Last week, I wrote about the characteristics of a compliance-driven agency. This week, I want to connect those characteristics to key elements of document management solutions to illustrate how a document management system can help the compliance-driven agency.
Compliance is a concept that cuts across government agencies, levels and missions. And, you could argue, the records that demonstrate or describe how decisions were made are the cornerstone of every government. Unfortunately, realizing this lofty ideal comes at a time when every agency is reducing staff or costs or both, and asking how they can sustain and support compliance responsibilities with these reductions.
So, with such wide-ranging and grand responsibilities, how could document management help these agencies?
- No more filing and photocopying, reduced printing and storage – This is a key efficiency improvement for agencies because these tasks are traditionally considered low-value activities. In fact, they exist because of our reliance on paper. By moving away from paper, we not only save paper and printing costs, we AVOID tasks that do not serve our constituents directly.
- Central repository allows simultaneous access – When people think about how to “speed up government” one easy way is to remove the need for physical paper files to travel between staff or departments and allow people to access documents for a process. Document management allows simultaneous access, compressing the process timeframe because you no longer have to wait for documents to arrive on your desk to begin review.
- Multiple retrieval tools and no lost documents – Not losing documents may be the single greatest contribution document management can make to a compliance-driven agency. But what about finding documents? Analysts routinely estimate significant dollar costs and hours wasted as employees search for documents. This can be eliminated with document management. You can create a variety of retrieval options so that it becomes easy and fast, presenting the document in seconds. How fast could your staff move if they could access documents related to the data record they are reviewing in your case management system? And, if they could access that document with a double-click, could they learn that quickly, even while managing their ever-growing workload? With document management, the benefits of no lost documents are only superseded by the speed and flexibility of you and your staff’s retrieval options.
- Filing cabinets that “identify” missing documents – Many agencies use file checklists as handy reminders of what constitutes a complete file. Sometimes another department entirely is created to test files for completeness after they are assembled by first line staff. While this might address the needs of our funders (and their funding is important!), this is another place where we have committed staff time with little impact on our constituents. What if a document management system was in place that applied those checklists to the documentation in a virtual file cabinet and told the staff what was missing automatically? How much time could this save while enhancing your overall compliance?
- Exception reporting that supports internal compliance reviews – Earlier I mentioned that many agencies have created internal auditing, quality assurance or compliance departments as a result of the complexities of complying with their funders’ wishes. Document management helps reduce the number of people or hours committed to this function by simple exception reporting. This can take a variety of forms, but a great one is a document management system’s ability to tell you if a document is missing across the files of many or all of your projects or clients. Imagine you have instituted a procedure that requires collecting a new form and you need to collect the form retroactively. After the collection process begins, you can periodically run a report that examines your files and identifies who has not submitted the form. Or, imagine you are using a workflow process that automatically notifies staff of a needed document or when a document is received, and that same workflow “holds” an application until all needed documentation is received. This would allow continuing quality assurance without requiring you to staff it, reducing workloads while enhancing compliance.
And it all starts with document management and the power of that solution to examine your files quietly and automatically while you provide better customer service to your constituents. That is how government will survive the “New Normal”— by improving how it does its day-to-day tasks and letting technology, like document management, take on some of the burden.
Compliance is a theme that cuts across most government efforts. It has been present, and ever-increasing, for so long we under-estimate the effect it has on the allocation of time and resources in government. Government will continue to struggle to fund and staff paper-driven compliance methods created over the years. Solving this dilemma is easy with document management. And there are many entities out there we can learn from – once we understand that compliance-driven does not have to mean having paper files forever.