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Computerization Center for the Brussels Region (CIRB) Customer Story

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With Alfresco, the CIRB is dematerializing the document procedures of public bodies in the Brussels-Capital Region

CIRB, the Centre d’Informatique pour la Région Bruxelloise [Computerization Center for the Brussels Region] is an organization entrusted with computerizing any bodies under regional political authority in the Brussels region. This includes the public regional authorities (government, parliament, ministries), the 19 communes, the CPAS (Public Social Action Centers), the OIPs (Entities of Public Interest), the 550 educational establishments, the six policing zones, the public hospitals, and others.

The Problem

Decisions made by the communes have to be approved by the Council of Elected Representatives and the College of Aldermen and Burgesses. In 2006, the CIRB was commissioned to dematerialize the stream of documents sent to the Council and the College for ratification. This project should enable substantial progress to be made in:

  • Automating administrative tasks
  • Eliminating carbon emissions and the costs linked to transporting documents
  • Reducing response times by dispatching documents electronically
  • Ensuring the integrity and reliability of data by eliminating the loss and duplication of document, and the existence of outdated versions
  • Associating annexed documents with a folder written in both of Belgium’s national languages
  • Making folders traceable so users can check their current status at any given moment
  • Improving the service offered to citizens by adopting more efficient working methods

The Solution

The CIRB has continued using Alfresco for its open source technology, which ensures the sustainability of the information stored (open format), enabling it to be integrated into business applications.

The CIRB’s team has developed a generic solution, christened “BOS”  , which is personalized according to the requirements of each commune and then installed on a dedicated device per body. Alfresco sets up the agenda electronically and an automated workflow then submits the decisions of the communes and their associated attachments to the Council and the College for ratification. The final stage is the publication of the ratified decisions on the entity’s website. The project was launched with a pilot in two communes.

Next, beyond the communes, this generic approach has meant the could be extended to the CPAS and policing zones, whose decisions are also subject to approval. An electronically signed ratification workflow also makes it possible to have decisions approved by the regional authority, which oversees all the entities in the region. Lastly, the solution has been deployed to the Regional Council of Ministers.

The CIRB’s approach is also characterized by its detailed attention to users. A member of the team accompanies them full-time for an average of two weeks at the start of a deployment to communicate good practices, answer questions, dispense training, and support the computer correspondents selected from among the users. The CIRB then maintains contact with its customers by asking them for feedback via a users’ club which meets twice a year. A centralized help desk answers questions throughout the year.

After this, the CIRB tackled the management of development planning and environmental permits, which can sometimes be complex matters. In fact, applicants have to comply simultaneously with the regulations in force during the construction of a building and those in force when an extension is applied for, while also taking into account the regulations specific to each commune and to the region. Fortunately, Alfresco is capable of managing all those situations. The new solution uses automated flows for the analysis of folders, the grant of permits, and their publication. It will soon facilitate ratification by the College thanks to integration into BOS.

The next implementation of the Electronic Document Management process [GED] concerned the handling of incoming and outgoing mail. A digitization software program is integrated into Alfresco and distributes mail via a workflow. The same mechanism enables outgoing mail to be managed. The next logical stage is to insert the mail into current folders that, in due course, will be managed by a transverse Alfresco GED.

A fourth situation concerns the integration of Alfresco with the public contracts management platforms and the creation of automated workflows to manage each stage of the folder until the results are published on the management website.

When business applications are involved in documentary processes, Alfresco is integrated into them. The data are then stored in Alfresco’s storage device where they benefit from optimized document management, productive searches, and automated processes. Users can still gain access to their data from interfaces familiar to them and are often unaware that they are using Alfresco.

Lastly, to complement its role as a host, the CIRB offers its customers an Alfresco-based document-sharing solution enabling working parties composed of internal employees and those of other public and private bodies to work together.

The shared aim of all the CIRB’s projects is to eliminate the use of paper, avoid copies of documents from business applications, replace file servers that cannot effectively manage unstructured documents, automate the management of business processes, and eliminate poorly documented flows.

Although the CIRB’s approach comprises many Alfresco devices so as to be able to manage private data (GDPR), less sensitive information circulates effectively between the various devices thanks to the APIs. The CIRB intends soon to implement a true transverse GED that communicates with the various devices.

The Results

The CIRB does not need to promote itself to demonstrate the success of its Alfresco-based solutions because word of mouth works very well and the region’s entities themselves request its services. Alfresco is therefore now deployed across 44 bodies--totaling 200 devices for 6,500 users--and the numbers keep rising. The devices manage some two million documents. The constantly updated development model now enables a new version to be deployed in just 10 minutes per device.

The BOS solution on its own accounts for an average saving of 20,000 euros per commune per year compared with paper. It is more difficult to calculate its other benefits precisely, but the increase in productivity, transparency, and quality of service is enormous.

According to Filip Lannoye, Head of the Management Service at CIRB, “What appealed to us to begin with was the open source aspect of Alfresco and that is still a major advantage, reflected in total control of the application’s layers and its high capacity for integration with the information system [SI]. Another advantage is its scalability, which enables us to modulate our devices both vertically and horizontally. Then, the support of the highly-reactive Enterprise version is far superior to the support offered by proprietary solutions, and at a much smaller cost. We also appreciate the extremely active free community. We regularly take part in the hackathons – in fact we often host them ourselves, and have many new functionalities to suggest.”

Filip Lannoye adds “We’ve been a customer of Alfresco’s for 12 years now and I’d like to point out that the functionalities I hoped would appear a few years ago have not only been realized but have greatly exceeded my expectations. We have developed rapidly but, if we had to do it all again, the stack Alfresco is offering would enable us to move even faster.”

The problems the CIRB will have to face in the future concern open data and questions of transparency, compliance, and respect for private life but “we’re not overly worried about that,” says Filip Lannoye. Nevertheless, those problems will have to be resolved before a true transverse GED can be adopted because, as Filip explains, “Alfresco’s technology is never the problem in our projects.”

“We’ve been a customer of Alfresco’s for 12 years and the platform has greatly exceeded our expectations. We were able to develop our solution rapidly then, but if we had to start over now, the Alfresco Digital Business Platform would enable us to move even faster.”

- Filip Lannoye, Head of the Management Service at CIRB