July and August used to be pretty rough times for my colleagues in community development. Each year, we would have to gather reports on projects funded with federal dollars. Some years we had a staggering 200 projects underway. In June, the information from this paper avalanche had to be manually entered into our database.
One day, during this blizzard of activity, I walked to my colleague’s cubicle. Her job was to get this data into the system in time to generate a report that had to be submitted to our federal funding agency. As I surveyed her space, I remember thinking that if government wanted to save money they could stop buying cube furniture and build offices out of files. She had 50+ files, some approaching 3-inches thick, keeping her company!
When I asked how she had room to work, she explained that walking to the file cabinet slowed her down. She had to refer to things in the files to enter and verify the data. A conscientious employee who took extra care to prepare an accurate report, she had developed an amazing coping strategy to handle the mountains of paper and accompanying data entry.
There, in a single moment with my co-worker, I saw the pain of paper. The great projects and good work detailed by it were completely lost on my colleague. This was because the paper made her job so hard that survival, and meeting that federal deadline, was all she could think about for months.
For all this annoyance, she was very comfortable with paper as it was all she’d ever known. After all, up until this point, she had manually typed every bit of data into a spreadsheet. This was her preferred method as she wasn’t a fan of the database we had been using. So moving her to a document management solution would require planning.
I was determined to find a solution that would allow us to scan all the paper, also referred to as document imaging, as it was received. In addition, it should allow cross-referencing of related documents. This way, my colleague only had to use her computer mouse to retrieve what she needed, sometimes by simply double clicking an image. This would save her cube from a paper blizzard and she could avoid walking to the files.
This somewhat lengthy description captures an important point about integration, the topic of my last post. To deploy effective government solutions, there has to be an intersection between documents and data. It’s not enough to simply capture and store information, as all this does is create disconnected silos that benefit no one – if they don’t make things worse. The key is to unite it in such a way that it can all work together.
To get to this point, though, requires that people learn how solutions actually make their jobs easier. It’s the only way they’ll willingly use it. This requires that technology fit how users work and supports their tasks in a way that realizes efficiencies.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the first time my colleague saw how application enabler (an integration module) performed, she almost cried. She finally wasn’t fighting with technology that she had to adjust to, the solution was crafted by our IT staff based on how she worked.
Because it did not require custom programming to integrate, we could make changes right in front of her based on her feedback. The ease of it directly supported her experience and the ability to adjust it quickly and cheaply helped inform me.
And to think that it all started with considering how to escape the paper and embrace the double-click!
Integrating document management and a database application can be that easy with the right approach and the right document management, or enterprise content management (ECM), software.
Next time, we’ll talk about the integration/automation combination as THE path to efficient and effective government. Stay tuned!