Handling the Legislative Process in the Slovenian Government
Informationsmanagement des Gesetzgebungsprozesses
This Story appeared in the IBM Government Journal - Q4 98
A Lotus Notes system is helping to make the legislative process in the Republic of Slovenia more efficient and open
When the Republic of Slovenia gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 it faced the task of having to establish a vast body of legislation. Many laws were inherited from Yugoslavia, but many more had to be adapted or created afresh – not just to meet the requirements of the new state, but to support Slovenia's relations with the European Union (EU).
Slovenia's legislature consists of the National Assembly and the National Council. The National Assembly has 90 deputies and its main tasks are to elect the prime minister, appoint ministers of state, monitor the work of the government and issue parliamentary questions and initiatives. It also provides information on current bills and sessions. The National Council consist of representatives of employers, employees, farmers, small businesses, non-profit organisations and local interests. Among other things, it proposes legislation and submits opinions.
From the beginning, the government used technology to assist the legislative process. But the early host-based system was built around a word processor, which resulted in vast numbers of documents with only rudimentary organisation and no workflow capabilities. The desire to make the process more efficient led naturally to the requirment for an IT system that could provide document management and workflow facilities. It was also important that, while information would be held in databases, it could co-exist with a paper-based system, as no-one would be compelled to use the system.
Lotus Notes emerged as the ideal solution. It was already used by the Slovenian Government's centre for IT (CVI), and is properly supported in the country. "Any software without adequate support is worth nothing," says Bojan Verbic, section head for IS development with the National Assembly.
What's more, Notes was flexible enough to handle the complexities of the legislative process, which encompasses some 12 types of procedure with some 322 possible phases and dozens of document types. The system also needed to provide support for proceedings before the consitutional court, parliamentary questions, demands and proposals, and parliamentary sessions. Finally, it had to be suitable for a very wide range of users – within government and also, to a limited extent, the public, including Lotus Notes-based access by accredited journalists and Internet access for the public.
Another crucial factor in Notes' favour is that it is very inexpensive to get started, requiring little more than a PC and a starter pack. Working with Lotus Business Partner, SRC-Info, the government was soon able to create a pilot scheme.
"We had to decide how to build the project, and how to build the applications," explains Uros Ponikvar, project manager with SRC-Info. This pilot took three and a half months, ending in March 1996. At that point, the development team started on the full project for the National Assembly which was complete in November 1996. National elections and a change of parliament allowed them to bring the new system into play. Similarly, elections for the National Council allowed the system to be extended to that body in January 1998. The team used Notes itself to track and document the project, which was 95 per cent paperless.
The system provides three major benefits. First is collaboration. "We have established the conditions so that people from all offices and all levels of the National Assembly – even people from different parties – can work successfully together on a single task, such as a bill," explains Verbic. With the similar system for the National Council, the two organisations can work together efficiently.
The second benefit is document preparation and workflow, both of which are now highly automated. For example, when a bill is proposed, the system automatically generates requests from the appropriate offices to create keywords and abbreviations to assign to that bill – crucial for later searching, for example by lawyers.
The final benefit is that the system provides a general support tool, not least by making available every document in the parliamentary procedure.
Two of the most critical success factors were support from top management, including the secretary general of the National Assembly and the head of IT and the fact that technology was used to support the contents of the system, not the other way around. Content is all important, and every document created under the old system, since 1991, was imported into the new one. A measure of the success of the project is that it is used personally by the country's president. "We had to put enormous effort into transformation management – listening to people, finding out what they needed and adapting the system to meet these needs," says Ponikvar. "It was not so much the technology that made the system work but the people using it."
The system now provides a path for future development. "We've not stopped yet," says Ponikvar. "We have a very strong and very secure backbone. We're expanding the system to ministries, governmental services and the Prime Minister's Office."
The team can build on its experience of supporting legislative procedures and office automation to move on, not just creating systems to support processes within government organisations, but the workflow between them.