We’ve all had to fill out a government form at some point. Whether you’re applying for a driver’s license or enrolling in a government health benefit, you are required to fill out a form that will often need to be printed and signed.
Not only are these paper-based processes, inefficient but they are also costly for citizens and agencies.
The good news is that many agencies are going digital and paperless. But how do they start the process?
GovLoop sat down with a panel of experts to discuss how agencies are moving to digital solutions, the challenges they face in deploying them and their best practices. GovLoop spoke with:
- Mariela Melero, Associate Director of Customer Service and Public Engagement for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Aaron Qayumi, Product Marketing Manager, Adobe
- Richard Calentine, Senior Value Engineer, Adobe
Here are some of the top ways agencies can benefit from going paperless:
1. Address diverse customer needs. At USCIS, Melero discussed her agency’s challenge of managing various transactions. From green cards to work permits, USCIS handles 3,700 applications per month and 8 million transactions per year throughout 86 distributed offices. To handle this amount, the agency developed a customer service website to meet its diverse audience.
“Because of the diversity of our customers, one solution is not going to work,” Melero said. In order to successfully handle the volume of transactions and meet all the various customer needs, USCIS built a complete online delivery model that combines in-person service, customer service tools and social media outlets. It offers both transactional and non-transactional services, where a chatbot named Emma is available 24/7 to answer questions. For transactional customers, USCIS has a user-friendly portal that can help with filing and processing documents — decreasing the chances of human error.
“Listening to customers is critical,” Melero said. “You can’t launch a digital platform without assessing effectiveness, so listen to the customers.” Using web analytics tools can help you look at user pathways and roadblocks on your online portal. She also recommended hosting in-person customer focus groups and surveys and stressed the importance of being empathetic.
2. More streamlined processes. Many government forms are complex and involve multiple steps. Going paperless allows agencies the opportunity to improve operations within their departments and stay more organized and connected. Putting forms on a single platform can create a more efficient and centralized management system, eliminating a multi-step and complex process that travels throughout different departments.
It’s important to build a model that can handle the lifecycle of a document from end-to-end. Making the process more streamlined also prevents costly revisions. “It starts with good mobile support to ensure the security and accurate tracking of documents,” Qayumi said. You want to make it easy for customers to search for forms and create a streamlined process for completing and signing forms.
When it comes to security, going paperless allows for more granular decisions about how to secure different documents. For PDF’s, security can be applied in a way where you can decide who has access to what, inside and outside the organization.
3. Multi-platform optimization. Across agencies, the trends driving innovation and improvement are based greatly on the power of the internet and the proliferation of mobile devices. It’s becoming more important that citizens are able to access information wherever they are. “We’re in a world where self-service, multi-device and on-the-go access is the norm,” Qayumi said. By going paperless, agencies can turn to digital platforms to enhance the user experience.
Focus on taking mission-critical forms and making sure they are optimized for mobile devices. This includes having options like pre-filling a form with user information, document attachment features and e-signatures. This ensures greater user experience that will make navigating the digital platform successful.
4. Greater cost and time efficiency. Like USCIS, many agencies have multiple forms — sometimes hundreds. When these forms are on paper, the entire process from completing the forms to submitting and filing them can be time-consuming and costly. Going paperless enables agencies to save money on printing, scanning and postage, and customers can expect faster response and processing. It can also increase your agency’s budget and allow for greater time spent on higher-priority issues.
“You first want to be able to understand what percent of existing processes involve paper,” Qayumi suggested. It’s important to make sure transformation efforts are focused in areas that will have the greatest return.
But this type of transformation won’t happen overnight. “Change takes time,” Melero said. “It may even require a cultural shift, but it’s worth it.” If your agency is having a hard time getting started, prioritize what needs to be changed first. Create a supportive team that will onboard ideas and demonstrate value by showing the savings potential of going paperless.
“In today’s government, the focus is on value,” Calentine said. Making the digital transformation will not only cut down on paper and cost but also time and effort that can be geared toward improving citizens’ lives.