The ROI Report Card for Government Software Solutions – and Why Document Management Gets an A
One problem government IT folks often have is how to judge the success and failure of their IT investments – including calculating the return on investment (ROI) for technology. Why? Government acts based on law, rule and regulation, so it’s required to undertake some tasks. At the same time, it’s hard to place a “cost” or value on government activities since success is often defined as improved constituent service. Consider these examples: supporting voting at elections, firefighters saving a life or attorneys defending the state.
So if that’s the problem, let’s focus on those things that define good government! It’s all about improvements to how services are performed and how effective they are, and the metrics can measured as such: Reduced cost of providing services, reduced time and resources to provide service, protection or enhancement of agency or entity missions and furtherance of legal requirements or duties.
Some areas for ROI calculations are easier to measure than others. Reduced cost of providing service is the most traditional way to measure the impact of a government software investment. In the case of enterprise content management (ECM) and its document management and workflow capabilities, here are some things that contribute to this kind of ROI calculation:
– Reduced cost of physical storage: Physical file storage, archival storage and offsite storage will, for the most part, go away.
– Reduced cost of supplies: Since new creation of paper copies is cut significantly, so are the supplies that support them: printing supplies, paper and the printers themselves.
– Staff cost savings: Because it takes less time to do a task, staff can either be reduced or repurposed to do higher value tasks.
– Future cost avoidance: All of the above costs aren’t just one time cost reductions. Consider replacement printers, rental fees for offsite storage and the hiring costs of adding bandwidth. And on top of that, oftentimes the agency is able to avoid cost increases for new mandates by having a document management solution in place.
But, in the “New Normal” way that government must operate, perhaps it’s not the cost aspect that adds the most value – the time saved in providing services is a meaningful measure for government. For example, does the investment “speed up” government, shortening the time for government decision by using tools like workflow automation, document management and shared repositories of government documents? And, it could allow sharing a single set of documents through automated document routing to move between agencies that share roles and duties in a government process. Taking it a step further, do these technologies then also promote cross-agency sharing of data and documents, fostering collaboration?
While cost and time savings – AKA “more with less” – are important, what’s most valuable is ROI that measures projects that protect or enhance agency mission. Here are two areas where I think that document management and workflow can have an amazing impact for government:
Technologies like workflow automation, kiosks and document management can support self-service and online service options that stretch the availability of government without increasing staffing needs. The availability of government services – and finding new better ways to deliver these services through technology – directly furthers the mission of government.
This topic is tied to furthering an agency mission, but it also has a lot to do with growing legal requirements. Technologies like document management can combine with web-based applications to meet continuing and increasing responsibilities for government transparency. Web-based technology with document management provides a way to meet FOIA and open meeting law requirements.
Why would a public CIO want to augment more traditional metrics with the softer benefits? Traditional ROI measures fail to account for some of the unique functions that government performs, like public safety (what is the ROI of preventing crime?), which contain both hard and soft cost savings.
The need to establish ROI metrics (probably before an investment is made) is very important for government IT staff. By using a combination of hard costs and measures that show improvement in customer service, government can better measure their ROI. And from my experience, in that test, document management projects get a solid “A.”