Viewpoints

Technology ushers governments into the age of the digital office

by American City & County Contributor
Apr 25, 2017

By Tim Wacker

One challenge all public sector organizations share is the growing crisis in staffing levels due to accelerating retirement rates and tight budgets. The Congressional Research Service reported that nearly half of state workers were between 45 and 64 years old in 2014. Another report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence shows that governments are already experiencing an uptick in retirements; 54 percent of respondents reported higher retirements in 2015 than in 2014.

This growing government workforce crisis creates a big concern for how to handle workloads that continue to expand with population growth, new projects, new laws to implement or more citizens needing more complex services. This “silver tsunami” threatens to wipe out decades of institutional knowledge, leaving remaining staff struggling to preserve and transfer organizational know-how. 

Rather than go through costly hiring and training of new staff, a growing number of government agencies are deploying document management software to automate the repetitive manual tasks that historically have made up so much of records management.

This business process automation functionality is moving governments far past eliminating paper and resulting  by:

  • Reducing time lags and bottlenecks for approval, especially for routine processes that use standard forms

  • Enabling easy retrieval of older or archived documents for case management, current projects or public records requests

  • Ensuring authorized users see all content they need to respond to constituent requests or make decisions

Business process automation is particularly rewarding because there are so many processes that can be improved—and no end to the gains that can be achieved. Here, three local government initiatives show what governments can gain from automated processes. 

This year, Newport Beach, Calif., completed an enterprise wide document management software deployment that was so successful that its city hall is making further plans to expand the system. This is becoming a frequent experience among governments embracing this technology: the more organizations do with business process automation, the more they discover they can do.

Newport Beach has automated myriad business processes including an email system with user alerts, and the compilation of department reports into municipal meeting agendas. An integration with the city’s ERP system let the city also automate payroll and utility billing. Over 75 percent of Newport Beach government recordkeeping is done electronically; it’s expected to hit 95 percent in the next few months. Another 50 to 60 percent of the processing of those electronic records in city hall has been automated. The city estimates it is saving $500,000 a year through its efforts while improving service without the need to add new staff.

Durham County, NC, automated more than 80 business processes across a dozen different departments over the past five years. The successes achieved so far have every county department seeking to automate their manual tasks and save money over the years, while opening the door for new uses not previously envisioned.

Boca Raton, Fla.’s use of web forms to replace paper forms and automation of manual tasks has taken the field purchase order process entirely paperless. The new process saves 22,000 pieces of paper annually. In addition, the time spent updating status reports has been reduced by 99 percent, saving the city an estimated 7,500 staff hours annually. 

As these three cases show, the document management challenge isn’t just about records management; it’s also about streamlining review and approval processes to help employees work more efficiently and deliver services more effectively. This will leave a whole new generation of government workers to focus on more important responsibilities: providing faster, smarter public service and serving as better stewards of public funds. 

 

Tim Wacker is a technical writer for NBN Communications, a writing and research services company based in New York. He can be reached at Tim.wacker@nbnpresscom.com

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