Jan 04 2021

How Cloud-Based Document Management Supports Remote Government

Swapping papers is difficult when you’re not in the office, so state governments depend on digital systems for file access.

As COVID-19 reared its head last spring, many state governments scrambled to provide their newly teleworking employees access to the files required to do their jobs outside of the office. That wasn’t the case in North Dakota, however, where Chuck Picard is the state’s enterprise electronic document management system coordinator.

“Luckily, we were way ahead of the game,” says Picard, noting that North Dakota has for many years looked to digitize its paper processes as much as possible. The state moved about 7,000 workers out of their offices when the coronavirus hit, he says. However, “because we were already mostly ­electronic in terms of our records and other content, nothing really changed.”

“Especially now, everybody’s racing to the cloud,” says Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Mark Bowker. The pandemic helped drive cloud adoption as agencies looked for a path to moving employees safely offsite. “It’s also accelerated the need for self-service on the part of the public, and that increasingly involves cloud solutions,” Bowker adds.

Citizens have been perfectly clear they’d like governments to require less in-person interaction and less paperwork during the pandemic, Bowker says.

“No one likes waiting in line to renew their dog license or taking an afternoon off to go to the registry of motor ­vehicles,” Bowker says. Now, with the coronavirus — and the need for social distancing — agencies have taken ­advantage of online services to disrupt conventional workflows that once required a paper trail.

How Cloud-Based Content Management Helps States 

For North Dakota, going paperless isn’t just about helping employees work — it’s also about improving customer service. “These solutions we’re using and the digital practices we’ve adopted enable us to serve citizens in a more seamless way,” Picard says.

In addition to the IBM technologies the state relies upon for content management, it also turned to cloud-based e-signature tools including DocuSign and Adobe Sign to make it easier to complete digital forms, for example. “This is the world that we live in; this is what people want and expect,” Picard says.

If someone needs a certain document, they can obtain it thanks to two IBM solutions targeting content management, Picard says. IBM FileNet Content Manager provides the North Dakota IT team with low-code developer tools and application programming interfaces that allow them to automate information extraction from stored documents and content. Meanwhile, IBM Content Navigator is a web client that enables employees to work with documents stored in FileNet repositories.

If a citizen has a question about a tax return, for example, “the employee in the tax department would need access to all the content related to that return,” Picard says. Much of that data can be found in the department’s system of record, but supporting documentation like business invoices are kept in a FileNet repository.

10 million

The projected number of sheets of paper saved between January 2015 and July 2021 through Hawaii’s Office of Enterprise Technology Services’ Paper Reduction Program

Source: ets.hawaii.gov, “State’s Paper Reduction Pilot Program Saves Money, Resources,” July 20, 2018

“Our application integrations let that employee go from the system of record back to the repository without having to switch between applications,” Picard says. As long as they have an internet connection, “everything they need is at their fingertips, no ­matter where they are.”

Implementing holistic, end-to-end paperless strategies has many facets, however, and North Dakota is not alone in facing accounting challenges such as transitioning traditional payables functions into a fully paperless environment. The North Dakota Information Technology Department is actively working to address any hurdles.

EXPLORE: What does it mean for a state government to be cloud smart? 

States Enable Documentation from a Distance

It was a different kind of public health emergency that initially found Kristopher Stenson, state records manager with the Oregon State Archives, touting the potential benefits of his department’s electronic document and records management system. The cloud-based Oregon Records Management Solution, which the state established in 2011, gives state and local agencies across the Beaver State Software as a Service access to an EDRMS tool called Micro Focus Content Manager.

“In the early days, we had to sell this pretty hard because it was seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘need to have,’” Stenson says. 

That hasn’t been the case in recent months, ­however, as first the coronavirus and then rampant wildfires each took their toll on the state.

“Now, there’s more recognition this is a critical business function. When a fire wipes out your town, if you don’t have remote records access, what are you going to do?” he adds. Social distancing has also heightened awareness of ORMS’ advantages.

MORE FROM STATETECH: How has the pandemic opened doors for cloud-based data collection and analysis?

Technology Helps Cut Down on Paper Processes

Through the ORMS interface, users can simply drag and drop electronic and scanned physical records into designated folders. Once a record is stored and categorized in the secure system, it can be easily located and retrieved by employees — and, if it doesn’t have access restrictions, becomes available to citizens through a basic web query.

“There’s a massive business case for a solution like this or for anything that reduces paper processes,” Stenson says. ORMS allows agencies to manage ­everything from internal emails and contracts to property deeds in a ­cost-effective and efficient way, he notes.

“When you think about the ­alternative, it can be ludicrous: You send something in electronic form to ­somebody else. They print it and fill it out and send it back so it can be scanned back in. Then, another person prints it out yet again just so they can sign it too?” Stenson says.

Stenson says around 80 Oregon ­agencies depend on ORMS now, and more are inquiring about the service all the time. “Usually, they come to us with a specific problem.” When they do, “we tell them we have a technology that can help,” he say

Getty Images: powerofforever (building), PM Images and Demianastur (paper)