Technology is evolving quickly, and a lot of agencies are trying to keep up by adopting more online services. However, while more than a third of government employees perform fieldwork, most fieldworkers use paper-based processes to collect data during inspections.
The lack of efficiency in a paper-based process creates a hefty administrative burden for caseworkers who often have to fill out hundreds of forms daily and spend up to 50 percent of their work time on paperwork. This inefficient and expensive process leads to high turnover in government and detracts from mission-critical tasks.
In a recent GovLoop online training, Aaron Qayumi, Product Marketing Manager and Kim Larson, Solutions Consultant at Adobe described how agencies can employ digital platforms and improve mobile capabilities to increase efficiency for fieldworkers.
Fieldworkers perform various types of inspections ranging from food handling and service to buildings and facilities. Regardless of the inspection type, there are numerous commonalities in the way fieldworkers gather data and evidence with a paper-based system.
“A paper-based manual process usually includes a paper form, a digital camera for capturing evidence and documents, a storage application to store photos, and a business application that they enter data into,” Larson said. Because fieldworkers take notes with pen and paper, the process of entering data and evidence continues far after the initial inspection.
Upon returning to the office, fieldworkers will often scan or re-type their write-ups to input their data into the backend systems through a business application. Afterwards, they leverage the business application to manually generate a report.
Larson spoke of an agency that had fieldworkers performing inspections for 30 to 40 different programs with the paper-based system. While the fieldworkers were used to the paper-based forms, the lack of modernization coupled with the size of the inspection led to a lengthy and inefficient data input process that lasted 2 to 3 days.
The Digital Solution
With a digital-based process, agencies hope to improve efficiency by freeing up 1 to 2 hours a day for fieldworkers that would be reserved for non-inspection. The updated systems would not only increase productivity, but would also improve the quality of data, allow for automated inspection and review and increase the professionalism of the final reports. So, what would this digital process look like? Larson said that there are four primary components of modernizing the inspections process:
- A tablet or other mobile application that has offline mode capabilities.
- One or more inspection digital forms for data entry with offline entry and field validation.
- A workflow engine for automation of the inspection process and business application.
- A field inspection platform for web based interactions.
With the four primary components, fieldworkers can collect and input data with their mobile application instead of having to go through a lengthy copy-and paste process at the office. “This is not just about modernizing the process so that it’s easier to enter data, but streamlining the process so that data flows easily to the backend systems” Qayumi said. “Fieldworkers need to be able to load tasks and forms, and take notes and annotations on-site.”
Qayumi went on to explain how a digital inspection process can be made possible for agencies with the adoption of digitized forms like Adobe’s Experience Manager Forms. The digital forms can perform data capture, processing and output and can synchronize online and offline forms when fieldworkers have no Wi-Fi access on-site.
“One agency was able to move the entire process to a tablet with the Adobe Experience Manager Forms pre-loaded,” Qayumi said. “The forms are already connected to the back-end system of choice and repopulate the case information before the fieldworker goes to the site, therefore streamlining the inspection. Everything can then be delivered to the case manager seamlessly.”
The forms not only streamline the process, but reduce the amount of equipment needed. Instead of hauling around paper forms, clipboards, a camera and a separate storage drive, fieldworkers with digital forms can perform inspections with a tablet alone. The reduction in equipment creates money-saving opportunities for agencies. “Online digital services are 42 times more cost-efficient than manual services,” Qayumi said.
The process of adopting a digital-based inspection process will look different for every agency. “While there are commonalities there are a lot of differences in the type of data that is being collected,” Larson said. “Overall, customers are looking for a solution that offers flexibility and an application that will fit the agency’s specific needs.”
To make up for these differences, digital forms, like the Adobe Experience Manager Form, allow for customization and adaptability at different field sites. “Even though there is a central database, it is sometimes a problem that the different field locations don’t have standardized methods for collecting data,” Qayumi said. “There is a field-validation capability so it would be possible to only accept certain data input types which still allows for structured, consistent data.”
To prepare for the modernization process, Qayumi suggested using Adobe’s financial benefit calculator to compute the potential financial benefits of digital forms and to realistically benchmark your agency’s digital maturity before undergoing the process. “When it comes to costs and digital maturity, we work with agencies to figure out their requirements, what capabilities they need and how they will be deployed on their servers,” Larson said.
Largely, updating to digital forms can push agencies toward better overall practices “When you connect your frontline workers to your backline data, that is going to create outside returns in terms of your operational efficiency,” Qayumi said.