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 highperformance 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 highperformance 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.

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Government has a tremendous responsibility to lead by example. Nowhere is this truer than in its efforts to lead the way with sustainable business. It no longer suffices for responsible 21st century government to offer meaningful and cost-effective programs that support the life, liberty, and happiness of the people. Constituents today expect government programs to operate without damaging or depleting natural resources. The current administration’s tech-savvy approach to governing and its commitment to using Earth’s resources more wisely have set the stage for change.

Gaining momentum with sustainable business initiatives can be challenging, since many traditional approaches have proven to be expensive. Even government agencies with a social and environmental conscience have budgetary constraints. Green business must be economically favorable if it is to be viable. Fortunately, mature electronic document management (EDM) technology offers an affordable alternative to traditional business operations, and—when implemented properly—provides a powerful and quick return on investment. EDM makes it possible for agencies to achieve optimal efficiency and significant savings while being leaner, cleaner, and greener than ever before.

Innovative technology continues to revolutionize government operations. The time has arrived when you can take control over all of your information rather than letting it manage you. Today, it is indeed possible to achieve a positive economic, social, and environmental bottom line simultaneously; you no longer have to sacrifice one of the three to achieve another.

Whether you serve public interests in healthcare, taxes, homeland security, building permits, vendor contracts, the legal system or another area, secure digital access to information can revolutionize your efficiency while helping the environment. Listed below are five ways document management technology can benefit your agency, constituents, and the planet, followed by three everyday scenarios to help you understand its role in revolutionizing government operations today.

1. Save time and money by empowering constituents to provide and access important information electronically.

Wherever the public has the right to access information, it should be made as transparent as possible. Responsible governing means expanding accessibility via recoverable costs—more service without more cost, and ideally more service for less. If your agency accepts applications, complaints, or any other forms from constituents, online web forms connected to a document management system make it easier and faster to capture the information. This frees your staff to concentrate on less routine and more meaningful tasks that require human skill. By empowering citizens to provide complete and accurate information when it’s needed (such as reporting a crime), you increase data accuracy while reducing the time and cost of collecting it. Furthermore, the data is immediately secure and accessible from staff and constituents’ desktops, according to the permission-based access rules you establish.

Electronic forms are an ideal way to support the environment because you avoid using paper, toner, and the fossil fuels expended to make paper available. The national “Pollution Prevention Act” (www.epa.gov) states that pollution should be prevented or reduced at the source whenever possible. Avoiding the creation of paper by creating data electronically not only helps agency efficiency; it makes ecological sense.

2. Streamline the costly paper chase with secure, webbased desktop access.

Even if your agency has top-notch software systems, most likely data is isolated within a variety of applications, such as billing software, contract management systems, and more. Data typically exists in multiple forms, stored as images, emails, voice and audio files, in software systems, and on paper. Although some sources are searchable, when you need a document, or specific data related to a document, it results in multiple hunts—sometimes without the desired result— when data is dispersed or inconsistently indexed.

Government, well aware of the need for better inter- and intra-agency communication, is responding by creating mandates to develop and use enterprise architecture, perhaps most notably for the improvement of our nation’s healthcare system. Cross-platform technologies that include features such as desktop scanning, online forms, and bar code recognition are enabling efficient, coordinated digital capture of structured and unstructured documents, building a foundation for efficient data access. An integrated, web-based EDM system joins these isolated silos, providing a centralized, searchable electronic repository of all agency data that is accessible at any time, from any location, by authorized persons. Information that you, your staff, and constituents need is available 24/7 according to the retrieval rights you assign for each document type and to each business unit, role, or person.

By providing web-based access and self-service information to those who require it, callbacks are eliminated, files can be reviewed or worked on by multiple people simultaneously, and time is no longer wasted trying to locate documents that are in use. While the goal may be to reduce paper-related expenditures and increase efficiency cost-effectively, document management also redefines your agency’s reputation for service. Effective communication, detailed documentation, and organizational transparency don’t require paper.

3. Simplify compliance while ending ghost faxes and important content lost in emails.

A large percentage of mission-critical information is transmitted via agency emails and faxes, placing some information at risk (such as faxes with sensitive information) and other data at the risk of being lost or inaccessible (emails). Emails often contain important supporting data that is relevant to existing documents that can be vital collateral for audits or a subpoena for information. Faxes are riddled with challenges. Some contain data multiple parties must review. Others have blank or overlapping pages, light or unreadable text, land in the wrong department, or result in ghost faxes (when the paper runs out) where no one can identify the sender. Too often, pages must be faxed more than once. All of this presents tremendous challenges when information is requested or required.

A document management system that is integrated with email and fax systems enables you to capture faxes and emails and to index them for easy, instant, and secure retrieval using robust querying, similar to an online search. No longer is critical data buried in an individual’s email box when organizational policies demand content transparency. Missing, skewed, unreadable, or undeliverable faxes become history. By capturing, indexing, and organizing your fax and email communications, they can also be used to send alerts or trigger relevant business processes automatically. Centralized, electronic access saves paper, staff resources, and trips to the store for aspirin, promoting a better and more productive work environment.

A centralized digital document management repository tracks all file interaction, regardless of its source, simplifying compliance with HIPAA, FISMA, The Patriot Act, Open Records Laws, and other areas. Should you be audited, a web-based system is friendly for your auditor and the environment, too. Web-based audits provide complete access to all relevant data, eliminating unnecessary paper copies and letting your staff remain focused on the jobs at hand.

4. Help your staff to be more productive and give better service at a lower cost.

After an agency converts to digital document storage, the greatest opportunity for significant cost savings and enhanced service is automating routine business processes with digital workflow. Information transparency is becoming increasingly important in light of high-profile information misuse, yet budgetary constraints are forcing agencies to handle more information and greater workloads with fewer people. Faster and better services are demanded everywhere, and taxpayers expect those services to be delivered for the lowest possible cost.

Effective automation of routine processes addresses all of these challenges. Digital workflow distributes documents and allocates job-related tasks efficiently based on your agency’s unique business rules, ensuring people are treated consistently, work is properly prioritized, and timelines are met. Job allocation based on employee work volume, task priority, and other rules eliminates delays resulting from employee illness, turnover, or documents that are in transit or awaiting arrival in the right work queue.

Electronic document security rules that you establish with your document management system follow the documents in transit, ensuring only pre-approved staff can view, approve, sign, or otherwise act on files and tasks. A digital trail of every transaction, showing what was accessed, by whom, when, where, and why (your specific business rules) helps your agency to demonstrate the intent to comply with established policies, protecting you and your constituents in the event of file misuse. Information is available wherever it is needed—no more, and no less.

Mechanization of routine, everyday processes frees your staff to use their time and talents to serve more constituents, and serve them better. Quicker document processing and responses not only appease anxious constituents; they create a less frustrating and better work environment for your employees. By pushing the right documents and task lists to the right people at the right time electronically, you gain the efficiencies of simultaneous review and parallel processing that aren’t possible with paper. No more lost files. No more delays of documents on someone’s desk. No more unnecessary copies. With automated document and work distribution, efficiency rules; the Earth celebrates.

5. Reallocate costly storage space for more meaningful purposes.

Paper documents for disaster recovery not only are time consuming to access; they require considerable space that could be used more efficiently. Digitizing your agency’s records, backing up information electronically at alternative hot sites, and migrating records for digital archival frees you from the chains of physical storage. File rooms can be repurposed as meeting spaces, additional cubicles, reallocated for other government agency use, or even sold. Planned storage facilities no longer need to be built. Fossil fuels and human resources used to transport archived documents back and forth can be eliminated. Digital trails follow your documents and processes from beginning to end, providing management with vital insights that enable continued business improvements. Less paper, greater efficiency. Less waste, more sustainable resources.

Pipe dreams made real: case studies on effective document management

Scenario #1: Medicare and claims processing

Large processors of Medicare and TRICARE claims are increasingly realizing tremendous savings in paper, shipping costs, and other related consumables through effective automation of time-sensitive and time-consuming routine processes. Some have initiated paperless mailrooms and automated medical claims processing. Others have matched medical record requests with receipts and enabled significantly faster check deposits while eliminating courier trips. Still others have substantially improved help desk services with centralized EDM and workflow that delivers decision-making data from multiple systems to one screen for better service. Best of all, they have been able to manage substantial growth with the same staff for a lower cost, while ending time and costs wasted in the paper chase.

Scenario #2: tax collection and disbursements

Tax collection and payments are considerably simplified with document imaging, document management, and business process automation. Bar coded documents, online forms, scanners, and multi-function copiers ensure information is captured, indexed, and stored for instantaneous retrieval. Rather than turnaround times of four to six weeks to process forms and return payments, the collection, processing, and distribution of funds typically takes no more than 24 hours.

Scenario #3: making public records accessible

Engineering and planning offices, departments of natural resources, and other areas that collect, store, and make property and construction records available to the public, benefit tremendously from web-based document management. By providing online access to engineering blueprints, site remediation papers, and other important documents, customers no longer are restricted to agency office hours or subject to waiting for documentation. 24/7 self-service constituent access to public files via your web portal enables your staff to focus on other agency needs. Desktop availability of information eliminates unnecessary trips to the office and gives people the answers they need far more quickly. Efficient document access saves all around: no more hunting for files, no more waiting in lines, no more trips to the agency office, no more photocopying of documents because they are available online. Agencies save money in the file room and help desk, and constituents’ needs are satisfied without wasting paper and fossil fuels.

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