Tenterfield Shire Council
The Tenterfield Shire is located on the New England Highway, inland from Byron Bay and close to the Queensland border. The town of Tenterfield, being on the Northern Tablelands at a height above sea level of nearly 900 metres, experiences four distinct seasons each year, with surrounding countryside ranging from rugged mountains to rural landscapes.
In 2005, Council decided to acquire Infocouncil for the electronic management of its business papers. Before the pressure of time and work became too great, Tenterfield Shire Council had previously compiled and distributed its agendas and minutes using only Word templates and hard copy printouts, and had put up with many hours of labour and frustration.
The main drawback for Council to using only MS Word for the business papers process was the time that had to be invested in each step. The limitations of these processes were not exposed until increasing development activity put pressure on the whole system of governance at Council. Even before these limitations became apparent, however, there were irritations and inefficiencies, as follows:
Incorporating electronic and hard copy attachments into an agenda was time consuming, as was cutting and pasting when changes in the queue order of reports were required. The General Manager was sent hard copy reports for his approval, which were sent back to the writer if changes were required. Then re-submitted, and so on.
If the agenda as originally compiled could remain unaltered, no time wasting difficulties were experienced. When asked whether recompiling agendas involved significant inefficiencies, Executive Assistant to the General Manager, Ms Karen Stewart, replied: “… yes, every time. Sections of the agendas were printed on coloured paper depending on the department, then physically collated.” Recompiling to include changes therefore required extremely close attention to ensure the integrity of the colour coding.
Minutes were not kept in real time, and were time consuming to set up.
Publishing to web
This was also time consuming, as each Word document had to be converted manually to PDF, with all documents then joined together to make the PDF agenda.
Initially, the changeover from MSWord to Infocouncil was not accepted with universal warmth and enthusiasm.
Rumblings at changeover
The Councillors had become accustomed to the colour coded business papers. One Director felt the new system did not suit his approach to work, although the Corporate Services and Environment departments were happy to make the change.
Reports, agendas and minutes
Ms Stewart says that agendas and minutes “… appear much more professional”. Reports are now sent electronically to the GM for approval and he can make any required minor adjustments electronically before forwarding them for inclusion in the agenda.
Efficiency of time usage
According to Ms Stewart, with Infocouncil time use efficiency is “… very much improved. Previously I had to do the table of contents manually and each section also had a table of contents. With the system generating the table of contents, it saves me a lot of time.”
Publishing to web
Ms Stewart says publishing to web has proven to be “…very easy.”
Responses to the change
Councillors “… still miss the colour coded sections,” Ms Stewart reports. She, herself, is “… much more happy using Infocouncil than the old manual way of producing agendas and minutes.” Management is happy unless “… one of us has missed a step.”
Rating the past and present processes
Ms Stewart gives a rating of 7 out of 10 for Infocouncil, as compared with her rating of 4 for the original system.