NIST automates work processes, adds digital forms and signatures

NIST automates work processes, adds digital forms and signatures

By Drew Robb

Special to GCN

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is implementing a wide-ranging workflow program that is more ambitious than the paperless goals of many agencies.

The project will put standardize forms online and institute digital signatures. Its successful conclusion could eventually lead to the evolution of a set of e-government standards and best practices, officials said.

'It's our mission to provide standards to the rest of government,' said Rick Quintero, senior technical adviser in NIST's Information Technology Laboratory in Gaithersburg, Md.

'Through the lessons learned on this project, we will be better able to help government fulfill its Government Paperwork Elimination Act obligations,' he said.

NIST is charged with strengthening the economy and improving quality of life by helping to develop and apply technology measurements and standards. The agency works with industry through four programs.

NIST deals directly with thousands of customers in industry'providing calibration and other measurement services and materials, co-funding to support high-risk research and development, and assistance on technical issues and best practices.

High on its agenda are GPEA and electronic signatures.

To develop Federal Information Processing Standards for the rest of government, NIST has begun a pilot to get its own GPEA house in order. Within the agency, paper-based processes meant forms took days to get all necessary sign-offs and hampered overall efficiency.

'It could take a week or more for some forms to make it through the lines, depending on the number of approvals required,' Quintero said.

The new project has four goals:

• Converting manual processes to automated workflows

• Creating 220 automated forms

• Routing information online

• Initiating digital and electronic signatures.

To research the options and manage the initial pilot, NIST turned to Materials, Communication and Computers Inc., an Alexandria, Va., integrator and software developer. MATCOM created the program for 100 employees'93 in Gaithersburg and seven in NIST's Boulder, Colo., facility'that automates daily tasks such as credit card purchase approvals, work orders for internal offices, time and attendance approvals, and local travel reimbursement.

MATCOM chose two products from Entrust Technologies Inc. of Plano, Texas, and HandySoft Corp. of Falls Church, Va. HandySoft provides BizFlow-2000, an enterprise workflow system to create and route the electronic forms.

GUI guide

Users will be able to fill out 220 standard forms electronically, as well as track the approval status of completed forms. The system will guide users with a graphical interface and automated tasks, such as routing the form to the next recipient in the chain of command, or filling in unchanging information in relation to on other fields in the form.

Rather than adopt a comprehensive suite, however, NIST chose tightly focused workflow elements.

'It can be extremely expensive to re-engineer all your business rules and purchase a complete workflow package,' Quintero said.

As well as eliminating a significant cost burden, the agency chose to automate only the forms directly related to four workflow schedules. The forms have built-in intelligence that can automatically complete forms with data from agency databases.

Though the remaining 208 forms are not fully intelligent, they can be moved electronically on an ad hoc routing system that is part of BizFlow-2000.

The second major component of the NIST system is public-key infrastructure technology from Entrust Technologies. It verifies the identity of the user before any form can be sent to the next recipient. Technical support is supplied to NIST by Dichroma Inc. of Alexandria, Va.

MATCOM was scheduled to complete implementation this fall. One automated workflow process and a block of more than 50 forms are introduced every few weeks until all 220 forms and four manual processes are converted to the automated workflow system.

'If it meets our expectations, we will be rolling it out across our agency to over 3,000 employees,' Quintero said.

The total cost of implementation and piloting is expected to be less than $200,000, MATCOM officials said.

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