Silver Tsunamis are Coming, and the Times? They’re a Changin’!

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

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Have you heard of the “silver tsunami”?

No, you didn’t miss a weather alert – we’re not talking about a physically destructive storm. But, just as threatening, there is a metaphorical mess that’s brewing across the nation as a flood of state and local government personnel begin to retire. While these natural transitions are inevitable, expected, and even a growth opportunity for those looking to climb their career ladders, they do pose a potentially self-destructive threat to government establishments and, ultimately, the communities they serve: how will decades of organizational knowledge and fluency be preserved?

Brick by Brick

We often look at government leaders and organizations as stable and strong. So, what happens when the same faces that have been leading us through institutional shifts and progress are suddenly celebrating their golden years and not leading organizations?

Losing founding members or significant figures in an organization’s history is like taking structural bricks out of the actual building – everyone feels uneasy and fearful for the stability and maintenance of their organization. Many of these retiring leaders have rooted and nurtured most of the organization’s structural ups and downs for years, even decades. When they leave, they’re not only taking their staplers, but much of the institutional know-how that has upheld so many people and procedures along the way. And when that organization is at a government level and/or responsible for the wellbeing and progression of thousands of people and communities, these entity-shaking effects can be felt throughout cities and states.

But the Times, They’re a Changin’

Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher whispered something to one student, who whispered it to another, and so on until the whisper reached the last person? And, of course, the last person blurted out something completely different from the teacher’s original message. Similarly, when we’re relying on these word-of-mouth processes and head-stored knowledge that has been whispered down for decades, we’re jeopardizing more than just procedure. The entire organization’s vision, values, and goals are at risk of being watered down, misunderstood, or completely lost.

Unfortunately, much of “what works” for an organization is still operating on this officially-unofficial process. Everyone in the entity knows the procedure, but that secret code is only passed down and sustained through training, verbal instruction, and the occasional, stern reminder from an annoyed co-worker who received a task that is “not their job!”

But changing “the process” isn’t as easy as telling people to work differently. When your tools only allow you to do so much, it’s easy to stay in an archaic tradition of inefficiency. And just as Bob Dylan cassette tapes are to the 60s, file cabinets, paper documents, and floppy disks are to an outdated, early 2000s system that would be too incompetent even for the Bedrock institutions, home of the Flintstones.

Beyond Bedrock: Preservation and Progression

While we’re not impressing the Jetsons just yet, we are getting closer with the dawn of digital government technology. Thanks to contemporary enterprise content management systems (ECMS), paperless processes can be automated throughout an entire organization using the rules that adhere to your required procedures, and simultaneously preserve the foundationally-rooted know-how that your retiring executive is taking with her.

I Can Do What?

As you can see from the tablet, Mac, or cell phone you’re reading this on, technology has marched on in the past five or ten years. With an ECMS like OnBase, sometimes referred to as an electronic document management system (EDMS), you can now do more than the basics of scan, store, and retrieve, which are the primary functions of older systems that we fondly refer to as “legacy archives.”

Electronic workflow solutions are designed with a contemporary business model at the forefront of its mission. Papers become electronic files (eFiles), and they preserve all the institution’s historical knowledge in a back-up system or within a secure, cloud-based system. Why is that so cool? Because in the event of a real tsunami, fire, or vandalism, sensitive documents and audit trails are safe, and you can continue to access and work on them from any computer.

Once you’re set up with an ECMS, documents are automated to be en-route to where they’re supposed to be. This is true for internal emails, document storage and access, and communications with other government agencies, law enforcement, clients, and even the public. This unparalleled transparency with every audience is empowering government entities, courts, insurance companies, and others to do more in less time and, as a result, earn complete trust with their constituents and co-workers.

And with electronically indexed documents and cases, rest assured that every document can be searched for and seen by any and only the people who might need it. That’s right, gone are the days of panicking over a misdirected email containing sensitive information. But if you are curious as to who has opened, viewed, or edited one of your documents, simply pull up the audit trail that tracks where and with whom it’s been.

You’re Invited!

ECMS are point-and-click solutions that have already revolutionized more than 20,000 organizations across the globe. With very minimal training, even the most non-technical people have configured workflows to make their services more efficient and their impact more widespread and purposeful.

So, if your office operates like it’s still the founding year, your co-workers and constituents are frustrated, and your sensitive paperwork is still as vulnerable as actual paper, we invite you to learn more about workflow solutions. You may even want to start by catching up on our six-part blog series discussing how ECM can help the government overcome age-old challenges.

What challenges are you and/or your organization facing as experienced staff retire?

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 3

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

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You show up to work, get coffee, open your mail, open your email and check your phone and just like that, you have tens if not hundreds of requests for public records that you need take care of. Even if you can charge for it, the work is tedious, particularly if the records that you’re looking for aren’t where they’re supposed to be, or are covered in cobwebs and dust.

Virtually every government agency is bound by rules of transparency and openness to ensure public accountability. But short of allowing the public to come in and rifle through your files, search your network folders, or setup a new desk in your office, there just isn’t a good way to allow for self-serve access. Things get particularly thorny when you have to redact information or secure certain items from the public because of the sensitivity of the information that you are entrusted to protect. Those requests can take months or years if paper-based.

Public offices have tried to solve this by implementing some kind of image archive where staff can at least access that information faster – if they know what to look for. As an interim step, some offices have provided a kiosk in the lobby for the public to use but this still is not a very convenient solution. At ImageSoft, we hear these stories all the time.

Another challenge to transparency and openness is how to find the information when it has been converted to a digital format. Sometimes, things are not always indexed correctly, so finding the right information can also be an exercise in frustration. And if there is a legal proceeding and you find more stuff after you said that you provided everything, you probably won’t be having a good day.

An enterprise content management system (ECM) like OnBase, or what some call EDMS (electronic document management system) can help with transparency in several ways:

Read more about how ECM can address the challenges of various government offices.

Faster and more complete searches

While any system may have good metadata, a lot of useful information may not be stored as metadata but may be contained in the body of the content. For instance, a sub-contractor on a project may appear in a paragraph but the document may have been indexed using the name of the general contractor. A text search would be the only way to find what you’re looking for.

Easy redaction capability

Some documents should be available to the public but contain sensitive information that needs to be redacted, and at the same time, you need to keep the original. A good ECM solution allows you to create redacted copies for public consumption in the application while retaining the unredacted original securely without having to print, markup and rescan.

Online search access

Allowing the public self-serve access with both metadata and text searches frees up critical office resources. This method is only cost-effective if your ECM vendor offers some form of constituent or external user licensing.

Better tracking system

As we described, the process to track and handle the requests for which the public cannot access a record can be time consuming as well. We will cover more of this in a future blog post but an effective workflow tool that is integrated with your ECM/EDMS can receive requests electronically, track their progress and then electronically deliver results, which greatly reduces the burden on internal staff.

So, whether you store your documents in files and boxes, in network folders, or in an old archive, you can benefit significantly from upgrading to a true enterprise content management system that increases your ability to be transparent and open while reducing your staff’s workload.

If you’re not following our Paperless Process Blog, check out our blog series 6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 1 and 2. In Part 1, we discuss the ways a digital workflow adds value to your operations. Part 2 focuses on slaying the paper dragons that want to take over your office.

Coming in Part 4: Meeting Constituent Needs

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 2

By Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

147_megasharkI’ll admit that sometimes I like to watch cheesy, B movies from the SyFy channel. Most of them follow the same script – some greedy corporation or government scientists make a mistake and suddenly we have oversized snakes, sharks, or some other creepifying animal terrorizing an island or a city.

I write this because for some government departments, it feels like a science experiment gone wrong and paper is piling up everywhere, terrorizing the office. The shelves keep expanding, the boxes keep multiplying, and the mounds of paper that have to be processed and stored are ready to drive workers out of the office screaming onto the streets.

In Part 1 of this series, 6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges, we looked at the power that comes when your department or office transitions to a digital workflow to manage the work. Here we’re talking about those paper dragons and how to slay them.

Reducing paper is one of the first considerations that opens the door for people yelling “help!” But before you run into the arms of the first dashing archiving software hero to knock on your door, you must think beyond that moment when your immediate problem is solved. That brave hero might be great at slaying paper dragons and archiving digitized documents but could become an awful life partner because he or she doesn’t possess the workflow skills required for a long-term partnership. You might want to check out our infographic before saying “I do.” You want to settle down, not settle for.

Back to paper dragons.

Reducing the amount of paper we use is a worthy goal for any government agency. Most people don’t think of the overall cost of living in a paper-based environment because the tools we use to deal with paper are so ingrained in our psyche.

For instance, consider the tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and maintain a few copy machines and then add the costs to feed those monsters with toner and paper  each month. Frequently, you have to stick your hands into their jaws to remove paper cavities. If you have four or five of these medium-sized units around the office in their second or third generation, you have likely already bought and paid for an ECM system, like OnBase, to store your documents.

How Much Does Your Storage Cost?

The other cost is obvious – storage. If you have fifty shelves or filing cabinets at $1,500 apiece, that’s $75,000 or more depending on which unit you’re using. If you’re a county or city, imagine what that storage cost looks like across all your departments. You just bought another ECM system.

And then there is office space. Where do you put all your workers? Are you thinking that you have to build another building or move to a larger office in the next few years to house both your staff and your paper? Now you’re faced with options of a budget challenge to justify spending millions on a new building because you’ve outgrown the old one, spending hundreds of thousands on new office leasing, or searching online for double-decker cubicles because things are getting tight. Not only can an ECM system   reduce your storage requirements, but with workflow automation, it can increase your processing capacity without increasing your headcount. That’s pretty powerful.

Getting a handle on headcount increases and real estate are your two biggest budget items. An ECM helps avoid the challenge of too much government at the end of the money.


Read how OnBase can help you to reduce paper and increase automation.

 

Backing Up the Back Up

But there is one more storage cost to consider – backup. To protect against the loss from fire, flood, earthquake, or other catastrophe, it’s not unusual to send off the original to an off-site storage facility while the staff makes photocopies of files to keep on hand. That’s a tremendous number of hours spent by your staff to reduce risk or to have convenient access. And if the only copies of your documents are the ones in a file cabinet, then you need to assess the risk and cost if critical records are lost and you need to recover them. Think land records, executed contracts, invoices, warranties, receipts, tax documents, reports, and any other document where no electronic version exists.

An ECM system with a good backup strategy eliminates the need to create copies for off-site transport and storage. In the event of a disaster, you can recover files much quicker with little to no loss of data. And potentially shield yourself from expensive lawsuits.

The point of reducing paper with an ECM solution is to increase efficiency, access and redundancy so that you can drive out those paper monsters and the machine that feeds them. And leave the real monsters to the SyFy channel.

Where are you seeing too much paper in your office?

Coming in Part 3: Increasing Transparency

ImageSoft, IT and the EPA

By Mary McKnight, ImageSoft, Director of Professional Services

In a recent Government CIO Outlook magazine article, “IT Transformation at EPA,” Ann Dunkin, CIO, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, writes about the evolution that the EPA has undergone to find a way to deliver solutions faster and better. She’s right that most government agencies as well as the private sector follow a “classic waterfall” implementation methodology and she’s right about the danger that comes with using outdated methods like over analysis and trying to avoid risk at all costs. This works just fine for construction or manufacturing when the foundation must be poured at the right grade before the studs are erected. Without this level of planning, your house will fall over. Data is not concrete and there is a better approach to developing software solutions.

At ImageSoft, we’ve done the traditional waterfall approach. It can work, but in our 20-year history, we’ve found something that works better. We call it The ImageSoft Way and it embodies many of the key concepts Dunkin highlights in her article. We, too, seek to deliver off-the-shelf solutions (COTS) wherever possible. We work with a highly configurable software and you are relying on us to be the subject matter experts. Providing solutions that work in the wild expedites delivery and lets you earn your ROI much faster.

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A major reason for failure in government IT projects is lack of user input, according to Dunkin. Successful systems are designed around the needs of individuals who use the system every day—not around the needs of stakeholders, she adds.

We, too, start with the business process. We work with you to understand why you do what you do and then provide a document written in your business language describing how the solution will support it. We, too, embrace risk. We demonstrate the solution to your users at regular intervals throughout the entire build phase. By showing you the solution early and often, we prove out the high-risk items like integration and web service development before the budget is spent. When you expose risk, you limit it.

Finally, ImageSoft also embraces collaboration across our company. We tore down our silos and threw them into the waterfall and we have not looked back. We’ve developed some strong change management practices along the way and can help you do the same.

I agree with one more thing Dunkin says, “All of this is certainly a work in progress…when it does work, amazing things happen.” The best part about the ImageSoft Way is that we have amazing success stories out there to back it up. Agile development in government might be a fresh concept but partnering with a company that has the right culture and experience has always been the best way to achieve success.

How does collaboration play into determining your department’s IT solutions?

6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 1

By Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

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Do More with Less Money in Less Time

In government, budgets are tighter, technology is aging and constituents are demanding more and are upset when things seem slow or when they can’t get timely updates or resolution.

One of the top strategies that agencies use to address this is to go paperless. Paper-driven processes are inherently inefficient because only one person can work on a document at a time. To overcome this, staff will adjust processes around the limitations of paper such as making multiple copies of a document which makes it a nightmare for maintaining official records.

The great irony is that many government agencies with slick public-facing sites are converting digital submissions into paper to get the work done. And to provide your constituents with online updates or access, someone has to turn the data or documents back into an electronic format again.

So how does going paperless with an enterprise content management platform (ECM) make government do more with less?

There are three key factors that have the potential to dramatically improve services to the public that you serve:

Reduce the Time Spent Organizing and Sorting Your Inbox

In a production environment, a significant portion of time is spent by employees organizing their day and figuring out what they have to do next for each file in their inbox. It’s not unusual to see paper files being carted around and handed out to employees to work or workers using bins under their desks. And if someone is out of the office, transitioning the work to someone else is complicated if not all the notes are in the file.

An ECM platform manages the incoming work by sorting them into buckets using pre-configured rules, balances out the load to prevent cherry picking and presents the various workers with the tasks they need to accomplish specific to the file. Whatever time was spent organizing and rifling through files, whether it’s 10-30% of their day, can now be focused on work. And when an employee needs a file to respond to an inquiry, files can be retrieved in seconds on the same call rather than taking minutes or hours and playing phone tag. And if someone is out for the day, all notes and files can be distributed to other staff with the click of a button or dragging a file to a user’s icon.

Now there’s no excuse for not having a clean desk.

Reduce Time Finding Supporting Documents

When looking at an application, you may need to view supporting information submitted by the application or accessing past case history. By having all the information there, automatically organized and sorted by the document type, you can make decisions quicker instead of digging through an old file box or suffering another paper cut by flipping through a file.

A big part of this is linking the ECM platform to your core business solution. This allows you, with a button click, to retrieve the documents related to the case you’re viewing in your core application. It also allows decisions recorded in the ECM system to update your core applications so you’re not duplicating your efforts and risking keying errors.

Let the Computer Do the Work

An ECM system without the ability to automate tasks is like a car without an engine—you end up having to do all the work. The real value in an ECM platform occurs when you can configure the system to do some of the mundane, repetitive tasks that rob you of the time needed to do the work that only people can do.

For instance, what would life be like if with the click of a button, an application is approved, automatically generates and prints an acceptance letter, updates a core system’s records or portal and notifies other individuals within an office or another agency for follow up? What took an hour before could be reduced to a few minutes or seconds. Boom! And now you leave the office at the end of the day having processed more cases but with a smile instead of a frown. And people are happy to see you on the street because you helped them and exceeded their expectations.

So how much can an ECM system improve your processes? It depends on the process and how many steps are involved. In a typical project, we see efficiencies go up anywhere from 25-75% (and sometimes a lot more).

For example, we reduced the time to locate employee files for National Heritage Academy from half a day to immediate access and reduced audit times by 54%. When faced with budget cuts forcing staff reductions, we saved the Prosecutor’s office in Ingham County, MI, $450,000 annually in labor savings while they were able to maintain the same workload. And we reduced the time for judges to sign child support cases from five days to one in a county court.

So, while there is some benefit to a basic ECM scan, store or retrieve, the real power comes when your department or office transitions to a digital workflow to manage the work.

How has an ECM platform made your life easier?

Coming in Part 2: Reducing Paper