main conceptual objectives that all information provision databases share are standardisation, centralisation, and easier access to and sharing of documents.

And although automating this area involved most of the same guiding principles as in the other three areas, the two unique development principles in this area are: the information dealt with is not confidential; and end users should not need a great deal of support (if any at all) in order to access the information from a workstation at ACT or via a Web browser at another agency or from home.

Developing these databases involved getting the information into a consistent electronic format and organised internally first, and then making strategic and progressive decisions about what to expose to other workers within ACT and then to clients and other organisations via the Web site.

    Funded databases:
    Library catalogue
      - a view of how this database is accessed through the web site is appended to this report (Appendix I)
      - the library catalogues consist of over 5,500 bibliographic records of books, videos, and audiocassettes. Notes has allowed us to make the catalogues more accessible to our staff and clients from all networked computers
      - from within Notes, the catalogue is exposed to the Internet, where it is searchable by the public at large from computers outside ACT
      - clients at ACT may search the contents of the collection from our Public Access Terminal in our Access Centre
      - the computer project has expanded access to the catalogues from one library office computer to approximately 30 terminals within the organization, and innumerable terminals outside ACT
      - Lotus Notes has also allowed us to create a separate database of ACT Library periodical holdings
      - clients can create their own bibliographies and perform customized literature reviews - something we could never offer before
      - the Web access to the catalogue has saved us and our clients lots of time; users can search our catalogue database directly before coming in or instead of phoning us for help
      - other resource centres can copy bibliographic information and abstracts for use in their own bibliographic systems
    Service Referrals database
      - a view of this database is appended to this report (Appendix II)
      - this database tracks services to individuals and services to communities that are available in the Toronto area
      - having these documents in one place helps to ensure that the agency's knowledge and expertise is not lost as workers leave the agency. It also facilitates an agency-wide responsibility for maintaining and updating this type of information
      - support workers can easily refer to this database in order to get up-to-date information when they are working with clients. It also helps to ensure that workers are giving out consistent messages about available services
      - the database eliminates the need to constantly produce and distribute paper versions, saving time and money
      - changes to information can be submitted internally or over the website; therefore, other agencies can maintain their own service information if they have access to the Internet
      - the database structure allows information to be imported from a variety of sources, therefore saving research time and money
      - information can be verified easily by faxing out each agency's specific information from right within the database
      - the database allows users to search for service information by agency, language, area, service type and target group, making it fast and easy to get to the information they need
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
    Bonus databases:
    Basic AIDS information
      - this database is the storage container for ACT’s documents on safer sex and HIV/AIDS-related topics
      - having these documents in one place helps to ensure that the agency's knowledge and expertise is not lost as workers leave the agency. It also facilitates an agency-wide responsibility for maintaining and updating this type of information.
      - support workers can easily refer to this database in order to get up-to-date information when they are working with clients. It also helps to ensure that workers are giving out consistent messages about safer sex and HIV/AIDS
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
      - this database is an internal discussion database where external issues, press releases, gossip and FYI items are posted and discussed
      - having a central discussion area keeps workers up-to-date, without clogging up the e-mail system or creating and storing duplicate documents all over the server
      - these posting are generally not discussed, nor do they have archival value in an electronic format. As such, an agent automatically removes postings from this database after a certain period of time
    The ACTsFiles
      - this database is the storage container for ACT’s historical documents, such as press releases, discussion papers, evaluation reports, focus group reports, etc.
      - having these documents in one place helps to ensure that the agency's knowledge and expertise is not lost as workers leave the agency. It also facilitates an agency-wide responsibility for maintaining and updating this type of information.
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
    Internet News Groups
      - this database is a template that came with Lotus Notes, so we didn't need to do a lot of additional development work in order to add value to the agency's information management
      - this database allow us to subscribe to HIV-related Internet news groups, and organize the information in one central location without clogging up the e-mail system
      - by going to one spot, workers can keep up-to-date with the latest news and developments from around the world
      - these documents could eventually be exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance would be required
    Publications Template
      - this template allows us to import, store, and maintain large documents and reports that outside sources have written for us
      - we have used this template to import documents such as the National Volunteer Training Kit, the English and French versions of our Care Team Manuals, and our Return to Work Report
      - this template saves us a great deal of time because we don’t have to spend a lot of time reformatting the work of others in order to get the information into our system
      - the database also allows us to store the original electronic text and desktopped versions, and any graphic works - regardless of the format we received the document in. This ensures that future editions can be built upon the work already done, and that workers aren't scrambling to try and remember who has the original disks!
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
    Minutes Database
      - has made the whole process of minutes as working documents more transparent, and has saved searching time by having minutes from every working group in one location
      - users can schedule meetings through the e-mail system, regardless of whether the group's members use Notes or not
      - has mostly eliminated the need to distribute paper copies; minutes can be distributed via e-mail to anywhere in the world, therefore group members are always kept up-to-date
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
      - this database is an internal discussion database where ACT-specific issues, reports, and projects in process are posted and discussed
      - having a central discussion area keeps workers up-to-date, without clogging up the e-mail system or creating and storing duplicate documents all over the server
      - this database becomes a historical record that can track the course of discussions over years, ensuring that historical knowledge and expertise gets passed on easily as key workers leave
2) Internal Administration databases

Like information provision, the practice of database management is the key guiding principle at work here, rather than a specific task area. The main two development principles in this area are: information will often be restricted to staff or Board access (organisational confidentiality); and, the network's system administration will have to take into account a (potentially) complex system of user access and approval levels as well as information storage and flow.

    Funded databases
    Policies & Procedures
      - for years, management and workers struggled to access complete and accurate copies of our policies and procedures: was this the most up-to-date version? did it contain all of the policies and procedures we had?
      - different policies and procedures were filed in different locations - some were electronic (word-processing files) and some were paper based
      - workers often didn't know that policy and procedure existed for a lot of issues
      - a database template was developed to house our Agency Manuals, Human Resources Manuals, and Programs & Services Manuals. A list of all documents contained in this database is appended to this report
      - the database is fully searchable and cross-referenced; thereby making it easy to find what end users need. These features save a lot of time.
      - an automated approval process is built in to our e-mail system that makes revisions and additions timely and legal. And approvers do not need to be Notes users: the process can be directed through e-mail to anywhere in the world
      - having these documents in one place helps to ensure that the agency's knowledge and expertise is not lost as workers leave the agency. It also facilitates an agency-wide responsibility for maintaining and updating our policies and procedures
      - producing multiple paper copies in now not needed, which saves money
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
      - a view of this database is appended to this report
      - a template for composing workplans facilitates consistency and ease of revision.
      - all workplans are accessible to all staff, which promotes internal communication. It is especially useful for fundraising, since fundraising staff can copy and paste material directly from the appropriate workplans into grant proposals.
      - it's easy to refer to current and past workplans at any time, so workers can tell quickly if they are on target for the year or not.
      - workplans developed during separate years can be viewed separately, or can be easily compared and contrasted to show the progression of a programme or service
      - having these documents in one place helps to ensure that the agency's knowledge is not lost as workers leave the agency. It also facilitates an agency-wide responsibility for maintaining and updating workplans
      - these documents could be exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance would be required
    Bonus databases
    e-mail, calendaring & scheduling
      - there would be an open revolt now if we took away e-mail
      - e-mail has eliminated all kinds of lost time playing telephone tag; it efficiently facilitates intra-agency communication
      - resource requests are starting to come in by e-mail - it has given the agency another accessible point of contact to our clients
      - the built-in calendaring and scheduling feature saves a great deal of time by using the e-mail system to set up meetings. And meeting members do not need to be Notes users in order to be included in the scheduling loop.
      - calendaring and scheduling can be made accessible through our web site in the future so that clients can book themselves directly into services
    Fax gateway
      - used extensively by ten or so staff people who do a lot of networking, less so by other staff.
      - co-ordinates networks, sends minutes. We estimate time savings about 20 hours a month
    Staff phone lists
      - putting staff phone lists on line has now eliminated the task of manually distributing updates once a month; this task used to take the worker 1 hour a month. The time it took to automate this was 0 hours, plus 1 hour of combined time to show the office manager how to update them, as well as show him how to advise users how to access them.
    Resource Bookings
      - this database allows workers to reserve meeting space and audio-visual equipment automatically
      - now, this task doesn't need to be organised and monitored by one person, freeing up their time to devote to other things
      - this feature could be exposed through our website in the future, allowing our community partners to reserve resources directly
    Time sheets
      - makes information more current for management decisions and for sign-off
      - has eliminated all the mistakes that used to occur in the manual process
      - allows people to plan their time better (rolling overtime; accrual).
      - people can view their time tracking at any time rather than have to wait for a monthly report
      - tying in confidential human resources information all on-line; no longer need to hunt so much through paper records
      - Administrative Assistant can tie together information that he could never tie together before and yet still expose portions of it to staff in real time in a safe, confidential, easy way
      - saves ACT money because it keeps us on top of lieu and vacation time. Time balances are updated daily, so we can spot a problem much faster and monitor it to resolution.
      - during supervision, managers no longer have to take Admin Assistant's time to get employee time information
      - a lot of people used to challenge re: what their time sheets show, now they can't anymore (since they input the information themselves)
      - took a very manual intensive process and make it a very simple process
      - the Administrative Assistant needs access to quick information for staff questions and to keep information flowing to the managers
      - the Admin Assistant says he is saving 50% of the time he used to spend on this (no longer has to give people new time sheets as they lose them, run them around for approval, double-check all calculations)
    Job Descriptions
      - this database manages the job descriptions for every paid position in the agency (volunteer job descriptions are located in a different database)
      - all job descriptions are accessible to all workers, which takes the mystery out of “what does s/he actually do?”
      - an automated approval process is built into our e-mail system that makes revisions and additions timely and legal.
      - these documents are exposed to the world automatically through our web site - no additional web maintenance is required
    Performance Evaluations
      - this database is tied to the job descriptions and time sheets database
      - an automated documentation process is built into our e-mail system that makes the process timely and legal. We can seek community input from anyone with e-mail. These people do not need to be Notes users: the process can be directed through e-mail to anywhere in the world
      - managers are automatically alerted when job performances are due
    End User Call Support Tracking
      - this database tracks the problems that end users have using or accessing the network, the solutions employed to fix the problems, and the amount of support time spent on specific problems
      - documenting the solution information in a central location helps to ensure that the knowledge is not lost when key workers leave agency
      - because it is a historical record of all problems encountered, it is a vital component of our process to evaluate the system, and the amount of time spent supporting end users
    Purchase Orders
      - allows real time capture of expenses which increases our ability to estimate the stability of our cash-flow position
      - information is now more complete - in the old manual system, too much was getting left out or lost altogether, with the negative impact of holding up payment to suppliers and causing extra work for accounting
      - electronic system highlights to a manager how expenses are accruing at any moment in time
      - more reliability of figures because of automatic dollar calculations
      - overall, management has better information with which to make strategic decisions
      - has greatly eased record keeping and retrieval (it eliminates lost time looking for paper purchase orders and trying to recreate paper trail)
      - easier to train new people in electronic system than in paper system (the chart of accounts is on-line for lookup, and the database walks them through the process). Accounting has to spend only a fraction of the time that used to be required, and this is time that would be required anyway (i.e. what a purchase order is, in general).
      - reduces accounting's time required to process all aspects of purchase orders. Overall, has reduced time by a very comfortable 25 to 33%, while delivering real time information to management that they used to have to spend additional time to produce for them
    AIDS Walk
      - one of the main reasons for having this database was so we could keep in contact with Walkers [i.e., send information/reminders about the Walk to ensure we kept their interest].
      - the other reason for creating the database was for marketing information. In the past we just sent out pledge sheets to whomever requested them, never knowing who these people were demographically. We would then have to spend money for a consulting firm to trace these people after the Walk and do an analysis. However, because we tracked who requested pledge sheets right from the start, we have a better idea of our potential market.
      - the down side to this process was the continued use of legacy third party software that is incompatible with Notes. This is because we have one database that tells us who was interested, but another database that tells us who actually came, and we can't do a "compare" to see which market segment actually attended. I don't know how much longer we will be continue to use this legacy software, however, so potentially the new software will merge completely.
      - another benefit, although somewhat back-door-ish, is that it expanded our volunteer base. By having more "high tech" positions available, more of the present population was interested in helping.
      - it enabled us to track teams better. We relieved the team captains of the headache of keeping track of who was in their team. We could track how each team member found out about the Walk, if where they worked was the team that they belonged to, etc.
      - it enabled us to get a vague reading of the various companies that may be potential sponsors, based on the number of employees that registered.
    Mission Control
      - this is the database that helps to ensure that all databases can be shared with other agencies who are running Notes
      - Agency-specific data is kept in one location, and the databases that need this information look it up here. Thus, information can be kept up-to-date in many databases just by updating it in one. This saves a great deal of development time, and helps to ensure organisational accuracy
3) Client Case Management databases

Client case management is more a principle than an actual programming task. It takes into account our relationships with individuals representing themselves as well as individuals representing communities and/or organisations. Like information provision, the main conceptual objectives are standardisation, centralisation, and appropriate and secure access to and sharing of information and client records.

However, a differing conceptual component to (especially individual) client case management is one of “hooking up”. This process differs greatly from one of simply providing a client with referral information because it involves an in-depth and confidential interaction between client and worker. An automated client case management system needed to allow workers to act as their client's advocate by first assessing the client's immediate (and possibly future) needs, then getting the client booked directly into the services he or she needs (within ACT or at other agencies), and finally allowing workers to “follow-up” with their client to make sure things are proceeding okay.

One staff response identified a desire for one central screen for each client that would act as jumping off point for booking or referring the client to all services. Therefore, the development of client record keeping systems involved designing this central jump-off point from which all the modules or areas link off and “report” back to.

And like the areas in information provision, this too involved getting information about the clients and services in a consistent electronic format and organised internally first, and then making strategic and progressive decisions about what to expose to other workers within ACT.

    Funded databases
    Client Services (counselling)
      - this multi-module, client-based database, is easily adaptable to other agencies' needs, for tracking all aspects of direct services to individual service-users, and for facilitating the production of statistics.

      Counselling Module
      - saves about 2 hours a month per staff person in statistic reporting time;
      - facilitates recording of counselling sessions.
      - facilitates keeping track of counselling, advocacy, and referrals in relation to individual clients
      - statistics easily accessible

      Buddies Module
      - saves statistical reporting time
      - keeps better track of buddy matches
      - logs co-ordinator's contacts with clients and volunteers

      Support Groups Module
      - helps with the organization of the program
      - electronic referral system makes referrals easier to process and quicker
      - tracks group referrals through initial referral through group membership and closure
      - group information is more easily accessible to other staff
      - its links to the Volunteer Database facilitates tracking of group facilitators
      - automated reporting of volunteer statistics

      Clinics Module
      - tracks attendance at Insurance and Tax clinics.
      - not yet fully automated - confidentiality issues to be worked out

      Drives Module (ready for release)
      - tracks requests for drives from initial contact to the completion of the assignment
      - automatically generates statistics
      - linked to Volunteer Database to facilitate co-ordinator's management of volunteer drivers and to generate volunteer statistics
    Volunteer Database
      This multipurpose database is designed to:
      - track volunteers from initial contact through orientation, training, assignments and exiting.
      - track job skills and preferences to facilitate finding volunteers for particular assignments
      - handle scheduling of volunteers for special events
      - link to services database modules to facilitate volunteer management and the gathering of volunteer statistics
      The Volunteer Database is currently linked to the Buddies, Groups, and Drives module of the Services database. During the coming fiscal year other databases will be developed in other programs which will also be linked to the Volunteer Database, so that in the end the network of databases will track volunteer use throughout the agency, facilitate volunteer management, and generate statistics automatically.
      The database has been designed to be adaptable for any agency using volunteers.
    Bonus Databases
    Volunteer Role Descriptions
      - advertises volunteer opportunities and recruits volunteers (especially through the website)
      - gives clear role descriptions, is easily accessed and updateable, and gives supervisors useful supervision tools - expectations and limits of volunteers are clearly understood and the total number of volunteer hours is accurately calculated

The Website

Like the hotline, reception, switchboard, and our outreach programmes, we consider our website to be a first contact service. Thus, we created and designed our website using the same visions for service used in other first contact programmes: user empowerment; self-paced use; minimum intervention; integration of services; and access to the agency brought up front. We recognised that web users deserved that same level of information provision, assessment and referral that other service users enjoyed over the phone or in person.

A view of our home page that demonstrates this approach is appended to this report. (As stated, many of the resources described in this report are accessible through our website at

Since the content of the web site is fuelled from our internal Notes network (see the description of databases above), we needed to automate all the work flow areas identified in the needs analysis and project plan before starting work on the web site. The plan was to make sure we had our own internal information "house" in order before opening the doors to the outside world. We also anticipated that the freed-up administration time might be needed to service the increased requests coming in through a web site.

As described, we provide directories of community resources, educational material, our library catalogue, and ASO management tools through the Web site. Keeping printed copies of these resources up to date has been costly in the past. Now, constantly updated versions of information exist in Notes databases both for internal use and for reference by Web users. Users can print off the relevant pages for themselves as needed. The Notes Domino server can also allow outside organisations to maintain their own entries in the directories, reducing the internal cost of researching and maintaining this information.

Educational material for public distribution is maintained in databases that replicate directly to the Notes web site for clients to search and print, lessening drop-in demands, phone queries and mail-out requests. Having the on-line catalogue enables library users to see resources available before making the trip to ACT’s offices. The individuals and communities that ACT serves have access to the information they want and need at any hour of the day.

The same Web site allows peer organisations across the country to access, update and contribute to the pooled resource site. Through any Web browser, we can all work together directly in Notes. This will allow such things as ongoing discussion areas, pooled bibliography databases, shared policies and procedures, shared educational material, and co-ordination of service projects, wherever the geographic location. The costs of enabling such a collaborative yet secure Web environment would be prohibitive for even many for-profit organisations; such a collaborative, non-hierarchical model is, however, absolutely key when independent organisations from different regions of Canada work together.

A Summary of our Financial Expenditures

Financial statements itemizing the Health Canada funds spent through this project are appended to this document. This section summarizes the short and long-term financial and development partnerships that we have formed above and beyond the Health Canada grant in order to develop, grow and sustain this project.

The Life and Health Insurance Companies in Canada

Through the CEO Task Force on AIDS Projects, ACT received $25,000 to purchase hardware components to run the new network. Equipment purchased using this money included network servers, hubs, ethernet cards and cables.


ACT approached Lotus directly to help meet the complex work flow and information management challenges. Lotus responded with overwhelming generosity by donating over $90,000.00 in software and licensing. Just as important as their donation was their vote of confidence in what the project could achieve and how important the project was.

Oulton & Co.

The decision to go with a particular type of hardware and software is an important one; however, the decision to go with professional external support to help set up and develop a network is just as important. In our case, Outlon & Co., an authorised Lotus Business Partner, was the hands-down choice. Their approach from the beginning has been to work with us in such a fashion as to make us as independent of them at the end of the project as possible.

Not only has their business analysis and understanding of our community-based approach to work been invaluable, so too has their ongoing donation of time and work been above and beyond our expectations. Since this project's inception, Oulton & Co.'s donation of services, unbilled work, and discounted hourly rates has been more than $77,000.00. In fact, Oulton & Co. have matched Health Canada’s contribution to this expenditure line dollar-for-dollar!

CAD MicroSolutions

There is so little mark-up on hardware these days, that we needed to approach retailers and distributors (instead of manufacturers) to get equipment at reduced costs. Anyone who has bought computer equipment for their agency can appreciate what a necessity it is to have a knowledgeable, supportive and experienced vendor on your side. CAD MicroSolutions is just such a vendor. Roberta Lum, a partner in CAD MicroSolutions, has been a huge supporter in the fight against AIDS, and we're thrilled that she is on our side too.

First, she brokered an amazing deal with Acer computers which let us purchase computers to support our new network structure at substantially discounted prices. Then, she and two of her colleagues generously donated some high end workstations to give us the power to tackle complex computing functions with ease.

All told, more than $18,000 worth of hardware has been donated through the partners of CAD MicroSolutions.

Knowledge Alliance

User training and support are vital components that will make or break the best of networks. Typically, computer training costs $250.00 per person per day. ACT had 32 permanent people on staff to train in basic Windows 95, Lotus SmartSuite and Lotus Notes. In order to provide the three days of training to each staff person needed, the cost would have been astronomical!

However, we were able to negotiate a special not-for-profit rate with Knowledge Alliance that allowed us to train classes of up to eight people for $750 - a savings of $1,250 per class! And our reduced rate at Knowledge Alliance has been extended to other ASOs in town as well.

The Ian Findlay Fund

The fund was established in 1996, in the memory of Ian Findlay, to increase access to the Library for people with disabilities. As part of its mandate, this fund has sponsored the design and purchase of a publicly accessible computer workstation as well as covered software development and design costs to make the Library's catalogue more accessible. In total, more than $4,000 has so far been used to support the computer project.

The volunteer Web Working Group

We would like to thank the volunteers members of the Web Working Group, who helped us enormously in conceptualising the structure of the web site, in identifying potential problem areas and ways to solve them, in ongoing usability testing, and in providing support and encouragement. In total, these volunteers donated time to this project worth over $5,000.

Future Sustainability

The investment in this information network goes far beyond the Health Canada timeline. As such, we have taken steps to ensure that there is a secure and adequate amount of money budgeted each year to sustain (and grow) the network.

We continue to negotiate substantial reductions and not-for-profit rates for hardware, software and professional support services aggressively. We also continue to benefit from the donated time and efforts of our experienced volunteer pool.

Besides the Ian Findlay Fund already mentioned, we were also honoured by the generosity of the late John Helliwell, who chose to leave a gift to ACT in his Will. Thanks to his donation, ACT has established the John Helliwell Fund, and will use the interest generated from the investment of John's gift to purchase computer and information technology needed to support our work.

And our Development department has been working to identify new one-time and ongoing sources of money to add to the restricted funds we have already set aside. One such source we are investigating is the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship's programme to support information technology in the volunteer sector.

A Summary of our Evaluation Process

Throughout this report, we have talked about the significant time savings we've experienced due to improved technology; especially, in administrative areas.

These savings have contributed to a significant reduction in the amount of administrative staff resources needed, and have allowed us to put more staff resources into support, education and advocacy programs. In the past 2, management has been reduced from seven to four positions, the Administrative Assistant position in AIDSupport has been eliminated, and a further Finance/Administrative position is about to be eliminated. These resources have been reallocated to direct service programmes and to increasing our private fundraising capacity.

One of the most important evaluation tools we have used throughout this project is the End User Support Call Tracking database. Through this database, we have seen the amount a time needed to support end users drop from about 50% right at the beginning to about 15% now. The industry standard for a network administrators support costs/time is 44%. Owing to the low need for support, the system administrator is able to devote 60% of his time to workflow automation and designing software for service delivery (the other 25% is split between administering, maintaining and upgrading the system).

By having a network structure that allows so much internal design time, ACT has saved tens of thousands of dollars in outside professional services, and has achieved a great deal in a relatively short period of time.

A Summary of Future Partnership Opportunities

As part of this project's activities, we have sought ways to work in partnership with others to ensure that we were on the right track developing an information system that was not ACT-specific nor ACT-dependant. One way we have partnered is by being an active participant in the Canadian AIDS Society's Management Information System Project (both phases). We believe that the work we have completed over the last 2 years can support the initiatives of CAS and others, and that partnerships can happen on many different levels.

From CAS’ Phase II report, several recommendations were put forward that ACT is now well positioned to help meet and deliver:

Recommendation 5: Assisting CAS Members with their Local Needs

We can work with CAS and other member agencies to meet the need for simple basic guidelines on technology and information management which can maximise benefits from tools and practices we and other members already have in place, while leaving doors open to build upon work already complete or in progress at other agencies.

We can work with others to create a standard business model for training and technology investments that can be applied in whole or in part to agencies undergoing technological change. From our own experiences, we know that haphazard approaches can create an infrastructure for which support costs are high, and value returned is low. We can work with others to present a model that tries to reverse that equation, for it will help ensure that scarce resources can be maximised and directed to delivering the services and administrative functions needed to help keep community-based responses progressive, flexible, and sustainable.

Recommendation 3: Two Groupings of Technological Complexity

We support the “two-groupings” approach to sharing database development work: we can share out our Notes databases with agencies who are also running Notes internally, and/or we can share out the “blueprints” of our database structures to agencies that want to continue to build up their infrastructure using the tools they currently have.

And through this approach we could also share the lessons we learned throughout the process of creating our information network and website that is appropriate to the differing levels of technological infrastructure: our philosophical approach to database and web development, what we would do differently if we could start over, and what we would recommend to others who are undertaking similar initiatives (and what we can share with them to make their process easier).

What we can not become is a local, regional nor national software support service.

Recommendation 6: Data collection from local to national level; and
Recommendation 7: CAS as a virtual hub

Phase II recommends that CAS become a virtual office and information hub for its members on the Internet. Until they are technically capable of doing this, ACT can work through the Internet collaboration capabilities of our Notes Domino server and with other technologically advanced agencies to:

facilitate better communication between CAS and its members, as well as among CAS members.

host a mechanism to co-ordinate local, regional and/or national activities while ensuring that distinct regional needs are addressed.

host a mechanism for exchanging information on a wide range of AIDS-related issues such as technology, project information, guidelines, new initiatives, and policies and procedures.