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IT Modernization: Correspondence Management

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s Industry Perspective, “IT Modernization: Correspondence Management

In today’s ever-connected world, constituents have increasingly high expectations that their federal, state and local agencies will provide exceptional service. Many agencies struggle, however, with creating good citizen experiences – particularly in the correspondence management arena.

That’s why more agencies are aligning their correspondence needs with new and innovative cloud technologies. A cloud-based correspondence management system (CMS) can help reduce IT overhead and streamline existing processes, while empowering government employees to provide exceptional service and adhere with compliance regulations like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

To better understand what a good CMS can yield in government, GovLoop partnered with Avtex, a leading company in customer service and correspondence management. Sam Thepvongs, Vice President of Public Sector at Avtex, provides insight on what features an agency should seek in a CMS solution.

Government agencies process hundreds of requests per day. In fact, the federal government overall received 713,168 FOIA requests in 2015 alone. With all these inquiries and demands from citizens come a number of challenges to achieving better correspondence management.

Regardless of your level of government, you’ve probably encountered frustration in your communications systems. Boxes of mail piled high for an incoming administration, with no instructions as to how to respond; prolonged outages because old computer systems are down and email chains with too many attachments to keep track of the original requestor are common scenarios that make it difficult to handle constituent requests. Why?

First, many requests for government agencies must be approved and passed through multiple departments before being processed. “One request may prompt multiple requests throughout an organization,” Thepvongs said. “The request goes across multiple approval chains and the challenge for agencies is that they may live in a single email system to manage that activity.”

With so many siloed departments and different pairs of eyes on a single request, it becomes difficult to communicate in a timely manner and effectively respond to the constituent’s request.

Second, many agencies have on-premises email systems and case file systems that are disparate and lack consistent platforms to help address requests. Hardware applications often need regular maintenance and don’t integrate with third-party vendor systems. Information from such applications then has to be manually processed, but employees lack visibility on the entire lifecycle of the request, and therefore only have pieces of the picture. This ultimately contributes to unnecessary back and forth between employees trying to figure out point persons on the request as well as status.

The number of low-level inquiries can then build up over time because there is no self-service mechanism or speedier way for employees to interact with such correspondence. A simple constituent inquiry, such as checking on the status of a passport, may get lost in the trenches because there is no single system that can organize and prioritize correspondence accordingly.

Additionally, this can result in serious security vulnerabilities as constituent personally identifiable information (PII) may be passed back and forth between disparate systems or end up sitting in a folder somewhere under piles of other paperwork.

Such security vulnerabilities present additional challenges for better correspondence management in government, including compliance with federal laws. Agencies need correspondence management systems that comply with federal regulations like the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), which requires agencies to use low-risk and low-impact cloud solutions, or the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), where agencies must be able to protect sensitive information, like PII. Not only are agencies legally required to comply with such regulations, but failure to do so can also result in serious consequences, such as data breaches or loss of trust from citizens for failing to protect sensitive information.

In order for government to overcome these challenges, agencies need a comprehensive CMS that can help streamline processes and protect sensitive information all while helping deliver better citizen services. A CMS solution can help your agency achieve high-quality correspondence management and citizen service delivery.

Picture your ideal correspondence scenario: A constituent makes a request. It is automatically processed and routed by a system to the right employee to address the request based on the employee’s subject matter expertise. Users can find all the information they need right within the request rather than having to dig through a pile of paperwork or disparate computer systems to pull up the information.

Each request guides them through the correspondence process so that the agency employee knows where he left off and does not have to guess as to what steps come next. Document templates can then automatically generate content, which is saved to the cloud for use with collaboration tools across multiple departments. Groups can kickstart research and responses accordingly.

With a comprehensive CMS, team leads no longer have to toss assignments over a wall and wait for a response. Groups can collaborate and communicate in real time, gain insights from their team, ask questions, co-author documents and stay on top of deadlines.

Meanwhile, constituents aren’t left wondering when they can expect a response. Using the correspondence request portal, they can opt in to receive notifications or proactively monitor the progress of their requests, ask questions and browse frequently requested documents.

Back at the agency, the documents are completed and ready for review. A CMS that uses automated intelligence knows exactly who to notify for review, approval and signatures. Once signed, the correspondence can be released to the requestor.

A comprehensive correspondence management system ultimately improves an agency’s responsiveness, efficiency and level of service to constituents. With the right CMS solution, an agency can:

» Reduce IT overhead and manage the complexity of requests. “An agency should have a CMS that can help manage the entire lifecycle of a request while keeping track of the approval process a request has to go through,” Thepvongs said. Rather than having to go through a number of different on-premises applications and computer systems to retrieve a few documents or check who’s on the team for a single request, a CMS can streamline everything and everyone connected to a request in one platform. Additionally, a CMS can automatically remind teams working on a request about upcoming tasks so they can be done in a timelier fashion rather than having employees manually comb through information.

» Provide exceptional service and user experience. “You need a platform that is consistent across familiar systems, like the Microsoft Cloud,” Thepvongs said. Modern CMS solutions offer integration with productivity and collaboration tools that the agency already has in place, allowing employees to easily get up to speed learning the technology.

» Maintain accountability and transparency with more visibility on requests. Citizens expect consistency with responses to their inquiries. Regardless of whether a request is made through a phone call, email or web portal, an efficient CMS can help agencies handle requests consistently by providing all employees with a view of where requests are in the correspondence process and what has been said on the topic at hand. Additionally, constituents have the ability to track progress made on their requests.

» Comply with federal regulations. “Government has to make security the forefront of what modern technology adheres to,” Thepvongs said. A CMS solution offers the ability to integrate with systems familiar to agency employees while still leveraging advantages of the cloud. Additionally, a CMS can accomplish this all while maintaining compliance with governmentwide laws and regulations.

Ultimately, an efficient CMS can help streamline IT and work processes for handling requests, equip agencies to deliver timelier and more efficient responses, maintain accountability and visibility for teams involved on requests and adhere to important legal regulations. CMS provides government agencies with the tools to stay agile by delivering correspondence on time to meet and exceed constituent expectations.

 

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