6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges – Part 4

By: Kevin Ledgister, Marketing Manager, ImageSoft

150_roundtuit.pngMusic to Everyone’s Ears: Better Serving Constituents and Employees with ECM.

“I just love frustrated phone calls from residents!” said no government official ever.

When you’re serving an entire state, county, or even a city of people who all “want their answers now!”, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. And as if the natural demands and conformity laws of your job don’t stress you enough, the hoops you jump through just to play your part surely will. Why is that? Because paper drives so many of the government’s processes, including the management of records, contracts, cases, photos, and other sensitive information. I light-heartedly refer to any office like this as a “paper prison” – it’s a term of endearment, really.

Moving from desk to desk, and sometimes even to other locations, clerks and staff waste time they typically don’t have just on finding documents for people at the counter who have their own timelines to attend to. And if you’ve already read Part 3 of this blog series, you know this old-school system also doesn’t bode well for transparency, as there is simply no secure way for your public to self-serve their informational needs.

With an enterprise content management system (ECM), also commonly referred to as an electronic document management system (EDMS), you can easily meet all of your constituents’ needs, and not drive your staff crazy while doing so.

Too Much Time on My Hands

A good song by the Stix, but an even better “problem” for you and your constituents to have! With an ECM, not only do you not have to jump from file to file, you don’t have to click from system to system. All of the information your customer is asking for is stored on one, connected platform, and within a few click’s reach. This facilitates much faster responses, such as responding to public housing status updates or making better decisions because you now have all the edits and notes to a plan. So, what would you typically churn out in a few months to a year gets returned to your customer long before they have a chance to call and check the status.

Automatic

A shout-out to the country music fans of government agencies, particularly Miranda Lambert. But, contrary to the song, many processes for constituents can be described as anything but automatic. One of the best features about an ECM is its automation. When a citizen submits an electronic request form, such as a request to address a pothole or a civic complaint, it’s automatically routed to the right person for further development. No more sitting on someone’s desk until they get around to it. ECM also ensures accountability and can notify supervisors when cases are not being handled according to the department’s policies.

Legal documents are even integrated with the court’s CMS, so you don’t have to worry about running over to physically file or find a case. With a click of a button, all necessary documents, discovery materials, and contracts are shared and accessible to the appropriate parties. So you can take your time with the old-school traditions you do like to keep, like cassette tapes and window cranks, while still keeping up with society’s fast-paced demands.


To continue reading more about how an EDMS can help you better serve your constituents, click here!

Born to Run

Maybe you aren’t an actual runner but, like Bruce, you might always been on-the-go. But just because you travel doesn’t mean you have to keep your public waiting. Inspectors can submit work order requests on-the-spot from their laptop. People in public works can pull up plans, manuals and schematics from a layer’s map on their iPad. Invoices can be approved during a break at a conference from a mobile phone.  In the age of the mobile workforce, people expect that you’re not completely disconnected from them just because you’re on the road, off-site, or even on a plane. With an ECM, you can keep up with the mobile workforce. Simply grab your smartphone or tablet, pull up the document you need, and consider it signed, sealed, delivered!

Remember that ECMs with all of this functionality, like OnBase by Hyand, is also making life much easier on constituents. Empowering your employees with the tools they need allows them by to serve constituents faster and easier with mobile-accessible content and overall communication.

What Are You Waiting For?

Because I truly believe there are still Nickelback fans still out there!

But really, when you free your staff from “paper prisons,” you’re also making an investment in the people you serve. Not only will you see a dramatic upswing in productivity, but doing your job in this workflow will be like music to your ears – without upset constituents calling in the middle of your favorite guitar solo.

Look Back to Keep Moving Forward with ECM

If you’re not following our Paperless Process Blog, check out the rest of our blog series “6 Ways ECM Can Help Government Overcome Challenges” – Parts 1, 2 and 3. 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. And Part 3 speaks to leveraging ECMs to strengthen transparency.

Coming in Part 5: Complying with Mandates and Regulations

If you adopted an ECM, what kind of benefits would your constituents enjoy?

 

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

By: Katie Pusz, Copywriter, ImageSoft

149_SilverTsunami

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

148_fullinbox

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

Justice Summit Reflection: From Case Management to Information Management

Experiencing June’s Justice Summit in Grand Rapids as usual felt like drinking from a fire hose.  Sadly, I have yet to master the trick of sitting in on three sessions at once, so will have to content myself with reviewing the materials and watching the videos of the sessions I missed when they are posted to the conference website.

IMG_1273I chose to follow the Case Management track, which Jim McMillan set up with his keynote on current developments in utilizing the plethora of data flowing from all forms of Electronic Content Management systems to enhance Case Management and Decision Support. From the fire hose I came away with, among other things, the following observation.

The justice system, often led by the courts, is approaching or at a “tipping point” in the management of information.  As I listened to how modern systems incorporate, integrate, and internally leverage the three traditional informational pillars – Case Metadata (Case Tracking Systems), Content (Document and Content Management Systems), and Process (workflow) – I realized that the improvements have gone beyond evolutionary to revolutionary.

Here’s what I mean.

The original electronic Case Management Systems (CMS) automated the systems previously kept in large files or books, typically called The Register of Actions, The Judgment Docket, and The Court Docket, or some similar terms.  Thus the DNA, or “lizard brain” of even the most sophisticated of early CMS were electronic “direct descendants” of the old, physical record. As such, they are of course “case-based”.

Likewise, Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) automated what had previously been physical case files. Again, they were direct descendants. So, for example, the electronic documents “of course” had “page numbers”, for instance.  And perhaps “Title Pages”. And, also of course, they tend to be very “document” and “file based”.

Workflow systems were a little different.  While their antecedent was written or institutional process information, generally they came into being either with or following implementation of EDMS and began with “smart” routing of documents through the process cycle. As such, they really were not different just in form (electronic versus paper based), but also in function, from their great, great grandparent, the Routing Slip. From the start they were able to take advantage of the electronic information contained in or accompanying the very documents they were tasked to route.

As time has gone by, Electronic Case Management, Electronic Content Management, and Electronic Workflow have become more tightly integrated and cross-leveraged. This trend has led to much of the almost incredible new capabilities of modern systems to impact

What I began to notice, from Jim’s Keynote through the various sessions on Case Management, is that the newest systems are starting to leave some of the old DNA behind. Instead, they start from ground zero and are designed to capture, store, utilize, disseminate, exchange, secure, manipulate, manage, and control information electronically from end to end, without resort to “lizard brain” limitations imposed by the physical limitations of previous ages. Concepts such as “case”, “file”, “person”, and so forth can be dynamically formed and utilized as needed, without imposing design or performance trade-offs necessary in bygone days. Furthermore, they are not so much “integrated” as they are reformed into a new, more complete, flexible, and robust whole.

What is emerging is a new type of system that is designed, from the ground up, to holistically handle all types of information – meta data, content, institutional knowledge and rules, security – without regard for system boundaries imposed by either information type or historical format limitations.

For those aficionados of Arthur C. Clark, what I think we are seeing is a Childhood’s End moment. The first wave of automated systems got us to where we are today. Now courts and the wider justice system are poised to move to a new level of Information Management, the successor to Case Management.

Too Good To Pass Up

The Time: The 13th Century A.D.

The Place: Western Europe The Government: The Holy Roman Empire

The Legacy Technology: Vellum and Parchment

The New (well, to Europe, anyway) Technology: Paper

The Law: No Document on Paper May Be Considered An Official Document

89_too goodWhile it may be true that I have — to put it charitably – a tendency to imagine facts and events that never actually occurred, even I couldn’t make this one up. While conducting some background research, I stumbled on this incredible factoid:

In 1221, in response to the recent (to Europe) introduction of paper, which threatened to upend more than a few apple carts, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Second declared that paper could not be used for the “official” rendering of a document and that documents on paper were therefore of no legal force and effect.

Yep. You could USE paper; but to make it official, you had to copy it to vellum or parchment. I mean, let’s face it, paper just doesn’t smell right. For that, you need animal carcasses. (Not coincidentally, the wealthy European landowners with herds of sheep and cattle had a considerable stake in this policy. Is this ironic? Take a look at “Who Is That Lurking in the Shadows and take a wild guess what I think.)

One can only imagine the work-arounds. Paper, being cheaper to make, easier to handle and transport, more readily available, more easily stored and accessed, and much less environmentally sensitive, was undoubtedly being used whenever possible. However, at the last step, some monk or another would need to copy the content onto vellum or parchment. Doubtless a paper copy was also retained so it could be more easily and safely stored, accessed and used long after the parchment copy had reverted to rawhide from humidity or crumbled into dust or both.

And so, it appears, the world of dual systems persisted in Europe for awhile. Everyone is familiar with the great technological, cultural, artistic and social strides in Europe over the next couple hundred years – namely, not much to speak of. They aren’t called “The Dark Ages” for nothing. Anyway, operating with dual, redundant, inefficient record maintenance systems seems like it fit right in.

Eventually, the alarm clock went off: The printing press was invented. And guess what: Animal skins didn’t work too well in printing presses. Rules or no rules, paper took over in very short order, and Europe woke up with the Renaissance.

Now, far be it from me to blame The Dark Ages on regressive policies inhibiting the adoption of technological improvements in document management. After all, the Dark Ages started hundreds of years earlier (except, of course, in Asia, where paper had already been introduced; but I swear I’m not trying to make a connection). And banning paper was hardly the only reactionary restriction erected at the first sign of change. But still, let’s face it, it couldn’t have helped.

Here is my real point: I’m sure Fred II had some very intelligent, and possibly well-meaning people urging him to stop the dangerous trend toward unproven paper technology when, after all, writing on parchment and vellum had been going on for generations at least. But seen from today’s vantage point, it looks really silly.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that current requirements to maintain a paper or microfiche (“machine-readable”) copy of an “official” document is going to look pretty silly to our descendants; and a lot sooner than eight hundred years in the future. In fact, it’s an increasingly tough case to make with a straight face today.

Mrs. Wormer’s Coat

In one of the numerous classic scenes from “Animal House”, future gynecologist to the stars Eric Stratten finds himself in his dorm room with the evil (and clueless) Dean Wormer’s very inebriated and forward wife.  Mindful of the lady’s need for some class, he chivalrously takes her elegant dress coat from her with great fanfare.  As her gaze turns elsewhere, the lad unceremoniously drops the coat on the floor behind him in a heap.  Her coat is not part of his agenda.

I have used this scene for decades to illustrate a very important and all too often overlooked principle of information technology:  Taking the “stuff” — data, documents, fur coats — up front is being noticed, so everyone tries to look good doing it.  Sort of like valet parking.  But, let’s face it, that’s only half the fun.  As important as it is to making the one handling the turnover look good, the owner of the “stuff” has a major stake in and ought to pay serious consideration to what happens to it once it’s changed hands.

69_mrs wormer

As implementations of court e-Filing solutions continue to proliferate and accelerate, this principle bears mention.  Historically, for reasons of business, of funding and of technical complexity, Case Management Systems (CMS), Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS), and e-Filing Systems (EFS) have often been developed and implemented separately.  Optimally, all would be eventually integrated in a rational and seamless (at least to the user) Electronic Content Management  (ECM) system.

Increasingly, courts are expecting more tightly integrated solutions “out of the box”.  Thus it sometimes comes as a surprise to find that some e-Filing systems, while doing a creditable job of handling front-end filing for both the fliers and the court, really have nowhere but static repositories with fairly limited functionality for the documents once they are received.  The result is that in order to actually use the documents, many of the difficulties, limitations and costs of paper documents not only remain, but often require duplicate and/or additional effort because of the introduction of another system.

For this reason, courts looking to acquire an e-Filing solution should look not only to the “capture”, but to the other legs of Electronic Content Management (ECM).[i]  If the court already has an ECM system, it should verify that the new e-Filing System will gracefully integrate with it.  If, on the other hand, there is really no robust ECM in place yet, the court should seek an e-Filing System that will include adequate ECM functionality “out of the box”.[ii]  The risk is that otherwise, by the time the court turns to full-fledged ECM,not only will many of the benefits of e-Filing not materialize; but also the workarounds and tradeoffs will be difficult, painful and expensive to eliminate.  A wrinkled coat indeed.

The floor will hold a coat.  A document repository will hold documents.  As we have stressed many times, for courts to make “Paper On Demand” cost-effective and leverage its many advantages, they must implement ECM with workflow.  Just having a place to put the electronic documents is not enough.


[i] In addition to Capture, Process, Access, Integrate, Measure, and Store.  See What the Heck IS ECM, posted August 12, 2013.

[ii] For example, TrueFiling, from ImageSoft, includes  limited use license for industry-leading ECM system OnBase.