FLRA’s users driving its compliance with e-records mandate

The Federal Labor Relations Authority is listening to its users as it develops version 2 of its e-filing system.

Version 1 of the application didn’t go over so well because it wasn’t  as user-friendly as it needed to be.

Michael Jeffries, the chief information officer of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, said the e-filing system is part of a bigger effort to move the entire agency to an electronic records platform.

Jeffries said the e-file and document management systems are part of how the FLRA will meet the governmentwide mandate to manage all records electronically by December 2019.

The upgrade to the e-filing system, however, is the first major step toward that goal.

The FLRA moved in 2010 to an e-filing app using a development tool called Quickbase from Intuit.

“The user interface is not as flexible as we need and we found we have stretched it to its limit so we implemented a new user interface using Ruby on Rails and that is what we are building e-filing 2.0 on,” Jeffries said. “We have a user group. We internally test and put it out in beta so external users can give us feedback as well.”

Jeffries said so far the new e-filing system has received good feedback so far. He said he expects version 2 of the e-filing to be ready in the next few months.

“Federal Service Impasse Panel (FSIP) was our first beta. Our next one is Office of General Counsel and then the Office of Administrative Law Judges and then the entire authority will go up,” he said. “This is basically phase 2 of the project to get us to meet the electronic records mandate. Our next phase will be to bring the rest of the internal case management system on board using Ruby on Rails as the user interface. The final phase is to integrate the case management system with the document management system.”

Jeffries said case files will be stored electronically in the document management system.

“This is huge. This will provide folks access to all the case files from their home, from their office, from wherever they are at, they can access this information. This will greatly reduce cost for paper as well,” he said.

Jeffries said his office will lead a change management and training effort.

“The initial phase will be to implement a document management system outside the case management system so that gets everyone used to using it. Right now we are just using standard network shares,” he said. “I want to transition the agency from that to the document management system and then down the road will be the integration with the case management system.”

Along with the record management priorities, Jeffries said another big focus area is moving FLRA offices to a faster network infrastructure.

He said some of the agency’s field offices have made the transition, but the goal is to figure out how to get the rest of them on to “business cable.”

Jeffries said the FLRA is moving off of a managed service in order to get better service and reduce costs.

“In three of our sites, we switched them over to Comcast business cable and in one of our sites we had to go to AT&T U-verse,” he said. “One of the unforeseen challenges is finding a high speed business cable in all of our regions. We have two that are left that we haven’t been able to convert.”

Jeffries said the challenge is for traffic on the network to continue to go through the FLRA’s Trusted Internet Connection (TIC).

“We put equipment out in the regions over a secure virtual private network tunnel that comes back here,” he said. “One other unexpected outcome was our headquarters here became a bottleneck once we had multiple sites up and running. So we are in the process of increasing our bandwidth here.”

Jeffries said the FLRA has increased its internal bandwidth to handle the traffic so it can come through the TIC.

“We do not have a date for when the last two offices will be completed,” he said. “We have a company to give us high speed network connections but they want to charge us a lot of money to bring it into the building. One of our big issues is having a small budget so we have to get created, and we haven’t been able to get creative with those two offices yet.”

And moving to the cloud to address network and infrastructure challenges isn’t always the best option for the agency.

Jeffries said the FLRA’s e-file system already is in the cloud, and he plans to move their mobile device management (MDM) system there as well, but transferring email and other collaboration tools isn’t so cut and dry.

“We are looking at other opportunities to move to the cloud, although as a small agency, it can be quite expense to do so. Our hope is opportunities will come up where it’s not as expensive and we will see more of the benefit to doing so,” he said. “Because we are a small staff, we basically share duties and they do multiple things. Just because I move something to the cloud, it doesn’t mean I can reduce by eliminating a position because I can’t eliminate that position. And ultimately when we run the numbers, it costs less for us to manage something here than to move to the cloud.”

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