When Shonte Eldridge was a city employee, it could take six months for her to order a box of pencils because of a lengthy procurement process that required many signatures. And when a COBOL-based financial system needed fixing, the city had to bring in a former worker from their retirement home because they were the only person who knew how to fix it.
“That is not efficient. That is not good government,” said Eldridge, who today is Senior Director of State and Local Government Strategy Leader at DocuSign, speaking during a recent GovLoop online training titled “How to Fix Slow and Inefficient Processes at Your Agency.”
The pandemic made such inefficiency even more glaring – and constituents less tolerant of it. “During COVID, they were able to get a mop, a microwave and a yoga mat in two hours, and now it takes them six months to figure out if their application they sent for housing was even accepted. That’s unacceptable,” Eldridge said.
This ineffectiveness comes at a price. For example, a study has found that employees lose about 1.8 hours a day searching for information and documents, while corporations spend about $120 billion yearly on printed forms, most of which are outdated within three months.
Despite those statistics, government workers make common excuses for avoiding change, Eldridge said. The three most common are:
- Change is too hard. “You have people in government sometimes who’ve been there 30, 40 [years or] longer,” she said. “I think government is still one of those industries where people still do a career in one city or one state.”
- My people will not change. “People sometimes don’t change because they don’t understand the process or they don’t understand the why,” Eldridge said.
- It’s going to take too long. “Are some of these processes going to take a long time to change? Yes. But there are ways to do it incrementally,” she said.
4 Steps to Improving Processes
Inefficient processes are rampant, but they don’t have to be, Eldridge said. She provided a four-step approach to making processes faster, simpler and easier for both constituents and public-sector workers.
- Identify your critical functions. These are the functions that would cause an agency, department or entire government system to shut down if they break. Determine what those functions are and then prioritize them based on what would cause the most harm.
- Identify key stakeholders. Ask yourself these questions: Who has influence over the process? Who could detail the new process? Who is impacted by the process? (Hint: Everybody.) Eldridge recommends using a stakeholder matrix or analysis, widely available online, to help.
- Map business process. Establish what happens from the beginning to the end of the process, who is responsible for what at each stage, and what bottlenecks or gaps exist. “This is the part of the process that is probably most critical because it’s going to help you highlight what are our opportunities, what technology can we deploy, and maybe who or what doesn’t need to be involved anymore,” Eldridge said.
- Document the business case and align it to mission. Use a checklist that DocuSign and GovLoop created to help agencies make the case for a new workflow solution. It must state why you are doing this and how will it benefit constituents. “If that’s not written down, the odds of you having that may not be as strong,” Eldridge said.
Philadelphia: Digitizing as a Matter of Necessity
Sara Hall, Director of Digital Services for Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology, tackles inefficiency in the City of Brotherly Love by not just digitizing paper-based forms, but simplifying the processes associated with them.
One particularly challenging project came when the pandemic hit. Employees who came into the city to work would get wage tax taken out of their paychecks, but because they weren’t coming into they city, they were eligible for refunds. The process for applying for and receiving the money was wholly paper-based: applicants submitted a paper form plus their W-2 and an eligibility form.
The office was asked to digitize the form. “That was not hard,” Hall said. “The hard part was the processes before and after.”
Before COVID, the city would process about 300 to 400 of these submissions each year, but that jumped to 19,000 during the health crisis.
“We knew that we needed to make it more accessible, one, and, two, ensure that we were able to handle the volume,” Hall said. “It ended up taking a lot more resources than I think anyone anticipated.”
The benefits were worthwhile in the form of more complete and accurate forms. For instance, Hall’s team put validation on fields so that if a box asked for a Social Security number, it required nine digits and would flag the user if they entered fewer.
The experience gave her the business case she needed to ask the city to implement a digital forms team that now offers digital forms as a service to departments. “We see that we will be wanting to move a lot more paper forms into the digital realm, but that [isn’t just] a one-to-one translation. It involves process change as well,” Hall said.
She offered three best practices for making this happen:
- Understand that not everyone is ready for change. “If we’re having a conversation with you and you don’t even know who’s involved in processing or where the data goes or what you do with the information, then maybe it’s time to take a step back,” she said. Additionally, if the department doesn’t have the resources to sustain the changes, it may not be the right time to make them.
- Understand the process outside the form. This includes how people get to and submit the form, who receives it and how they get it, and what happens to the information.
- Refine the flow and make it easy. Hall’s team worked on a form that had qualifying questions midway through the form rather than at the top. That meant someone went through about nine steps before they found out they weren’t eligible to even submit the form.
The message from both Eldridge and Hall is that change is hard, but not impossible and usually necessary. To approach it, just do it. “Just get started. Are you going to make mistakes? Absolutely,” Eldridge said. “You have to just try. You have to start somewhere.”
This online training sponsored by: