Article: Advanced Information Management for County Government Offices
“When you transform your processes from static to dynamic, you improve working conditions for staff and provide better service to constituents. All while realizing significant savings.”
County IT groups are constantly being tasked with finding ways to improve turnaround, efficiency, and service to constituents. At the same time, the challenge to meet budget constraints and comply with regulations can be overwhelming. These objectives are daunting in an age where departments are overburdened with information—both paper and electronic. It is not uncommon for physical storage areas to be overrun with folders and files, possibly precipitating a need to invest in costly offsite storage facilities.
More and more counties and government agencies are beginning to emerge from the sea of boxes and overflowing servers with the help of enterprise content management (ECM). The software is addressing document management challenges faced by county government offices deluged with increasing information volumes; however, it is providing far more than simple paperless processing. Leveraged strategically, it is paving the way for improved turnaround, security, access, governance, and cost savings, whether you use it as a departmental or an enterprise solution.
The Basics: Simple Document Management
At its most basic, ECM software will electronically store and retrieve files. For counties that are still dependent on paper processing, this change will result in tremendous cost savings related to storage, security, and raw materials. Documents are no longer lost, misplaced, or needlessly duplicated. The system applies security settings, and allows authorized users to retrieve information with the click of a mouse. Here’s how it works:
- Capture. Capture involves more than simply scanning documents and saving them to a server. Your objective, ultimately, is to make your information dynamic rather than static. Technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR), intelligent character recognition (ICR), optical mark recognition (OMR), automatic document classification, and bar coding software is expediting and automating the capture process. Some ECM systems offer intelligent capture: this is a self-learning technology that automatically classifies documents as they are ingested into the system; extracts and indexes content; and launches your business data into business processes and appropriate line of business software systems. This eliminates—or drastically reduces—the need for manual entry and oversight.
- Indexing. Accurate indexing ensures that the information that is necessary to process work can be retrieved quickly and easily by authorized users who need access to that information. Index values used to search for documents might include name, customer or account number, and document type. In some systems, proper indexing is also automating retention schedules for documents to meet mandated compliance initiatives.
- Retrieval. Documents are retrieved with a simple search using their index values. For instances where index values are unknown, an ECM system with full text search capabilities allows authorized users to query the repository for certain words and phrases (similar to a Google-type search). The system locates structured and unstructured data contained in files and other documents, and offers keyword and full-text search capabilities to return the desired results.
Going paperless has become a launching point to advanced ECM technologies for many counties. They’re realizing dramatic improvements in turnaround, efficiency, and service to constituents. This is where true process enhancement begins.
Going Beyond Paperless Processing
Many county offices are finding automation to be a pivotal factor in expediting turnaround. Before you build your first workflow, however, it is critical that you devote time to process analysis. Far too many organizations jump into automation without undertaking this important step, and they wind up duplicating longstanding inefficiencies even after they have gone paperless. It’s important to evaluate your processes, and streamline them wherever possible. Some counties are utilizing the expertise from their ECM vendor’s professional services team regarding process analysis and reengineering.
For each process that you plan to automate, define what information you need to complete each step of the process, and determine when and where you need access to that information. Acknowledge that there will be exceptions, and devise a strategy to address exceptions—both expected and unexpected. Take into consideration every line-of-business application, department, and individual that might be affected by the process, and ascertain which documents and data affect the process that you are automating.
Ideally, workflow will enable your knowledge workers to do their work from within their familiar core applications. It will eliminate the need to open multiple software screens to view information. As you plan strategically for automation, consider how the following possibilities can enhance the various departments that make up your organization:
- Integration. Use ECM to make the information that is needed to process work accessible from within your line of business applications. Your ECM system can also help you bridge the gap between your business applications and your legacy systems. This type of integration allows you to extend the lives of older software systems that may be too costly to replace.
- Distribution. Multiple work distribution options enhance efficiency by letting your system allocate work electronically. Take advantage of distribution options such as load balancing, least load, round robin, role based, and other designations.
- Eliminating paper at the source. Adding electronic forms to your content management strategy lets your organization eliminate paper at the source. The data that is collected from eForms is already indexed, allowing you to expedite processing and implement self-service for your constituents. eForms can also be used internally to display data more efficiently: if the data that you need to process work is located on different screens of your core applications, eForms can be used to collect and display pertinent information in one location for easy review and approval.
When you transition from paperless to electronic processing, you enhance security and disaster recovery. By taking your compliance initiatives a step further with automation, you can improve accountability with audit trails, and with the ability to produce information upon request. Freedom of Information (FOIA), Right to Know (RTK), eDiscovery requirements, and other requests for information can be addressed quickly and efficiently. BPM/workflow provides automatic date/time stamping as requests are received, and routes the request to appropriate personnel. Your agency is able to maintain complete, accurate records pertaining to each request: the system automatically creates an indisputable record of written communications having to do with the request.
Records management initiatives can also be enhanced with ECM software—especially if your system offers integrated intelligent capture functionality. Intelligent capture automatically applies records retention and disposition schedules as documents are ingested into the system, without manual oversight. This helps your county eliminate premature disposition of records, and eliminates the tendency to keep records indefinitely. Governance, accountability, integrity, compliance, and consistency with organizational policy are configured into the process.
Using ECM to Enhance Administrative Processes
The ability to automate administrative processes lets you streamline and simplify the tasks that keep your operations running smoothly This helps your county improve accuracy, communication, and responsiveness:
- Contracts. Send, track, and manage contracts electronically, with the click of a mouse. BPM/workflow works behind the scenes, expediting the contract process and enabling immediate access to documentation associated with the contract process. Authorized personnel can see when contracts are viewed and signed, and audit trails denote who accessed, viewed, and altered your contracts, and when those activities took place.
- Procurement. Workflow helps county procurement personnel collect and evaluate bids, gather bidder credentials, expedite reviews, and comply with regulations.
- Accounting. Intelligent capture eliminates the need for manual indexing, and workflow enables county agencies to standardize and automate payment processes. Invoices can be automatically routed for review and approval. Your AP department can electronically store, flow, centralize, and archive information, as well as integrate with core ERP systems. This results in improved turnaround, security, access, and accountability.
- Human Resources / Human Capital Management. Streamline and automate onboarding, and electronically store, retrieve, flow, and manage hiring and termination records, résumés, applications, credentials, certifications, personnel files, and other documents related to policy and procedures. When you integrate your ECM system with your Human Capital Management solution, workflow lets you leverage the value and boost the functionality of existing investments.
Leveraging Information vs. Simply Collecting It
We all know that it is far more valuable to invest our money than to let it stagnate. Isn’t it time that we applied that insight to the information that drives processes within our respective counties? When you transform your processes from static to dynamic, you improve working conditions for staff and provide better service to constituents. All while realizing significant savings. ECM provides you with the tools that you need to leverage your information instead of simply collecting it. Discover how an enterprise approach to efficiency can help you streamline operations throughout your county.