3 steps to streamlining government workflows

By Chris Strammiello

Too often, government agencies are not adequately dealing with the pervasive and expensive problems of security, control and access in their document-related workflows.

While rightfully concerned that their private and personal information is protected as required by law or regulation, citizens want options to engage with government online. At the same time, younger, more digitally literate employees are coming into the government workforce, anxious for new ways to create, share and apply information. Yet so much of government decision making and service delivery still remains mired in inefficient, unsecure and wasteful paper-based processes.

Tight budgets and conflicting priorities are part of the problem. Even when governments know that their document processes are out of date, they are less likely than the commercial sector to allocate funds to fix them. Where modernization projects do exist, according to analyst firm IDC, they are budgeted at low levels.

So documents remain a leading source of expense, inefficiency and risk. Some governments have started to deploy smart information technologies -- such as multifunction devices (MFDs), mobile phones and tablets -- through which they hope to realize process improvements.

Unfortunately, these devices can themselves be points of vulnerability, and agencies could find themselves out of compliance with information privacy and security requirements. Citizens’ legally protectable information is at risk every time a service- or benefit-related document is created, scanned, copied, printed, faxed or emailed.

In a global survey of 1,500 owners of document-driven processes, IDC found paper documents, rather than electronic information, to be the driver in 58 percent of government constituent-facing processes and 46 percent of internal or back-office processes. As extensively as government relies on paper, barely 36 percent of government respondents described these processes as efficient and effective.

Some everyday activities -- such as the processing of an application for government benefits or a freedom of information request -- illustrate three steps agencies can take to simplify and streamline workflows.

Digitize documents at the point of origin

Consider, for example, a citizen seeking public benefits who visits a government office with all of the materials needed to support the application -- including photo ID, proof of residence, financial information and more. A government worker initiates the application process, either reviewing the applicant’s manually completed form or entering information into the agency’s system to create an electronic form. To build a complete electronic application package, the government employee can scan all documents instantly and directly into the agency’s application processing system.

To ensure security, the employee is authenticated on the scanner by swiping a proximity ID card, or entering username and password or PIN number on the machine. With the worker securely logged in, the system displays options for authorized functions or predefined workflows. In this case, a workflow will route the scanned documents directly to the team in another location that reviews applications. Within seconds, an automated confirmation of the successful scan and transmittal can be received, including the total number and type of pages.

Automate complex, error-prone manual tasks

A second example comes to light when looking at the freedom of information process. When a FOI officer at an environmental regulatory agency responds to a reporter’s written request for copies of all correspondence on a recently decided matter, an authorized FOI workflow includes scanning the request, assigning a case number and barcode and routing it to offices where relevant documents might reside.

Scanning of the located documents automatically transforms data into standard formats without the user needing to know or specify any input or output settings. Also automated are routine, error-prone tasks such as batching, splitting, filing and indexing of scanned documents. Validation and filtering at the point of origin ensure accurate document handling and routing, including the immediate routing of documents requiring wet signatures.

After the requested FOI documents are securely captured, extracted and classified, they can be converted into full-text, searchable digital PDFs and securely routed for further review. Documents can be redacted both when scanned and when printed.

Accept documents from any input source

A third scenario looks at how commercially available technology allows the capture of documents from any input source, including scanner, email, fax, web forms and mobile devices so information in any format becomes part of a government application workflow.

For example, case workers can file electronic documents from tablets and laptops as they visit constituents to provide more personalized and efficient service. Speech-to-text apps for mobile devices can give users a faster and more accurate way to fill in forms than manual keying information on a small device’s touch screen.

Government staff can use smartphone and tablet cameras in place of scanners to capture paper documents and add them to the workflow. Using secure mobile apps for data entry or image capture can ensure nothing is stored in the device, minimizing the risk of information being compromised if the device is lost or stolen.

Taking a few easy steps to replace costly and non-compliant paper-based document processes with electronic document capture and distribution solutions can create more efficient and secure automated workflows. By doing so, government can gain control of their workflows to minimize risk and assure compliance, while at same time streamline processes and reduce costs.

Chris Strammiello is vice president of global alliances and strategic marketing, Nuance Communications.