Why going paperless enhances agency compliance – 3 ECM tools that make a difference
I spent most of my government career in agencies that had a combination of state and federal funding sources. Because of this, we had significant compliance responsibilities – including program delivery, reporting, long-term compliance and even HR and accounting policies that were layered on top of our obligations as a state agency.
Not surprisingly, the scope and breadth of this compliance was complicated. As we hired new staff members, there was no clear way to train them and teach them about our rules. And, if we had any gaps in our understanding of how we need to apply rules, we passed these knowledge gaps on through this informal training process. Any errors could be discovered by auditors later, which would cause us to lose funding and gain additional scrutiny.
Our first strategy to cope with our compliance burden was to buy data systems from vendors who understood the types of programs we were delivering. Within the database, by virtue of fields, we provided our staff with the most rudimentary of tools to ensure that we performed certain project tasks. Except this wasn’t enough. Because, as we discovered, the database did not dynamically notify staff about tasks, time our processes or even notify managers if tasks were seriously overdue. We needed help.
Enter enterprise content management (ECM).
There are three key pieces of a robust ECM solution that support the delivery of programs and services in the public sector.
Let’s start with the piece that also has the potential to reduce the workload for your program staff: Workflow. Imagine a process where electronic forms replace paper, grantees upload and submit documents and payment requests via an online portal and your staff receives notifications when work has arrived for them to review.
Now imagine that these notifications automatically route to a manager if they are approaching overdue status. Workflow automation helps your staff members know what work has arrived and what deadlines are approaching, supporting them in their compliance tasks.
In the paper-driven world of service delivery, work is divided into task-driven, individual grants and grantees – or other transaction processing – and overall management of programmatic delivery, funding and expenditures. The ECM-based automation that you deploy to ensure individual transactional compliance gives managers and directors visibility into the overall performance at the program or agency level using dashboards.
Imagine that you can see how many applications or contracts are awaiting review, how many clients were interviewed in the month or how many activities are overdue. ECM with embedded dashboards provides a level of service delivery transparency that helps managers understand bottlenecks or areas that need action or attention.
3. Policy administration and distribution
Lastly, but critically, going paperless has a huge potential benefit in policy administration and distribution. The public sector is full of policies, many which are updated every year. There are ethics requirements, rules, regulations, codes and ordinances that must be preserved for the future, even if they are changed.
You can securely maintain all of these using ECM. But, ECM can also manage their distribution by notifying relevant staff the moment staff saves them into the ECM repository. Once policy documents are stored, notifications go out to staff to read and acknowledge them – and to take a test to ensure the policies are understood.
ECM also simplifies audits and compliance. When auditors visit, managers can easily run and show reports that demonstrate how the policy administration and testing capabilities of your ECM solution are part of the overall effort of your agency to sustain compliance with regulations governing service delivery.
Many times, we consider an ECM investment to prevent the paper avalanche, but ECM represents more than that. Removing paper is the best way to build a sustainable and compliant agency that will achieve high performance year after year, whether your key staff retire or the rules change every month. ECM makes policy administration and compliance the backbone of your agency’s efforts, freeing you to focus on getting things done for constituents.