E-Government to the Rescue

Modern document management for transparent and leaner processes in municipalities and local government bodies

Germany’s E-Government Act took effect on 1 August 2013. This law, which promotes electronic access, record keeping and administration, seems to offer a sensible and timely enhancement to the way procedures are carried out and with it the information technology assets used in government offices. This development is, however, a thorn in the side of the very people in local agencies whose daily work it promises to make leaner and more efficient. Besides the age-old routine of handling and filing documents in paper form, it is the fear of losing one’s job that is the biggest contributor to apprehension on the part of government workers. And yet no modern document management system (DMS) can function without people. Fortunately, everyone involved is gradually coming to the realization that this relatively new law and the related software pose no threat to their livelihoods, but instead are capable of making life easier for the administrators and citizenry alike.

Local government institutions still evoke the image of being oldfangled and far behind the times. The reason for this can be found in the procedures and workflows they use. Many local administrations have plenty of room for improvement, especially when it comes to document management. Unlike in the free market economy, it is the budget situation alone that determines how much money is available for small and large municipalities for spending or investments.

In any case, deciding which document management system best fits the kind of work people do on the local level is quite another matter. Oftentimes, both preparing a clear statement of the required specifications and finding the ideal solution can be an arduous and protracted process. It wasn’t that long ago when there were only a handful of products on the market that fulfilled the certification requirements and in turn were an option for use as a DMS at the local government level. Since then, however, the market has opened up and the notion of the e-file is being hyped in a manner that was unimaginable just a few years ago.

Meanwhile, local administrations are doing everything they can to simply mark time. What makes this a shame is that both the civil service itself and the citizens they serve will profit from all the opportunities that e-government legislation has to offer, not to mention how the right software solutions will make procedures more transparent and flexible.

Admin services that transcend time and place

The website of Germany’s Ministry of the Interior describes the E-Government Act this way: “The objective of this law for the promotion of electronic government and for changing other regulations (the E-Government Act) is to make it easier to communicate electronically with government agencies and allow simpler, more efficient and user friendly electronic administrative services to be offered at the federal, state and local levels.” Clearly this kind of legislation and others like it will produce a number of additional benefits as well.

One of these is a tremendous improvement in the ease and efficiency of the organizational process. “Every municipal office will have one or more procedures that are unique to that community,” observed Reiner Kappus, the managing director of DMS Consulting. “You can imagine the sheer volume of documents this produces, all of which have to be archived.” And this is exactly where DMS solutions unleash their greatest value. “With solutions from such suppliers as aconso, lobo-dms and xft, users at the local government level can manage their files and records on one platform that fulfills all the demanding standards in terms of privacy and data protection. The server-based webPDF solution from SoftVision even lets you convert documents to PDF/A files making it fast and easy to archive in a manner that is legally valid and compliant. Programs like these operate with independent servers that allow local government employees to use the drag-and-drop method to file, retrieve and save documents in long-term-archiving format, and share information across all departments.

Here is a real-life example: A man went to register his dog at the bureau responsible for the community where he lives. There the clerk prepared, printed and gave him the registration certificate. As the document was printing, an electronic file was created and archived in PDF. Because the archiving process is carried out automatically in the background, neither the clerk nor the dog owner noticed a thing.

Intelligent classification

Classification systems are yet another highlight from the realm of DMS and enable letter mail to be forwarded to the right person automatically in a matter of minutes. Setting up such a system involves gathering, scanning and then inputting a number of representative sample documents. Once trained, the system routinely classifies incoming paper-based correspondence on the basis text and graphic elements, such as a logo, color and other special characteristics. Such a system can differentiate hundreds of different types of documents, including applications and formal notices to name only two. The various types of documents are then assigned to those specific staff members who are responsible for processing them.

Up to 80 percent of the paperwork can be classified and sent to the person responsible for handling it once the classification system is fully familiarized with all the many types of documents. This means that in only a matter of minutes the right person will have that incoming letter, form or request as a PDF document.

Keeping the way you work up to date over the long term

In addition to making it easy to furnish official digital records and documentation of the ongoing administrative actions, working with these kinds of DMS solutions also lets users process these actions in a timely manner – which benefits the local residents and taxpayers most of all. It’s no secret that the bureaucracy is where clear, streamlined and transparent processes need to be implemented. “Nevertheless, local governments are often highly skeptical about DMS solutions. Even though implementing electronic files involves very minor organizational changes, it still represents an intrusion into their accustomed way of doing things,” observed Kappus. The media transition from paper to digital is a big reason behind the reluctance to move to DMS. It’s natural for people who have been accustomed to working with paper documents all their lives to have their doubts about the security of electronic files and the related approvals process. Another thing that makes them uneasy is the fact that suddenly all the operations run much faster. Worries about losing their jobs to technology merely compound all of this. “The bottom line is that regardless of how lean and efficient these innovative DMS solutions make the processes, the work will always revolve around people, who will be needed as much tomorrow as they are today,” explained Kappus.

The benefits far outweigh any perceived disadvantages:

  1. Solutions such as webPDF from SoftVision file and archive all documents in a single standard format, which most everyone is familiar with and can use right away.
  2. Document management systems offer considerable time savings. It only takes a few clicks to access, retrieve, edit and process any document.
  3. The archiving process runs in the background thanks to webPDF. Users don’t even notice that an additional tool is being used.
  4. Today‘s DMS solutions are compelling in terms of stability and can normally be employed for several years, if not tens of years. This really helps municipalities and local governments whose budgeting requires them to think and plan in terms of decades.

Now is the time for institutions at every level to stop treating the E-Government Act as a bothersome headache and start looking at it as an opportunity to re-think the way they manage documents, and then choose and implement one of today’s prevailing solutions. After all, government workers and the people they serve will all benefit from procedures that are more transparent and from administrative “paperwork” that can be taken care of faster.

Whether you’re a business or government agency, advanced document management systems in combination with software programs such as webPDF will help make all your workflows and procedures simple, efficient and up to date.