But, like the private sector, the public sector is embracing the age of electronic information and is migrating, albeit slowly at times, toward using less paper. There are several reasons for this, and we will take you through four of them:
- FOIA: The Freedom of Information Act has been around for a long time. It basically states that, after a certain amount of time, the federal government has to share previously undisclosed information with its constituents upon request. On the state and local level, there are “sunshine laws” designed to ensure similar public access to information. Requests can often involve hundreds or thousands of pages and can be expensive to distribute on paper. Having documentation available as electronic images greatly reduces copying and distribution costs. In addition, many government documents contain sensitive information that needs to be redacted, or blacked out, before they are released. An image-based redaction process can increase efficiency and better ensure that all sensitive information is caught.
- E-Forms: As we stated earlier, many government processes start with a form. Once a form is completed, data from it need to be entered into some sort of system so that the next step in a process can be taken. As more people have access to computers, tablets, and smartphones, e-forms present a popular alternative to paper forms. First off, they eliminate data-entry issues, as data from e-forms can be uploaded straight into a transactional system. E-forms are also easier to distribute than paper forms. E-forms come in many shapes and sizes, with HTML5 probably being the most flexible and dynamic in today’s market, but PDF offers a nice crossover that can be either filled out online or printed on paper and completed. (OCR, bar codes, and other types of recognition technology can be leveraged to expedite data capture from paper.) Having a good workflow in place to manage e-forms and captured data after they are submitted creates further efficiencies.
- Records management: In every regulated industry, including government, there are certain regulations that need to be followed regarding management and disposal of records. Some government entities follow established standards like DoD 5015.2, while others follow best practices defined by legal teams. As more information is born digital, records management now applies to paper as well as digital information. Public-sector organizations often find that it is more efficient and secure to manage all their records as electronic files, which means digitizing the paper records. Then they can put them all under one umbrella records management policy.
- Increased efficiencies: Public-sector organizations have a lot of the same issues related to paper that any business does. Namely, it can be slower and less efficient to work with than electronic data or documents. Like any business, public-sector organizations typically have paperwork related to HR, accounts payable, and several other areas. Sure, the tip of the iceberg might be digitizing an agenda for monthly meetings, but once you get into a public-sector organization, you will find a lot of the same opportunities for document imaging as you will in any business.
The public sector certainly has some differences from the private sector, especially when it comes to funding, approval for projects, political winds, and other factors. But the bottom line is that the cliche about governments and paperwork holds true, and like many organizations, public-sector entities realize that document imaging is key to reducing their paperwork and running a more efficient operation. As a result, they will continue to migrate to paperless offices.