Digital file cabinets

How to re-engineer for automation

Digitizing paperwork and automating workflow in an office offers potential for saving time and money and improving productivity. But the outcome often depends largely on how well the underlying process has been designed.

“Automating a bad process doesn’t make it better,” said Katie Burke, government program strategist for Laserfiche. “It just makes it faster.”

Most business processes have built up over the years, originally designed for a manual, paper-based world and often including unnecessary duplication and steps that have been added at different times.

Enshrining such processes in a digital system wastes much of the opportunity offered by upgrading, and that means planning has to be done up front to ensure the outcome.

“That’s one of the challenges of going to any digital archiving product,” said Jerry Sawyer, senior program analyst at Durham County, N.C., where some departments have gone digital. It also is one of the advantages. “It forces the department to address the business process.”

The time and effort put into advance planning for a digital migration is up to each customer. If it is a new business line that does not have legacy practices in place, the process can be a relatively simple one of designing an efficient workflow from scratch. More often, planners have to look past “the way we’ve always done it” to find the unnecessary and see what is missing. This requires identifying goals, analyzing processes, white-boarding new options, testing new processes and reviewing results.

Burke says local governments have an advantage in this process because unlike businesses they are not in competition with each other. This means there is a higher level of sharing, and members of the Laserfiche user community within government help each other with creating effective business processes.

Change can be unwelcome in any environment, but when managed properly the results speak for themselves, Sawyer said. “Once they realize the benefits, they usually are happy with it,” he said. “It takes a while, but it does happen.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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