Episode 008: Technology Solutions for Government Agencies

Incorporating a secure, streamlined solution that brings true visibility and efficiency to daily tasks can make a huge difference for understaffed and overworked government agencies. Hyland’s Kevin Albrecht takes us through some of the biggest questions government agencies need to ask themselves, and help us understand how leveraging technology can help eliminate wasted time and paper each day.

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Kate Storey: Welcome to the Paperless Productivity Podcast, where we give you the tips, tricks, and knowhow to solve your biggest workflow challenges and bring greater productivity into your workplace every day.

Hey, did you hear the one about the government agency that went paperless? They saved hundreds of hours each week and increased their customer satisfaction rating at the same time. Okay, so it’s not much of a punchline, but the results speak for themselves. Government work is no laughing matter, but incorporating a secure, streamlined solution that brings true visibility and efficiency to daily tasks can help bring a smile to everyone’s face.

Today, we’re talking with Kevin Albrecht, Hyland senior customer adviser for government. Kevin is going to take us through some of the biggest questions government agencies need to ask themselves and help us understand how leveraging technology can help eliminate wasted time and paper each day. Welcome to the podcast today, Kevin.

Kevin Albrecht: It’s great to be here, Kate. Thanks.
Kate: Great. Okay, so when we talk about technology solutions for government, what kinds of systems are we talking about?
Kevin: That’s a great question because there’s a lot of different things out there. And often you’ll hear people just say, well, we’re looking for digital transformation. And I always say, ah, indeed, there’s car companies that are also talking about digital transformation. So what we’re talking about here is straight to it, getting paper out of government processes, streamlining their operations. We’re talking about document and records management.

One of the things that often happens in government, they have these great backend systems that either they purchase from somebody or they built themselves 10 years ago. They’re really good at holding structured content, things that fit in little boxes, nice and neatly names, numbers, amount, ID, information like that. But what they’re really bad at is managing content or document information that’s associated with those little boxes. So we’re going to talk a little bit about today, about really how to get rid of that paper, streamline your processes and a better leverage the IT investments that you’ve made.

Kate: That’s great. And so, in that realm, what are some tasks that especially benefit from a paperless process in the government setting? Once you go outside of those little boxes, like you said, what types of work do government agencies tend to deal with the most when they have to combine all of those systems?
Kevin: The hard part in government, there are literally tens of thousands of different things that government agencies do. And you can’t even just say things like, well, this is a solution for a department of transportation because even in like that one agency, they have all kinds of different offices and they do all types of different things. So it gets kind of confusing about what should I look for. But when you really boil it down, in government, there are three of things that every program and process involves. They either involve people or businesses applying to participate or share something with the government agency. There’s things or assets and facilities that government has. So that could be snow plows, that could be buildings, that could be manhole covers that they have to have a tremendous amount of documentation about.

And then there are investigations and inspections into people and things. And so, if you look at everything that your government agency does, they really almost, they fit into those three categories.

Kate: Okay. So what does the life cycle of a government document look like when you look at all of these different areas there? If you could take us through the process of what happens when someone initiates an action with a form or a document regardless of what area of the agency you’re working in, what kind of happens from there?
Kevin: Sure. There’s kind of five basic steps to every government program. And as you had said, everything is always kicked off with some sort of form or application. I kind of joke sometimes like even someone going to county jail, whether they know it or not, they’re technically applying for a government program kind of beyond their own wishes. But they’re initiating that with some sort of document that has to have supporting information with it. It’s sent in to a government agency where it’s collected. They have to make sure that all the correct information is contained. The next step is evaluation, where it’s routed through some sort of workflow to different people who are going to make a decision about that application. There might be some interaction back and forth between the applicant or even internally to make sure that everyone qualifies. And then a decision either to approve or reject that application.

So again, whether it’s an application for someone going into a prison or applying for food stamps or applying for some sort of public, other types of public assistance, those things all have to be done and the requirements reviewed. And then what will happen once they’re approved, that’ll kind of continue to go in a circle. There’s always what’s called a re-certification process where you have to determine, do you still want to participate in this program, do you still qualify and is the government agency going to provide that to you? So while they do, that keeps going into an endless circle until eventually the last step is disclosed. And the person either no longer qualifies or no longer wants to participate. It could even be the snow plow no longer exists and we don’t want to have it so we don’t have to keep track of that anymore.

But in government, we always have document retention policies that we have to adhere to. So you can’t just get rid of everything just because someone’s not receiving that benefit from the government anymore. There are strict retention policies and you have to make sure that your documents are adhering to those.

Kate: It seems like the life cycle of these documents is much longer than maybe some others. Like you said, there’s some things where this could go on for years or like you said it, you need to keep that retention of that document, that information. So it sounds like the life cycle of each document in every step of the process, it’s not a one and done, you know, you fill out one paper and then it’s gone. So I would imagine that’s a challenge for governments to keep track of all that. So what are some of the other most common pain points that you hear from government agencies and where are they really in need of a different solution?
Kevin: When you talk about that life cycle, the worst way to manage the life cycle is through paper information. And sometimes they’ll even think that they’re, okay, well we use spreadsheets or we use email. That is one of the most inefficient ways to keep track of your programs.
Kate: Why is that?
Kevin: Well, they’re running into things like lost forms. I’ll ask government agencies all the time, how much time do you spend looking for applications or documents? How much time do you spend waiting on someone else to finish with that manila folder that’s sitting on their desk while they try to get to it. Lots of times agencies will talk about here’s how long it takes to process applications. The problem is it’s not necessarily how long it takes to physically process an application or to look at that information, that processing time is in fact how long it takes for someone to get to that application themselves. So what we want to do is provide you a complete view, the end to end. So when you just have information in paper format or in that structured content in those backend systems, you’re not receiving that complete view of the applicant, right, of knowing all the information that’s associated with them and multiple people being able to work on it at the same time.
Kate: Yeah, I’d imagine it’s connecting all of those dots all together. But also, when you mentioned about the Excel spreadsheets, the first thing I thought of was, many different versions of that exist depending on how many different people within that agency are touching that document. So they might have one version-
Kevin: They have no insights to into that.
Kate: Yeah. It’s not easily connected necessarily. Yeah, that makes sense. So some government agencies might believe that they already have their systems automated running efficiently just like you were saying with those spreadsheets or even paper documents. Whether or not that includes a tech component. So, how can an agency better understand the value that that centralized technology solution is going to bring to their organization? How do they start to see the benefit of connecting all those dots?
Kevin: Yeah, it’s exactly connecting all those dots. That’s a great of putting it, again, because it is how complete of a view do you have to this information? Take any one of the programs that you manage and say how many different silos do I have of information? Is it contained in spreadsheets, is there also some information in paper format? Are there ancient filing cabinets? Are there individuals in your organization that if something were to happen to them, you would lose all the information that someone knows? So when you kind of have these silos or separate, disparate silos of information, you also have a huge problem with security. How are you able to make sure that people are only taking actions that they should be, and what type of reporting or auditability do you have on your process?
Kate: Yeah, I would imagine that confidentiality is a real issue with those documents and ensuring the confidentiality of some of those documents. When you don’t have a technology solution in place. It’s probably pretty hard to make sure that some sensitive information isn’t being seen outside of where it needs to be seen. So, technology solutions for government are going to help to increase that security as well. Correct?
Kevin: Absolutely. It’s a key aspect. Anyone go talk to the director of information technology in your government agency about their concerns of getting what’s called PII or personal identifying information out into the public when it shouldn’t be. I mean, that’s of the utmost importance.
Kate: So we’ve already talked about some of that, that safety factor, the efficiency factor. So, do you have an idea of what the average time and financial cost is for the typical government agency when it comes to managing all these documents? Like you said, all these different silos, all these different people that are involved in the process. Is there an idea like of an average time and financial cost that’s associated with this?
Kevin: That can be difficult, again, because of the tens of thousands of different things they do. But I can give one example that I always like to tell people about, there’s a process called Freedom of Information Act or public records requests. And these numbers are kind of staggering. I was talking to one customer one time and they were saying they’re spending 260 minutes a day simply looking at public records requests, just trying to fulfill manual information that was being sent to them or they were receiving an email printing it off and handling that manually. But they were also spending a thousand minutes a day simply copying documents rather than processing those electronically.

So, one of the ways to look at that is to look at how much manual time are you spending. And even simply taking the cost of what is the person’s salary that’s doing that. And it’s not necessarily about eliminating head count. It’s about doing things more efficiently. I was talking to one state agency and they received a lot of applications through fax. They have this person whose job was to sit on a stool next to the fax machine and capture the applications as they came in. And I was telling them, I was like, well, you know, we could import that fax electronic, it’s already electronic, we don’t have to actually print it out. You can just route that into a document management system. And they said, well, you know, I hate to say, what do we do with this guy? I said, you could have him actually processing applications rather than just capturing information and then sending it to where he thinks it needs to be.

So it’s looking at that head count or that time wasted, or even how much space are you using for filing cabinets. Think about the square footage that you have that just to have paper resting somewhere on the off chance that you might want to go try to find it.

Kate: And I would imagine then that that leads a little bit into kind of the HR side of things as well is making sure that your team members are really feeling like they’re contributing and that they’re a meaningful part of this process and everything. I would imagine that by integrating some of these technology solutions, they’re able to not only increase their efficiency, which is good overall for the agency, but that person individually feels perhaps I would imagine a greater sense of job satisfaction because they are a greater part of the process. So I would imagine that it touches that maybe in a slight way as well. So, that’s an interesting angle.
Kevin: I was going to say, one of the other things to think about, I mean, we will always have paper in government processes, right? Anybody that ever comes in and tells a government agency, we’re going to eliminate all of this doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Sometimes you have to provide for that avenue for someone to walk into a lobby and hand over an application that’s been filled out by hand. So what you’re needing to do is break down those processes and how you can streamline each of those most efficiently.
Kate: That makes a lot of sense, yeah. And so that kind of leads into, you know, what else I was wondering is, you know, probably a question that is asked a lot is how can a single platform serve all those different needs going from that paper application to going to all these different people within that need to have their input into it to that final close of the cycle there. So how could a single platform do all of that? How can it best fit them?
Kevin: And that’s the great thing that, you know, and I love about this type of document management platform, is that you really can configure it to meet the needs of your agency and all of your different processes. So rather than and buying individual pieces of software to manage individual agencies, having that single platform allows you to configure to what your needs are. So you can start out with a very basic, I’m just going to capture documents and I’m going to store them electronically, right? That you can absolutely go in and do something very lightweight, very easy, and just start there, right? You don’t have to map out an entire process. You can grow into a full workflow where you’re processing documents in parallel, you’re routing things based on case worker workloads or even managing them by which language are they coming in at. You can do lots of different things, but having something that can be configured to meet what your specific agency needs is the key.
Kate: Absolutely. And so, we talked a lot about managing those internal demands. Let’s talk a little bit about in terms of constituents. So what kind of benefits do you think that government constituents could begin to see from having that centralized technology solution managing all of this?
Kevin: Well, there’s certainly that, there’s multiple generations of people that are interacting with an agency. And government agencies have to be able to provide access to each of them. So, there could be an 80 year old that feels most comfortable walking into a lobby and waiting. But you also have to look at things that they’re demanding like websites that have fillable forms on them, or even mobile access for me to be able to check on the status of my application. So you have to be able to look at how often you’re doing things like receiving an email and thinking you’re doing great because we’re allowing our constituents to email things into us. But then your process is to go print off that email and then continue on with the manila folder that has a checklist piece of paper stapled to the inside that you start checking things off.

So, more and more constituents are expecting to have instant access to information, and they also are becoming very frustrated with having to submit the same documents more than once. So if I’ve already sent to you information about my court case or if I’ve already sent to you my driver’s license or birth certificate, I shouldn’t have to send that to you again because every time I do that, I get very worried that I’m never going to receive it back. Tell someone who was newly become a US citizen that you have to mail in their citizenship certificate. It is the last thing they’re ever going to want to do.

Kate: Absolutely, yeah. So, what are some of these questions that government agencies, thinking about all of these different elements from the internal management to working with constituents and meeting those demands and those expectations that are coming there, what are some of the questions that government agencies can begin to ask themselves to understand how a technology solution could benefit their processes both internally and externally?
Kevin: Yeah, I would say, certainly start with kind of getting a handle on the amount of paper applications that are coming in. But it really involves getting in touch with the workers, the people that they’re hands on dealing with these things each day. Asking them how much time do you spend waiting on something to get to you? How much time do you spend looking for information? Not only just those people-centric, again, think about all the processes that you have that involve the facilities or the assets. Talk to your public works department about when you are looking for training manuals and repair history and incident reports that all surround the same piece of equipment, how much time do you spend looking for that and what value would you find having it in one single repository.

Looking at what honestly, what are your goals for processing times, and being honest with yourself about is it simply how long it takes for that record or that application to get to the top of the list to have it be it’s turned to be processed, or how much time can you shave off, I guess is the way to say, of the actual processing of an application if it were able to be done electronically.

Kate: Okay. Once these agencies start to ask these questions and they start to see that having a single source for their paper and their processes can have a really positive effect on the way they’re able to manage their workloads and better serve their constituents, what’s the next step from here? So how’d they begin that road to going paperless and finding where it fits out for their organization?
Kevin: I would say certainly reach out to ImageSoft. They work with them a lot, as a partner with Hyland. But I would say that next step, is I would tell everyone look for the paper in your organization. Start right there and try to envision what your roadmap is going to be. You don’t have to figure out your entire streamlined process all at once. Think about what simply capture electronic capture of information and storing it electronically, what would that do? Set for yourself some realistic goals and then people like myself can help work with you to provide that vision of not only what you first have in mind, that first process that you see. But how you can again leverage the same investment into this platform into all those other hundreds of thousands of lines of business.

We have customers, where honestly, we don’t know everywhere we’re being used because they see the value in this technology and they continue to roll that out themselves. And that ultimately is the goal so that they’re empowered and that they know how to address their pain points themselves.

Kate: That’s excellent. Well, thank you so much for giving us that overview today, Kevin, and helping us to better understand the many benefits that a paperless system can bring to government agencies. I think this was really insightful.
Kevin: That was great. I appreciate it. Thanks.
Kate: Great. Well, thank you everyone for joining us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Paperless Productivity, where we tackle some of the biggest paper based pain points facing organizations today. We’ll see you next time.

Thanks again for joining us today for this episode of Paperless Productivity. This podcast is sponsored by ImageSoft, the paperless process people, which you can learn more about at imagesoftinc.com, that’s imagesoft I-N-C.com. Join us next time where you’ll learn how to harness the power of technology, supercharge efficiency and accomplish your organization’s goals.

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