Software helps SBA track mail

Software helps SBA track mail

Try writing a letter to the Small Business Administration. You could get a response tomorrow, thanks to last year's implementation of business process management software.

'We wanted to process the incoming mail electronically, get it out electronically and keep track of it: where it came from, and who did what work on it, and where it went,' said Diane Gannon, director of productivity enhancement at SBA's Office of the CIO.

Under the manual mail-handling system, when SBA received letters from Congress or the public, mail employees would route them to the appropriate office. Each office had its own way of tracking letters, and sometimes a response took months.

Some correspondence, such as Freedom of Information Act inquiries, required SBA to respond within 10 days.

The agency chose e-work 4.3 from Metastorm Inc. of Severna Park, Md., to track correspondence. The Web system works with both Microsoft Outlook and Novell GroupWise.

Letters scanned

The apllication runs on a Dell PowerEdge 6400 server. The Web server is Microsoft Internet Information Services Version 5, which runs Windows 2000 and queries a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database.

Employees read the mail and convert it to Portable Document Format files using a Hewlett-Packard scanner and OmniPage scanning and optical character recognition software from ScanSoft Inc. of Peabody, Mass., said Barbara Ebersole, team leader at the Office of the CIO. Users choose the subject of the letter from a pull-down menu. The sender's name and organization and the date of the letter are entered into the SQL database screen, after which it is assigned to an office for further action.

The software has rules that set the priority of the letter, the length of time it should take to generate a response, which office should carry out the task, and all levels of approvals and signatures.

The documents are routed to Microsoft Outlook through an in box employees can access through a browser. They can respond by mail, telephone or e-mail.

E-work also prevents duplication. With a search function, users can find out if anyone else has answered a similar question.

The agency has spent about $25,000 on the system. Last month, the SBA planned to upgrade to e-work 5.0, which will provide the employees with better search capabilities, Ebersole said.

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