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How to Make Digital Documents Work for You

Many government agencies still rely heavily on paper. For example, to process millions of visa applications each year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services handles documents that have been scanned and entered into a case management system for a human adjudicator to review.

“You have a human operator reading 40 to 50 pages of documentation per visa applicant,” said Matthew Macnak, Director of Federal Technology Strategy at Instabase, a company that automates the processing of unstructured documents such as PDFs, spreadsheets and Microsoft Word files. “Imagine doing that thousands of times a day. There’s a lot of cognitive fatigue. You’re probably only capturing the bare minimum data that you need to make your eligibility determination.”

Instead, agencies can apply a platform to identify and digitize information they need in a repeatable manner that scales to meet enterprise demands. Adjudicators can quickly find what they need, clearing backlogs and moving application approvals and denials through faster.

Defining Digital

Digital-first efforts are underway in government agencies. A 2019 memo from the National Archives and Records Administration and the White House mandated electronic recordkeeping by Dec. 31, 2022, although that will likely extend to June 2024.

But Macnak said meeting those mandates doesn’t require true digitization. “Agencies are required to create a digital copy of the physical paper documents,” he said. “You’re not solving the human review problem because people still have to read the digitized files page by page to access the data to adjudicate a given file.”

Agencies need to apply intelligent document processing and extraction to those scanned documents to facilitate access for people who need them.

3 Steps to Digital

Macnak recommends three steps agencies should take to truly become digital:

  1. Understand which processes require human review of unstructured data and prioritize which are most important to automate with data extraction.
  2. Digitize unstructured data so it can be applied to a process you want to automate.
  3. Determine the use cases to tackle.

Additionally, he said, agencies need subject-matter experts to participate in the solution development process. These SMEs are critical to developing an efficient solution and need to have an understanding of the organization’s operational procedures. The development process also requires a building-blocks approach that lets those experts ultimately develop digital processes themselves.

“These SMEs help integrate solutions into the operational processes to ensure that you’re achieving the outcomes and the efficiency that make an impact on the overall problem,” Macnak said.

How Instabase Helps

Instabase combines tools such as AI and optical character recognition in a simple-to-use workflow, and helps organizations automate processes that revolve around manually reviewing documentation. This helps agencies accelerate mission outcomes by freeing data trapped in unstructured documents.

“Ultimately we want to free up subject-matter experts to concentrate on mission outcomes instead of manually reviewing and entering data,” Macnak said.”

This article appears in our guide, “Agency of the Future: How New Possibilities are Emerging in the Present.” To read more about how agencies are anticipating future needs, download it here.

Image by Vlada Karpovich on pexels.com

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