Connecting offices across the globe with unified access to project and investor records.
Industry: Commercial real estate
Challenge: Reduce storage and staff, manage paper files, improve security and electronic file sharing
Document Management and CRM
Result: Improved Productivity, Communications and Collaboration, increased data security, reduced costs
Jamestown’s tax department in Atlanta is responsible for maintaining the US records for each of its 50,000 German investors for whom the firm acts as attorney, accountant and principle conduit between each individual investor and the US federal and state tax authorities. An investor record comprised a variety of key documents including power-of attorney letters, tax returns, copies of refund checks and all forms and general correspondence relating to the investor’s partnerships. These paper-based investor records were occupying nearly 2,000 square feet of Class ‘A’ office space. Filing and retrieving records involved a large amount of clerical effort and the not-very-productive use of professional staff. Jamestown realized they could reduce direct costs significantly as well as increase staff productivity if they could eliminate the paper. They also wanted to improve file security and eliminate the risk of losing paper files to fire or other potential hazards. Additionally, they wanted to improve collaboration and communication internally, between Atlanta and Cologne, as well as externally with the tax authorities and ultimately the investors themselves.
Jamestown selected iChannel’s web-based, collaborative document management system developed by Conarc, Inc. iChannel had been specifically developed to meet the needs of financial services organizations and met all of the strict controls and disciplines demanded by this service sector. iChannel embeds many of the disciplines associated with adding and retrieving files and documents. Far better document and file security due to strict monitoring and control of document activity with a complete audit trail of document activity and enforcement of document retention policies. iChannel also incorporated powerful collaboration features enabling groups of users, both internal and external to the firm, to add and share notes, comments and emails in the context of specific documents.
Conarc recommended that all Jamestown’s paper-based client records be digitized (scanned) and cataloged within iChannel. Subsequently this enabled all client data to be accessed logically by client name/ID(s) via a web browser. Once digitized, the paper records could be destroyed. All client information in iChannel immediately became accessible to any authorized individual at anytime from anywhere. Jamestown’s current paper files and computer systems had been well managed which greatly facilitated and accelerated the implementation process. This conversion process was simplified by creating “cover sheets” for all the various, true paper records that enabled the electronic scanning/cataloging/filing process to become a largely automated process. Any information that currently existed in digital format that needed to be imported into iChannel was automatically streamed into iChannel. Similarly, documents received from the IRS were also scanned or, if electronic, imported into iChannel. There are many advantages of being web-based. As an example, the client-generated documents giving “power-of-attorney” to Jamestown were able to be scanned (in Cologne) into iChannel and automatically attached to the appropriate client record on the server in Atlanta.
iChannel incorporates OCR technology that enables bulk-scanning processes to be highly automated. Jamestown receives thousands of tax refund checks for its individual investors. While the checks are being bulk-scanned prior to mailing, iChannel OCRs the investor’s tax id and name and automatically routes the PDF image to the correct investor file area.
Security of Access and Data
iChannel employed multiple levels of security over who could have access to particular information and what privileges were available to them with regard to that data. Each Jamestown subscriber to iChannel has a unique ID and profile. Subscribers are typically members of Groups sharing a common profile. A subscriber/group’s profile defines its access privileges together with approved activities with that data. Some subscribers may simply have a “view only” access to certain clients and/or certain records whereas others may have the right to edit a document or record. A comprehensive audit trail is maintained for all data access. Each record has a history maintained of who accessed (or tried to access) the record with time and date stamp.
iChannel invokes strict version control. Every time a record is modified it automatically receives a new version number. Earlier versions are naturally retained. If a document requires editing it receives a “checked out” status. The editor’s name is attached to the document plus he/she is required to supply a date when the document is expected to be checked back in. Checked out documents are still available to others on a “view only” basis.
Security of Access and Data
Access to iChannel is via a standard web browser and therefore available 24 hrs/day, 7days/wk. from anywhere in the world. This greatly assisted the ongoing dialog and collaboration between Atlanta and Cologne transcending time zone differences and multiple data sources since everyone now accesses a common data repository.
The interface to iChannel is highly intuitive. Extensive use of buttons and icons (which are readily customizable) together with pull-down menus makes iChannel extremely easy to navigate.
In addition to managing documents iChannel also allows for “discussions” about the content. Somewhat akin to the “chat room” concept, iChannel enables work areas to be established where multiple parties can enter into a dialog that is threaded to the document in question. The dialog is recorded and becomes another entry to the client record.
iChannel is also linked to email. Emails are treated like documents in that, transparent to the correspondents, they become attached to the appropriate client record at time of “send”. It becomes possible now with iChannel to aggregate emails and answer questions such as “show me all emails that have been sent/received by anyone for this investor”. iChannel automatically notifies via email specific individuals when there is activity on a particular document
Acquisitions and Property Management Applications
Now that iChannel has been implemented in Tax, iChannel’s capabilities are being extended to the property management department in Atlanta who will also be able to take advantage of the features described. iChannel is proving to be the perfect conduit for assembling interdepartmental information in a seamless fashion – essentially providing a single data repository for all client and investment property information.
During 2003, the acquisitions group reviewed the capability of iChannel and requested Conarc to extend iChannel to include a custom designed database that tracks all potential acquisition deals submitted to Jamestown. This represents hundreds of properties that Jamestown reviews annually and allows entering such data from day one into a central database, querying and sorting deals via markets, status, etc. iChannel eliminated the need for Jamestown to use another off the shelf system that was not thin-client (browser based) and also did not have the customization Jamestown deemed necessary.
- Improved Productivity
- Improved Communications and Collaboration
- Increased data security with off-site storage
- Improved business relationships through speedier communications and service
- Reduced costs of clerical labor, office space, off-site storage, cost of paper, printing, publishing costs postage and overnight courier costs.
The iChannel project set out to streamline day-to-day operations within the tax department and provide a data conduit between the investor and financial databases in Cologne and Atlanta. In addition to meeting these objectives, iChannel significantly enhanced departmental productivity by compressing the timeframe for both internal and external transactions and collaborative activities. These factors derived significant, associated reductions in cost. In addition to these savings, further hard dollar savings were realized from reduction in office space, postage, paper and other costs associated with the previous manual systems and processes.
iChannel played a significant role in improving Jamestown’s Risk Management and brought peace of mind in these challenging times to the effective protection of critical company knowledge and client data. Since all Jamestown client information was now fully secured within iChannel on a centralized server, it could be readily secured off-site.
From an information technology (IT) standpoint, Jamestown was able to consolidate all current and future storage on a specialized storage server (SAN) and easily administered it centrally. Now that storage is centralized, backup and recovery became easy.
JAMESTOWN, a Georgia general partnership, was formed in 1983 as a real estate investment and management company specializing in income-producing U.S. commercial real estate of high quality. During the past 20 years, Jamestown has grown to become the largest investor of German capital in the US. Since its inception, Jamestown has formed or participated in more than twenty-four income-producing U.S. commercial real estate funds. Today, Jamestown continues to acquire and manage some of the most prominent commercial properties in the country for its investors.
With its main offices in Cologne and Atlanta, Jamestown employs a staff of 80 specializing in acquisitions, asset and property management, accounting, taxes, and marketing and sales. Its reputation for quality has been well established over the years, which is why the more than 50,000 Investors continue to invest with the firm.