With a flood of 1,500 new requests for intervention in human rights violations coming in every year by handwritten letters, postcards, telephone calls and email, the content at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) piles up quickly. Those pleas come in four languages from 35 different countries and nongovernmental organizations and get added to a backlog of 7,000 cases currently under review.
That was the scene at IACHR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., last year. Because of that, the IACHR turned to Oracle content management to unravel the chaos.
The organization's processes had all been paper-based, and its 50 administrators and 20 lawyers kept forging ahead, trying to help people throughout the Americas as the paper piled up. It was easy to see the need for enterprise content management (ECM).
“The commission manages paper, phone calls, email messages and petitions in any way they can. Even in the form of handwritten notes, videos and faxes,” said Juan Jose Goldschtein, chief information officer of the Organization of American States (OAS), which is the umbrella body for the IACHR. “Imagine anything you can do to send a message and you get it.”
One petition can be supported by several documents, and the total load amounts to tens of thousands of documents a year.
Petitions include cases of child abuse, infringements of women’s rights, complaints against the state, complaints of election fraud and more, said Carolina Franco, senior product manager for the department of information and technology at the OAS who helped evaluate Oracle content management.
A perfect storm
At the time the IACHR began an information technology review with the goal of streamlining processes it also faced a challenge to increase its case load as the petition flow increased. The office then got word that a sizeable grant for IT matters had been awarded by the government of Spain.
"It was a perfect storm," Goldschtein said.
It was time to find a system to smooth out its workflow, automate the review process, keep track of files and documents and help the department become more efficient in its ability to pursue human rights abuses.
“Before the project started, we thought about strategy around unstructured data, so we wanted a unique repository for unstructured data and an application that links it to structured data,” Goldschtein said. “And it had to be scalable.” Oracle content management seemed to fit the bill.
“It was a huge project for us,” said Franco, who explained her group evaluated ECM products across 114 matrices on 140 different criteria. The ECM evaluation took three and a half months, and because the bulk of the funding came from Spain and not the IACHR itself, “it had to be done very carefully.” She said once the department decided on Oracle Enterprise Content Management Suite (now called Oracle WebCenter Content), it launched a number of proofs of concept.
A different way of speaking
Two of the keys to the evaluation were language issues. First, the system had to work well between English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, and second, it had to work for the IACHR lawyers as well as administrative staff, who Franco said, essentially use different vocational terminology. It also had to be secure.
“All the different ingredients were there [in Oracle WebCenter Content], and we were able to get a nice cake,” Goldschtein said. He explained that the total cost of the project was $1.7 million.
With Oracle, IACHR has evolved its paper-based environment to digitally manage and automate workflows for all documents related to its system of petitions and cases.
“Every single piece of paper is scanned and checked manually,” said Franco, noting that “the amount of information displayed on each screen is so huge that we had to agree on the types of icons that we would use to illustrate.” Different icons were created for all 35 member states of the OAS, 27 different document types and a host of metadata that applied to different types of petitions. The system has also enabled electronic signatures.
“Before, the secretary [of the IACHR] had to sign all the papers that went out of his office. Now he can access all of it remotely and he can sign with a couple of clicks,” Franco said.
Improved efficiency and triple the data
Since going live with the Oracle content management system, the IACHR has increased the data it stores by 206%, from 30,260 to 62,208 documents in the first four months, and to 200,000 after the first year. The system also supports 17 custom workflows in each language.
“We now have a fully integrated, Web-based case management system, ultimately enabling more efficient collaboration among all stakeholders,” Goldschtein said, explaining that the ECM program provides the commission with a secure digital information system for sensitive human rights cases.
“The impact has been tremendous. There has been a huge learning curve, but we are now sure the [commission is] very pleased with the system,” Franco said, explaining that Executive Secretary of the IACHR Santiago A. Canton gave “his seal of approval to extend adoption,” meaning steps are under way to expand the use of the ECM suite to other departments within the OAS.
“The next step is to give petitioners access through the Internet to see where their petitions are in the system,” Franco said, explaining that by extending the collaboration, case auditing and status reporting capabilities, the initiative should become even more efficient and add a measure of transparency.