As we pointed out in the introduction to this blog series, Enabling Missions Success with RPA, AI, and Common Sense, data is the “central, fundamental component of every program.” Public and private organizations are striving to manage the onslaught of input and documents in a rapidly changing operational landscape. This critical task has made establishing a comprehensive data maturity model more important than ever. For organizations striving to replace outdated data management strategies reliant on paper-based and human-driven processes, digital transformation is a logical step.
NT Concepts excels at helping government agencies evolve from laborious, manual document management to dynamic paperless processes that are purpose-designed and capable of meeting immediate demands, as well as adapting for the future. In particular, our automation philosophy addresses client concerns and solves their distinct challenges by advancing a machine-driven, human-supported approach. Working closely with the client, we design and implement solutions that simplify digital transformation and thoughtfully move the organization to complete robotics process automation (RPA) and business process automation (BPA).
Strategy before software
Put simply, digital transformation is a holistic change that impacts data maturity across virtually every aspect of the organization, from processes to functional space requirements, employee responsibilities and collaboration with other agencies. Initiating this move toward a paperless process does not hinge on purchasing software and/or hardware. While these technologies certainly play a role, they are merely tools, not solutions.
Success is achieved through small, impactful changes that simultaneously improve current processes and position the organization to meet future demands. Many government agencies are limited by strict guidelines on software installation. Some even mandating that agencies keep hard copy files, making full digital transformation impossible. Recognizing that, we focus on identifying and pursuing innovative approaches that could include introducing new technology but more likely involve finding creative ways to work with existing legacy systems.
Starting with where the agency is in its data evolution, we embark on a deliberate, cooperative, phased journey of re-engineering manual processes by building “solutions within solutions.” Our automation philosophy grounds the approach, ensuring that we’re optimizing employee time and talent properly to create a more secure, flexible, cost-effective data environment.
Phase One: Human-driven, paper-based, technology-reactive
Many government agency clients remain entrenched in Phase One with a paper-dependent file management system and labor-intensive processes. Because they are limited by the manual nature of this earliest phase, agencies lack the capacity to meet current demands — not to mention future ones — or to grow. From initial submission, the process is almost entirely manual across the lifecycle of a file:
- Receiving: Work arrives via paper, fax, and digital. Even if the material was originally digital, it is printed and passed to the workforce for processing.
- File Maintenance: Most agencies generate tens of thousands of pieces of paper daily. Each piece generates more as it goes through the process, often doubling the amount of labor and materials.
- Labor Utilization: Work is mostly assigned based on availability, rather than strategically utilizing people for optimal and high-value tasks.
- Print for Quality Review: Printing and passing materials for quality review is the first step. After this initial review, a rework may be required. This means physical documents are resubmitted, adding to the growing volume of materials and people involved.
- Digitize for Distribution: Once the work is complete, materials have to be digitized. Because most agencies lack the proper equipment, the process is slow and inconsistent.
Worse than inefficient, Phase One is expensive and risky
This long-held process is a logistical conundrum with real and security risks across labor, materials, and technologies. Employees are needed to receive, sort, organize, distribute, assign work, review files, and, ultimately, keep this detailed process on track. Enormous amounts of office space are needed for these employees, as well as storage for the hundreds of thousands of physical files. Paper, ink, toner, printers, file folders, shelving units, and office supplies are required to ensure that files can be printed and hardcopies shared.
In addition to huge associated costs, human error is remarkably high at this stage. Physical hand-offs of documents and manually maintained paper trails make oversight and accountability difficult. Processors often fail to effectively capture information for later use, largely because of the volume of the tasks. And, for those employees who work simultaneously in paper-based and automated systems, staying organized is tremendously difficult. Documents are inevitably misplaced, lost, or improperly filed.
Digital transformation has a powerful impact on organizations, especially those in the early stages of automation. In one case, by digitizing a single sheet of paper, we saved a federal agency over $34,000 per year in associated supply and printing costs. When all efforts to make and place this sheet in a folder were eliminated, 5 full-time employees worth of effort was reallocated to higher-value processes.
Initiating digital transformation
Creating a process that serves the needs of the public and helps the agency operate more efficiently is a major undertaking given the complexity of most government agencies. But with thoughtful, incremental steps, it is possible.
After acknowledging the compliance requirements, it’s critical to keep in mind the cultural considerations of transitioning into Phase Two, which is characterized by its tech-driven focus. The reason why so many organizations and individuals adhere to antiquated human-driven systems is that they’re comfortable. Many people disregard the economic and security risks of manual paper-handling, instead taking comfort in having human eyes and hands physically shepherding files throughout the process.
At this point in the process, the goal is not to make big, sweeping changes. It’s also not to convert documents and work. In Phase Two, the data maturity evolution actually manifests in how the agency is tracking documents and work. The first step is to convert the tracking data for documents and work in a digital format. The effort forces agencies to critically examine behaviors to uncover improvement areas, such as:
- Streamlining and securing processes
- Relieving operational and financial pain points
- Advancing employees from low-value to high-value work and responsibilities
- Maturing agency processes to meet current and future demands
NT Concepts helps agencies see big results in process efficiency, security, and growth through small adjustments like improving how existing technologies are used.
In our next blog, we’ll explore a real-world example of how the data maturity evolution from Phase One into Phase Two resulted in measurable improvements for operations, finances, security, and employees. We’ll show how we employ RPA to automate rote, mundane tasks. Because the bots integrate seamlessly within existing legacy solutions, they are ideal for government agencies constrained by regulations and sensitive to their labor and cost utilization rates.