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Is poor document management to blame for public-sector inefficiencies?

Inefficiencies in the government have been the source of jokes and complaints for years. But with the Department of Transportation forming a committee on automation, it seems like government is catching onto what businesses have been doing for a while – making processes faster, simpler and more effective so employees can focus on more important tasks. While this committee will focus only on automated vehicles, it’s a step in the right direction.

The endless DMV line has become one of the most recognizable tropes in pop culture. Irritated government workers and frustrated citizens are just symptoms of a manual, paper-based environment whose organizational procedures that were established when the cloud’s only definition was atmospheric. Many public-sector organizations have made strides to digitize their paper records, but they still haven't been able to take advantage of the efficiencies that comes from automation. Reducing the paper trail only help so much if critical functions are still conducted manually.

As they move toward true digital transformation, government agencies should follow the example of the business world and overhaul their record management systems, but it’s no easy task. Many local and smaller government agencies rely on manual approaches to handling, updating and sharing records, leading to inefficiency, high labor costs, data vulnerabilities and public frustration.

Modern document management process can help alleviate several public-sector challenges:

Money management. Politicians have promoted the idea of treating government like a business since America’s early days. With agency budgets being stretched to their limits, eliminating financial waste, fraud and abuse are top of mind. But the road to achieving these goals looks different in every case. At one time, throwing money at projects kept constituents happy, but as regulations grow stricter and in-depth audits and reviews grow more common, manual record-keeping -- where each document is reviewed, copied and approved by hand – slows progress further.

With standardized document management processes, the public sector can serve constituents with speed and quality. For example, automated workflows can help government offices identify delays and eliminate bottlenecks when communicating across teams or when routing documents across agencies. By introducing modern document management processes, government agencies can mitigate the chaos that comes with working across departments, foster greater transparency and minimize costs and response times.

Increasing regulatory pressures. Compliance extends beyond Wall Street and Washington as all organizations struggle to follow new and evolving regulations. The real struggle, however, begins with the challenge of communicating with government bodies. Any action that requires approval or documentation can lead to tedious, incomplete processes.

When manual document management practices reign, trying to accomplish a task as simple as obtaining a vital record or applying for a passport can lead to endless aggravation. Even citizens can guide a document through the required steps, errors and delays can be introduced, demolishing any attempt at transparency. The same holds true for businesses that need government zoning or utility approvals prior to breaking ground. With informal, highly manual review processes, new construction can be held in limbo.

Modern document management solutions help governments interact with the public faster, uniformly and clearly. They also contribute to a more honest government, removing much of the human factor from the compliance process.

Opportunities for corruption. It’s easy to blame politics or shady characters for public-sector corruption, but this is often a symptom of a lack of accountability, stemming from weak transparency and magnified by unclear procedures. Manual document-handling processes leave too much room for interpretation (without the proper controls or oversight), creating opportunities for unethical behavior.  

Implementing digital document workflows eliminates this risk almost entirely. An automated workflow creates a routing hierarchy that must be followed, making inconsistencies easy to identify and review.

Automating the public sector

To date, businesses have led the charge in document management and workflow automation practices. It’s time for the public sector to follow suit. Aside from the potential boost in efficiency, the government stands to benefit from increased transparency, reduced perception of regulatory subjectivity and lower overall costs.

About the Author

Erik Severinghaus is chief strategy officer at SpringCM, a document management solutions company.

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