Article: A Guide for Municipal and State Agencies (Part 1)

A Guide For State Agenices Part 1

“Your ultimate objectives involve process enhancement and automation. This will enable you to improve services for constituents, enhance compliance measures, minimize risk, reduce processing errors, and dramatically expedite turnaround.”

City, county, and state government agencies are constantly looking for ways to cut costs, improve turnaround, and better serve constituents: Most organizations are facing escalating volumes of records and are running out of physical storage space. They need to find ways to control information, yet make it more accessible to the public. Budgetary constraints demand the ability to process more work with fewer staff—and at the same time, process it quickly and accurately. There is a need to track, manage, and document compliance with regulations. To address these challenges, municipal and state government offices are evaluating ways to improve and automate processes that have historically been paper-driven.

Streamlining efficiency on an enterprise level while improving processes within departments can be difficult and expensive without the proper groundwork. It is widely understood that going paperless is an integral component to improving services and cutting costs. It is critical to recognize, however, that eliminating paper is not your agency’s goal: it is simply a starting point. Your ultimate objectives involve process enhancement and automation. This will enable you to improve services for constituents, enhance compliance measures, minimize risk, reduce processing errors, and dramatically expedite turnaround. All while saving time and money.

In this four-part series, we provide a roadmap for government offices that are considering going paperless. We offer tips and best practices to help agencies be successful the first time when implementing electronic document management (EDM), which is commonly referred to as enterprise content management (ECM) software. Part 1 of the series, Taking Inventory, involves taking a strategic look at the current state of your agency’s content management system.

As you plan for future improvements, pay close attention to these three factors:

1. Evaluate the steps you’ve taken already

Fifteen years ago it was not uncommon for government agencies to be completely paper driven. Now, a more common scenario is to have a heterogeneous environment of both paper and electronic media.

As you strive toward process improvements, take note of how you are managing your content today:

  • Do you store records and correspondence in filing cabinets?
  • Do you store electronic information on a shared drive on your network or another business system that may have limited capabilities?
  • If information is needed for processing, does one department have a means of securely accessing data that may be stored within another department’s system?
  • Are you dependent on a legacy system that lacks the flexibility to address today’s demands?
  • In terms of processing information, where and why are you experiencing bottlenecks?

Typically, the answers to these questions will depend on your content management strategy. If you still have a lot of paper in your agency, inefficient access is probably contributing to turnaround delays. Paper is easily lost, misfiled, or damaged, making it a less-than-ideal medium for efficiency. Electronic access to information is a little better; but all too often, stored electronic content is static as opposed to dynamic, sitting idle instead of automatically flowing through and across departments to trigger and deliver work. Inefficiencies can arise for government agencies that have evolved to electronic access but have not analyzed and improved their business processes to reflect their transition away from paper. The good news? ECM software offers the potential for tremendous returns when applied to these scenarios.

2. Recognize ways that efficient paperless processing could improve the environment for both staff and constituents

Efficient paperless processing makes life easier for your staff. At the same time, it dramatically improves experiences for vendors, constituents, and other stakeholders. Inquiries are answered quickly and efficiently because staff has immediate access to information. Turnaround is expedited via workflow as you automate routine processing, and backlogs are reduced dramatically. Even exceptions handling can be accelerated. (Exceptions encompass processes that typically require human scrutiny before entering or reentering a workflow.) ECM automatically routes exceptions to the appropriate personnel for review and response. Implementing electronic forms (eForms) can also improve constituent satisfaction, enabling self service options. Data collected via eForms can trigger workflows to further expedite turnaround and simplify work for your staff.

ECM can improve your work environment, making the need for outdated manual processing obsolete. With workflow, you can assign and automate delivery of tasks, monitor and balance workloads, and measure performance and productivity at different levels and by different metrics. Work is pushed to the right people, at the right time, to perform the right activities. When you integrate ECM with your line of business and core applications, your staff no longer has to jump between different software systems to find the information that they need to process work. Instead, it is delivered seamlessly, within the applications with which they are already familiar. There is no need to learn how to use new software: from a user perspective, ECM simply advances the capabilities of your workforce’s existing environment.

3. Know how your content management strategy is affecting your compliance endeavors

Compliance and governance initiatives are typically related to privacy, control, and requests for information from auditors, regulators, constituents, and other stakeholders. How are these factors addressed under your agency’s existing environment? A transition to an efficient paperless office can help you address compliance requirements in the following ways:

  • Privacy. Municipal and state agencies are beholden to stringent privacy and compliance requirements. ECM software enables you to control who in your agency has access to specific documents. You can redact and restrict viewing of personal information contained in your documents to only those staff that need to see that information for processing. It is difficult—if not impossible—to ensure such a stringent level of privacy under a system that is paper-based.
  • Control. One pitfall of both paper and electronic processes is differentiating a record. Often, paper documents are photocopied. Some are altered, and some are not. With an electronic system with limited functionality, it is not uncommon for documents to be duplicated and shared. In case of an audit, it is difficult to demonstrate which version of the document is the “real” record. Compliant retention and disposition strategies are difficult to implement if your agency is dependent on manual processes. A robust ECM system enables seamless records management: each document is considered to be a record. Only one version exists in the system, and clear, auditable trails of evidence are created for every process performed on each record. (Records management will be covered in detail in Part 4 of this series.)
  • Requests for Information. With ECM, records can be produced quickly and easily. ECM can enable automatic date/time stamping as Freedom of Information (FOIA) and other requests are received. It lets you maintain complete, accurate records pertaining to each request, including the original request, a copy of the response, and a record of written communications between your agency and the requester. Denials and appeals can also be kept and managed. Your system can be enabled to provide electronic alerts for impending deadlines.

Moving ahead

Now that you have thoroughly documented the status quo, it is time to take specific action:

  • Conduct research: Examine the benefits that different ECM software solutions have to offer. Take into consideration cost, flexibility, ease of use, ease of administration, architecture, and—most importantly—capabilities. Be sure that the contenders offer a robust, easy-to-use BPM/workflow product, and offer the ability to integrate easily with your line of business applications and into your existing infrastructure.
  • Analyze your processes: Devote equal time to analyzing and improving the processes that enhance services to constituents, stakeholders, and staff. Map each process and determine whether steps can be changed, combined, or omitted once you have the ability to automate. Don’t neglect your internal processes as you move forward: a true enterprise solution can be used to improve processes in Finance, HR, and other internal administrative systems that keep your operations running smoothly.
  • Identify a project champion. Find someone who understands your goals for each department and can drive the project forward. This person should be able to communicate effectively between your staff and your IT team.
  • Pave the way for change. Invest time and effort into ensuring that your staff is on board with your transition. Evaluate the needs of each department, and be prepared to take a customized approach to your rollout to accommodate varying levels of readiness to use the software. Resistance to change is a major culprit in many technology project failures. Try to foster a climate of excitement surrounding your transition. Be upfront in addressing fears and reservations, and be transparent in communicating the pros and cons of how the new software implementation will affect your staff.
  • Determine how you could benefit from integration. Identify specific ways that the data stored within your core applications, your departments’ ERP software, and your other business applications might be used to expedite processing. Have one system of record to which your ECM system can connect and utilize to perform specific business processes. Avoid having to maintain data in more than one system.