When people have dealings with their local government offices, the impression that often sticks with them is the vast amount of paperwork that is involved to document simple processes. The process of signatures, notarizations, approvals, duplications, and ultimately storage in different areas can leave people with a feeling of a vast bureaucracy.
To improve services to constituents, and also to comply with Freedom of Information and other regulatory initiatives, county government offices are implementing measures to improve information flow and access. Electronic document management (EDM) helps government offices reduce paper significantly. EDM makes information available with the click of a mouse, which eliminates long waits. In some cases, it can eliminate the need for a physical trip to a county office if you offer Web access to your constituents.
Local government offices are recognizing the need to reduce or eliminate paper, but often they must overcome an environment that combines paper and electronic processes. A cohesive high-performance EDM solution can simplify this situation. Of course the system that you choose should be Web-based; it should also have the ability to integrate with diverse software systems. Other guidelines that government offices should consider as part of an effort to improve turnaround and information flow are listed below:
1. Analysis: Be aware of your current processes before implementing EDM
A holistic analysis is one of the most important—and most overlooked—components of a transition from paper processes to electronic. You need to have a grasp on the documents and software systems that are integral to your business processes. A prospective EDM solution will have to integrate with diverse software, from payroll and accounting to legacy and HR systems. Typically, specific data will also be required to drive processing decisions. These components all need to be considered prior to your transition away from paper. You don’t want to run the risk of duplicating any existing inefficiencies that are associated with your paper processes. What other offices will need to access your documents? Involve those offices in your analysis to ensure that you are able to come up with a retrieval plan that will be meaningful to anyone who is searching for information.
As part of your analysis, you will want to consider document lifecycles as they pertain to records management. What information needs to be retained, and for how long? Can you ensure that records are purged when they have exceeded their retention requirements? Analysis can be performed internally, or it can be outsourced to a consultant with experience in the EDM realm.
2. Capture and Indexing: Image-enabling and indexing your documents
One of the primary components of your EDM system is capture. Contracts, invoices, permits, board minutes, reports, building plans, images, and other documents are scanned and stored in an electronic repository. Documents that are received electronically, such as PDFs and JPEG files, can also be stored in your electronic repository.
Some organizations make the mistake of scanning their documents for the purpose of having electronic copies of them, but not indexing them. This helps save storage space immediately, but it is only a superficial fix to a complex challenge. Without a thoughtful indexing plan, organizations that go this route are merely duplicating their paper inefficiencies electronically. Consider, too, the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, which demands that you are able to produce records upon request. A thorough indexing plan will ensure that records are available immediately, with the click of a mouse.
Indexing is one of the most difficult steps of a successful EDM transition. Every department that might be searching for information should be involved in the indexing plan so that search terms are relevant and intuitive. Some offices make board minutes and county reports available to their constituents through a Web portal. Be sure to consider information access to the public when you implement an indexing scheme.
3. Workflow: The engine that drives EDM
To truly harness the most efficiency that your EDM system has to offer, you will want to automate as many processes as you can. Automated workflow allows you to electronically distribute the right tasks to the right person at the right time for processing. Tasks are based on established rule sets. If you need multiple approvals for contracts or permits, your document can be routed to the recipients simultaneously. Workflow allows county offices to process more work faster, and without adding additional staff.
In addition to making your processes more efficient, workflow standardizes processes and makes them consistent. Accountability is also established. Cumbersome processes such as purchasing can be simplified and expedited with workflow. Tasks are prioritized and deadlines are met.
In some cases, automation can expedite the processing of your incoming mail. If your office sends out forms to constituents or vendors that need to be filled out and returned, consider bar coding your outgoing mail. When the forms are returned, a scanner can read the barcode and electronically route the form to the correct person for processing. This helps to expedite turnaround and ensures that processing errors are minimized.
4. Access and security: Making information available while protecting privacy
Transitioning to EDM allows county offices to address regulatory measures such as HIPAA that are related to privacy. When you eliminate paper documents, you are able to control and monitor who has access to your records. Privacy is as important to your administrative staff as it is your constituents. Make sure that the EDM software suite that you use to address the needs of the county can also be used to improve your internal office processes.
Does your office have plans to make documents electronically accessible to the public? EDM gives you the capability to make board minutes, reports, and other information accessible via any Web browser. The ability to make information accessible while eliminating the need to make a physical trip to county offices improves services to your constituents and alleviates the workload for your staff.
5. Scalability: Looking beyond your initial implementation
When shopping for an EDM solution, think big. A high-performance EDM software suite can grow as your needs increase. It can even be expanded to serve the needs of other offices throughout the county. Look for a system that is easy to use, with drag-and-drop functionality. A system that is truly cost-efficient will also offer a series of modules that address specific business situations. This will ensure that your office(s) will not be obligated to buy software components that they won’t use.
A transition to EDM usually pays for itself shortly after conversion. Storage space and filing areas can be converted to useable office space; processing turnaround is improved; regulatory fees are avoided, and service to your constituents is optimized.
Budget cuts and layoffs lead many county government offices to wonder where they will find the manpower to convert your paper to electronic media. If you do not have the resources to do your backfile and paper scanning in-house, be sure to talk to prospective vendors about the possibility of outsourcing the conversion. Certain vendors have the capability to either provide you with the manpower that you need to convert your documents to digital media, or to outsource your conversion to a secure facility.
Like most technologies, EDM systems have become more affordable while at the same time offering more functionality. Still, many county offices are trying to meet today’s challenges with yesterday’s tools. EDM software has evolved. Discover how it can provide the integrated components that you need to directly address your challenges. Contact a professional today to determine the steps you should take to wean yourself away from paper.