Senator's office is on paper diet

Ngozi Pole, IT director for Sen. Ted Kennedy's personal office, says a new system lets the senator's staff communicate with constituents electronically.

(GCN Photo by Laurie DeWitt)

Kennedy's staff makes do with less paper as IT chief promotes electronic comm

It didn't take long for Ngozi Pole to realize his vision of a paperless congressional office was unrealistic. But the IT director for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) also refused to succumb to the endless paper shuffling that working on Capitol Hill usually requires.

Pole, who also doubles as the senator's Washington office manager, implemented a system that would handle constituent requests, the senator's calendar and better manage the paper traffic between Kennedy's Boston and Washington offices.

Use e-mail more

'Where we are using paper to communicate, we should reduce it by using e-mail and other electronic formats,' he said. 'I know we can't get rid of all the paper, so I'm focusing on managing the paper better.'

With the system, and a FaxComm server from BisCom Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass., which converts faxes into the Adobe Portable Document Format, Pole is closer than ever to reaching his paperless goal.

And Pole is making these changes while bucking the trend of most congressional offices by running the system on Apple Macintoshes and using a Lotus Notes database residing on a Domino server. Most Hill offices use Microsoft Office running under Windows on desktop PCs.

The information management system has four components: Intertrac from Computerworks Inc. of Albany, N.Y., a customer relationship management application; the FaxComm server; a scheduling interface software from CreativEngine Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif.; and an automatic storage exchange application from Notable Solutions Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md.

The system runs in a dual-server environment on an IBM Netfinity X340 in Washington and a Compaq ProLiant 3000 in Boston. The redundant servers update each other every seven minutes.

The system's backbone is the Intertrac software, which provides a call log, correspondence tracking, scheduling and workflow tracking.

'We have the ability to conduct e-commerce interaction with constituents by using Intertrac,' Pole said. 'No longer do we have to enter data into the system. We can map all the information to create correspondence with constituent requests.'

Pole said flag and tour request forms will be added to Kennedy's Web site later this year, and all the data will pass through Intertrac. The scheduling function will be improved soon, when Creativengine's interface software is added to the Intertrac application, Pole said.

The interface, which Pole likened to a dashboard, works through a Web browser and lets Kennedy's schedulers receive e-mail requests, answer them and block off time on the senator's schedule. The software will color-code appointments in blue for Washington and orange for Boston.

The dashboard uses Flash 6 from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco, and Java servlets to interface with Intertrac and the Lotus Notes database, Pole said.

The interface also provides extra details for each event such as place, time, transportation to the event, staff members attending and other information. The scheduler can notify staff members by e-mail when an event has been scheduled.

With the servers synchronizing data every seven minutes, Pole said, the program will make the staff members' jobs easier because communication between offices will be more timely.

The autostore exchange is the final piece Pole hopes to incorporate into the system. Staff members will scan or route e-mail documents through the software, which it will store in Lotus Notes for future use.

Streamline and save

Pole said he designed the system because vendors approved by the Senate did not offer enough flexibility for Macintosh systems and were too expensive.

Kennedy's office previously relied on Internet Quorum from Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas for its workflow management. But Pole said the Unix system was difficult to learn and use, and was inefficient.

He submitted a proposal to the Sergeant at Arms, which makes IT funding decisions for the Senate, to use the $250,000 each office receives for constituent response systems.

The Sergeant at Arms approved the request and 18 months later, Pole finished a basic pilot.
'The system offers great flexibility for workflow management, and it is easy to use,' Pole said. 'We wanted to streamline the office process, and we are doing that with this system.'

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