Power to the paperless
Digitized documents pave the way <@VM>Deadline Looms ... does anyone care?
- By Joab Jackson
- May 22, 2003
By creating a digital database of loan documents for the Education Department, Raytheon Co. has reduced loan portfolios from hundreds of pages to an average of four, said Mike Gann of the company's Information Solutions division.
"If you say 'form,' you envision paper. If you say 'information management tool,' we're hoping you will envision a more advanced process to transfer information." ? Carolyn Watkins-Taylor of the Air Force publishing office
Henrik G. de Gyor
The Air Force is retiring the phrase "electronic form." Two years ago, when the Air Force Departmental Publishing Office was tasked with converting the service's 17,000 forms into electronic format, service officials decided the term "e-form" didn't describe what happens when documents are put online.
Carolyn Watkins-Taylor, who heads Air Force efforts at the publishing office, said a paper form serves primarily as a tool for gathering or presenting information. But once a static form is digitized, it can become part of a dynamic, interactive process that makes handling information potentially easier for both user and agency.
The Air Force, for instance, is streamlining the whole process for evaluating service members by digitizing personnel evaluation forms. The new electronic tools, devised by Watkins-Taylor's office, will walk all parties through the questions they need to answer and descriptions they need to provide.
And instead of officers shuffling the paperwork between parties, the system automatically sends the information to the people who need to see or sign off on evaluations.
A digitized form thus becomes a tool for managing information, and that's exactly the term the Air Force uses: information management tool. It's an awkward phrase, but one Air Force officials hope will become intuitively clear over time.
"If you say 'form,' you envision paper. If you say 'information management tool,' we're hoping you will envision a more advanced process to transfer information," Watkins-Taylor said.
This kind of streamlining is what Congress had in mind when it passed the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998, which requires agencies to replace paper forms with electronic ones, wherever possible, by Oct. 21. Specifically, agencies must offer citizens and businesses the ability to interact with government through electronic means.
Like the Air Force, federal agencies are discovering that GPEA is about more than digitizing a piece of paper. It's about examining the entire workflow process that passes that piece of paper around.
Likewise, integrators brought in to digitize forms are finding plenty of new opportunities to connect these forms to the back-end processes.
The Labor Department, for example, is looking for software that will allow the agency to put its grants application process online. It will be part of the initiative led by the Office of Management and Budget to streamline the management of the grants application process itself. The solicitation is due in October, according to market research firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
Similarly, the Office of Personnel Management is considering outsourcing its Retirement System Modernization program to replace paper-based services for federal retirees, such as eligibility determinations and claim reviews, with electronic ones. Re-engineering the processes will be part of that work as well. A solicitation is expected in the end of May.
Eliminating the paper and re-engineering workflow go hand in hand, said Tim Pavlick, managing director of the federal services practice at BearingPoint Inc., McLean, Va.
"My goal when I do these kinds of projects is to create capability that didn't even exist before," Pavlick said.
Before taking on such a project, he advises agencies to brainstorm on how to use electronic workflow to create more efficient systems. After all, there is little point, Pavlick said, in "bringing in a new technology to recreate an old business model."
How much paperwork can an agency generate fulfilling just one program? The Education Department, for example, fills most of a 32,000-square-foot warehouse with old loan applications and other files that Raytheon Co., which owns the warehouse, has managed since 1992. The company's latest one-year extension of the contract, awarded in June 2002, was for $7 million.
It is a humongous undertaking -- and would be even bigger if Raytheon and the agency hadn't taken steps to convert as many of the records into electronic form as possible.
Raytheon has recycled more than 2,300 tons of paper by creating a digital database of loan documents and disposing those that aren't necessary to keep, said Mike Gann, manager of the imaging operations for Raytheon's Information Solutions division. Loan portfolios have been reduced from hundreds of pages to an average of four documents per portfolio.
The demand for hard-copy documents also has dropped dramatically since the files were digitized. In 1997, Raytheon shipped out 44,330 retrieval requests to field offices and others, often copying and sending an entire portfolio. But by 2002, the number of requests had shrunk to 8,563. The reduction of paper converts into real cost savings and dramatically increases operational efficiency.
Paul Taltavull, vice president of the civil agency, state and local practice areas for Integic Corp., a Chantilly, Va.-based workflow solutions provider, said the government as a whole could save $100 million per year by streamlining workflow processes that still use paper.
As an example, Taltavull noted Integic's work with the Defense Logistics Agency, which used the company's official personnel folder solution to save $750,000 a year in managing files.
The public also could benefit from some government streamlining. Citizens spend 8 billion hours a year filling out government forms, according to a draft of a report released this month by the Office of Management and Budget, "Draft Report of the Small Business Paperwork Relief Task Force."
For this reason, OMB is monitoring agency efforts, hoping to use GPEA as a springboard to e-government. Last August, Mark Forman, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology, directed agencies to submit progress reports on meeting GPEA's goals. Forman said agencies should look for ways to synthesize and share information among multiple forms.
"Agencies are expected to analyze every GPEA transaction for innovative ways to serve citizens and improve government performance," Forman wrote.
Rick Rogers, chief executive officer of Fenestra Technologies Corp., Germantown, Md., said his company is doing a pilot project, called E-Forms for E-Gov, for the federal Chief Information Officers Council. This project is exploring ways agencies can use the extensible markup language to trade information across agencies.
The message from government CIOs, Rogers said, is clear: Electronic forms should do more than eliminate paper.
"The basic idea is to collect information once and share it across all the parties who use it, instead of having each party collect it separately," he said.
ROAD TO TRANSFORMATION
As with many new regulations, GPEA is forcing agencies to re-examine how they conduct business, said BearingPoint's Pavlick. BearingPoint, for example, has just begun developing a portal for Army medics to create electronic versions of paper-based intake forms and medical records.
[IMGCAP(2)]Although the original idea was to produce the forms electronically so personnel can access them from desktop computers, the Army soon realized these forms, when accessed through tablet computers, could free personnel from sitting at their desks altogether. Using tablet computers or personal digital assistants, medical workers can fill out forms and consult records while in the field, instead of returning to the office to deliver or find data.
R.M. Vredenburg and Co., Reston, Va., has developed a system that helps an agency more quickly handle Freedom of Information Act requests. Enacted in 1966, FOIA requires agencies to disclose records as requested in writing by citizens. Anyone may file these requests, from journalists to conspiracy theorists seeking alleged Air Force documents about unidentified flying objects.
For each request, an agency must have someone gather the information requested, then have its subject matter expert review it to assure nothing sensitive is disclosed -- a cumbersome and time-consuming process, said Larry Den, senior vice president of information technology for Vredenburg.
Vredenburg's Electronic Freedom of Information Act System allows citizens to request material from a Web site or go to an online reading room of previously requested documents. It also adds some electronic benefits for the agency, such as the ability to balance the workload of FOIA handlers and to generate the usage reports agencies must submit to Congress.
The Internal Revenue Service bought Vredenburg's system in January for $6 million through a subcontract with Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego. "The IRS is showing significant savings by converting to an electronic system," Den said.
An agency can realize about 15 percent savings by putting a form online, eliminating the printing, warehouse and transit costs, Integic's Taltavull said. But it could shave off another 20 percent by streamlining the workflow electronically, for instance, by consolidating resource centers and automating the system so personnel deal only with the exceptional cases.
Integic has software that often helps customers see potential savings by showing the routes that paperwork takes through the office. The visualizations reveal which stops are causing bottlenecks and can be eliminated, Taltavull said.
For the end user, an electronic form should take the shape of a "guided interactive experience," said David Clark, director of product marketing for PureEdge Solutions Inc., Victoria, British Columbia. PureEdge uses XML-based tools to join electronic forms to back-end systems.
Electronic forms should fill in information the system already has captured elsewhere, Clark said. It should display only the questions that the end user needs to answer. It should immediately reject wrong answers.
PureEdge and Enterprise Information Management Inc. of Arlington, Mass., are teaming together to support the Air Force's effort to convert its paper forms into information management tools.
Bruce Lyman, Enterprise Information's project manager, said putting forms online is only the first part of the company's work. Enterprise Information has a second round of work integrating the information that these forms harvest into the Air Force's many back-end systems.
PureEdge also supported TRW Inc, now part of Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles, on a $22 million project for the Securities and Exchange Commission that allows businesses to file their earnings statements by e-mail. The software automatically archives the filings, and copies them to other relevant processes within the system.
"You can satisfy GPEA by digitizing paper," Clark said. "But the agencies that are working with us tend to look at extending these government services in a way that automates the entire process and drives out inefficiencies." *
Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
"I'm not seeing a flurry of calls saying, 'Hey, John, we're in danger of not meeting our [GPEA] requirement, we need to implement something in the next 60 days.' " | John Cronin of Autonomy Corp.
The Government Paperwork Elimination Act, enacted in 1998, specifies that by Oct. 21, 2003, all federal agencies must offer citizens and business the means to interact with government electronically. But unlike other congressionally mandated deadlines, GPEA isn't generating high levels of anxiety among federal officials, according to government contractors, who say they aren't seeing a lot of GPEA-driven business.
That doesn't mean agencies are not going electronic. They are -- just not because of GPEA. Agencies are moving information, forms and transactions to the Web to save money and to meet goals established by the Office of Management and Budget.
"I'm not seeing a flurry of calls saying, 'Hey, John, we're in danger of not meeting our [GPEA] requirement, we need to implement something in the next 60 days,' " said John Cronin, vice president of the government sector for Autonomy Corp. plc, Cambridge, U.K.
Nonetheless, the company, which offers tools for agencies to manage electronic content, has been doing well in the government sector.
"We have seen steady growth of our government business. It would be difficult to say how much of that would be attributable to GPEA," Cronin said.
Jim Kane, president and chief executive officer of Federal Sources Inc., also said the GPEA deadline is not feeding a large boost in opportunities. Rather, much of what GPEA mandated has been rolled into subsequent initiatives, such as the President's Management Agenda. Agencies meeting the goals outlined by OMB will satisfy GPEA as well, he said.
OMB is tracking 27 agencies to measure how well they meet President Bush's management goals in several areas, including e-government. OMB releases quarterly scorecards on each agency's progress, and has made clear that funding for IT projects depends on getting "green" scores.
"Almost every federal agency is looking at how to get a green light on the OMB scorecard. It's having a much bigger impact than what I thought it would have," said Monte Wilson, vice president of government initiatives for Documentum Inc., a content management software provider in Pleasanton, Calif. "Every agency is looking at the OMB scorecard, because that's what is used in the budget process to determine who gets IT dollars and who doesn't."
Dan Chenok, OMB's branch chief for information policy and technology, said at a recent industry conference that OMB is watching for GPEA compliance, and sees the mandate as very much a part of its efforts to bring agencies into the digital age.
However, Peter Morrison, director of government solutions for the identity management firm Netegrity Inc., Waltham, Mass., said he's only recently heard agency IT officials cite GPEA as a concern. But even with interest now picking up, he doesn't see it as a tremendous sales tool.
"I don't like selling to a mandate," Morrison said. "I would rather sell something because it's a good idea."