Q&A with Chris Deed on edoc

29th January 2014

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Robert Lingard

the environmentalist talks to Chris Deed, edoc programme manager at the Environment Agency about the new electronic system for waste transfer notes and what it offer organisations

How different is the edoc system to paper WTNs?

Fundamentally, edoc looks and feels like existing paper WTN except that it's electronic. Very early on we spoke to businesses as to what they wanted from edoc, because we could make it as big or as small as we wanted - we could add in loads of extra features, such as carbon calculators and things like that. The strong feedback we got was to deliver something that looks like the paper WTNs and does what they do well and efficiently. So edoc mirrors exactly what's in WTNs, but puts it on an electronic footing. Anybody who goes on to edoc will recognise what was a previously a paper-based WTN.

How do organisations use edoc?

After registering with edoc, the organisation must identify a business administrator, similar to many other IT systems. The business administrator manages the edoc account for the company and in a small company it could be that the one person does everything. Meanwhile, larger organisations can have as many users as they want, each with their own log in and password. The administrator can then tailor the rights and access each user has; so it might be that some employees can only upload WTNs, while others will be able to run reports about the company. Only those authorised to will be able to send out WTNs.

Fundamentally, it's up to each company to manage their edoc account in the way that works best for them. For very small organisation it's simple and straightforward, while for bigger companies it will take a bit more time to understand internal processes they will need to set up to get the best out of edoc.

How do firms send WTNs through edoc?

There are a number of ways in which users can send WTNs and it will depend on the size of the organisation. Smaller organisation can fill out the WTN electronically on the website, just as you would go online and book a rail ticket, for example. Once the WTN is completed the user presses "submit" and the WTN gets sent to edoc and it is saved to the secure database. Users can then edit and retrieve WTNs whenever they want.

At the other extreme, for very large businesses there is an interface that allows edoc to talk to other IT systems. Big waste companies or waste producers may already have an in-house IT system for storing some WTN information and the interface allows that information to be transferred across to edoc electronically. So they can transfer 1,000 WTNs in a matter of seconds.

A third system lies in between the two above. It's a CSV file, like a spreadsheet and companies can upload WTN information through this file on to edoc, so it's a way of uploading 100 WTNs at once.

We've try to design edoc so it has the maximum flexibility because the needs of businesses are not uniform; they are different sizes, have different philosophies and different ways of using systems. One of the greatest advantages of edoc, and one of the challenges, is that businesses have to think about how they want to use edoc and how they get the best out of it. We're not trying to push a business in one particular direction.

Where should firms store WTNs?

Again it's all about flexibility; it's entirely up to the business. edoc will hold all that information for the organisation and that's one of its great benefits: WTN data no longer needs to be stored in boxes in an office, or in lots of locations, it will sit on a secure database and can be easily extracted whenever the organisation needs it.

For those companies that still want a paper copy or a PDF of their WTNs for their own records, they can extract a PDF from edoc.

What are the other benefits of edoc?

Currently WTNs do not have a great level of accuracy associated with them, partly because they are paper based. edoc, because it's electronic, will stop people from inputting a lot of the simple errors that occur now. edoc improves the accuracy and the legal compliance of the WTN and, with many big companies interested in being able to audit their waste data, an electronic system provides huge benefits over having to scrabble around offices looking for a particular WTN.

Some big waste companies will easily produce 100,000 WTNs every year. If you've got a paper based system it's difficult to manage, with edoc the data is at your finger tips. One of the major benefits you get with any system when you move from paper to electronic is speed.

There are different reasons that firms will want to use edoc. It saves time and money, for example. But for others they will want to switch because it provides a much more robust system for the storage of the WTNs and that's important to their reputation. edoc is partly about reducing the administrative burden of managing WTNS, but also about greater control, reassurance and improving reputation.

What are the reporting functions available?

There are a number of different types of reports depending on the user. Governments are interested in the data captured in the system, for example. There is a need for much better information on waste flows in the UK - how much waste is produced, where is it produced, how is it managed - and edoc can provide some of that overall picture. That's good for businesses too because it allows authorities to get a better handle on infrastructure needs, for example. So government has access to anonymised data on that.

Individual company's meanwhile can run reports on their waste movements. The reports are based on the data contained in WTNs and the business can chose what they want reports on. They can pick a location, a time period or a type of waste, for example. Fundamentally, edoc relies on the data that has been input into the WTN and it can be manipulated in various ways.

Users can also run an anonymised report on waste flows across edoc users, so they can see what's happening on a broader UK level or what's happening in a region, for example. Organisations can't look at other individual users, however, because the data has to be anonymised as it is commercially sensitive.

What support is available?

There is a lot of support and training available online. The website has lots of handy hints on using edoc and it also has "How to" videos. For example, one video takes you on a walkthrough of what edoc looks like and there's another on how to register your business. There is also a detailed FAQ document. We've worked with businesses for the past 2.5 years on developing edoc and throughout that time they've asked how to do things and we've built that feedback into a FAQ document that's available online. We also do webinars and there is an email system for users to log any issues they have. The intention is that edoc has been designed in a way so businesses can help themselves. Over the next year, we will be taking note how the online training is working and taking note of feedback.

How will the Environment Agency use edoc?

There are a few areas that are import for us and government. Clearly, we want to use it for our own WTNs because we produce waste. Secondly, obviously we are interested in all waste arisings and while its government that's collecting that data, it will be of use to us as a regulator in terms of understanding what's happening in the sector.

In terms of the agency's enforcement powers, edoc mirrors the existing legal position and that is WTNs are the property of the two parties involved - the company producing the waste and the company picking up the waste. We, as a regulator and local authorities, can require an organisation to send us a copy of their WTN for enforcement purposes and we can serve them with an enforcement notice.

The feedback from business in developing edoc was that they didn't want us to have any extra rights associated with this. We cannot, for example, go into edoc and take WTNs. We can, however, use edoc to go through the formal notification process electronically, which is much quicker. We will send businesses a formal notice requesting specific WTNs through edoc and they can either accept or reject the notice. If they accept they just click on a button and we then instantly have access to those WTNs. edoc speeds up all the whole process.

What do you think uptake of edoc will be?

That's a good question and very difficult to answer. We estimate are that there around 23 million WTNs produced in the UK every year. If we could get anything like 80% going through edoc, that would be great, but I think it's more a question of the rate of uptake. As edoc is a voluntary system we don't expect everyone to make the switch in the first month or the first six months, it will take time. I suspect business will, as with any new system, trial it first in a region or at a couple of sites and learn about how it works for them before rolling it out more broadly. It will take time, but I think we will start to see some very big companies and big players in the waste industry make the decision to use it and it will cascade down from them. If big waste producers, companies like M&S, start using it and making it a requirement in their contracts, it will reach a tipping point where it will make sense to just run one WTN system.

Chris Deed is edoc programme manager at the Environment Agency. For more information about edoc visit: edoconline.co.uk

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