Mar 16 2023

States Can Start with Digital Documents to Prepare for IT Modernization

Digitization pays immediate dividends for citizen services and employee operations.

As state governors set their technology agendas for 2023, many are seeking to capitalize on available budgets with incremental IT modernization initiatives. One such example is the governor of Washington’s request that state agencies pitch “a short-term, low-risk, high-reward project idea to update outdated applications.”

States are likely seeking sound, pragmatic modernization projects due to two systemic factors: a lack of funding and issues with change management. The allocation of funds is a notorious challenge throughout all levels of the public sector given competing agency priorities and an endless number of worthwhile causes. Additionally, state governments are often hesitant to undergo major IT modernization efforts because of the potential disruptions to critical daily operations.

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One initiative that meets the criteria and addresses these challenges is reducing states’ reliance on paper-based systems via migration to digital forms, documents, signatures and workflows.

A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Technology Engagement Center report found that using paper forms cost the federal government $38.7 billion dollars every year. A 2019 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that about 80 percent of the federal government’s $90 billion IT budget was used to operate and maintain existing IT investments, including legacy systems.

According to the GAO, as these legacy systems age, they “can be more costly to maintain, more exposed to cybersecurity risks and less effective in meeting their intended purpose.” State governments should look to make the transition to digital processes sooner rather than later to avoid the cost associated with legacy systems, which will undoubtedly need to be upgraded.

Digitization Is Advantageous Both for Citizens and Employees

The benefits of digital documents extend far beyond long-term cost savings, process efficiencies and improved cybersecurity. Citizen experience  — a primary focus for all government agencies following the 2021 customer experience executive order — can be greatly enhanced through the adoption of digital documents and e-signatures.

For example, the Chamber of Commerce report concluded that the public spent 10.5 billion hours on government paperwork in 2021 alone. Most citizen interactions with the government require the citizen to fill out at least one form, and often multiple forms. An intuitive digital document experience would allow citizens to access the resources they need more easily and quickly. These improvements would substantially boost the citizen experience and strengthen the public’s faith in government to serve them effectively and efficiently.

Similar benefits can be realized on the employee experience side. Digitizing documents, signatures and workflows is a relatively straightforward upgrade for state agencies, particularly when implementing a solution that can integrate with existing government technology. State agencies can progress toward broader modernization objectives without risking major disruptions to their daily processes. The goal is to make it easy for people and organizations to create, edit, share, scan and sign digital documents to communicate and collaborate securely across devices.

While the improvements to the citizen experience and the employee experience are plentiful, there are a few critical factors that agencies must account for when kicking off a document digitization initiative.

DIVE DEEPER: Why state and local services should consider an agile approach to digital services.

Key Considerations for Successful Digital Document Transformation

Equitable access to government services is another priority area throughout the public sector that document digitization can help achieve. Many Americans rely on mobile devices to access the internet, and these individuals are often the ones in the greatest need of government services and resources. When moving away from paper-based forms, it’s imperative that government organizations ensure that digital documents are accessible and easy to navigate on mobile devices and that they meet Section 508 requirements.

In addition to accessibility, cybersecurity is very important. Without veracity certifications and encryption, PDFs can be impersonated and are vulnerable to malicious edits or metadata spillage. Given the sensitive nature of government and citizen data, state leaders should use solutions that ensure document authenticity via encryption and by removing or redacting sensitive metadata before publication. Once security is assured, the benefits of document digitization are numerous.

Many state-level government organizations are interested in incremental IT improvements rather than sweeping system overhauls. Such organizations should consider joining established public sector partners that can provide a broad set of solutions to support the digital document, signature and workflow journey. A scalable partnership can improve interoperability while helping to ramp up an organization's digital transformation over time. 

Khanchit Khirisutchalual/ Getty Images

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