The paperless future of government documentation
Federal, state, and local agencies have a lot to gain from the paperless future of government documentation. The federal government alone generates over nine billion hours' worth of paperwork for the public. This paper trail has translated into a drain on resources for both government agencies and citizens.
Cloud-based document management systems solve inefficient workflows and help governments maximize their limited budgets while boosting productivity. With online, 24/7 customer service the new expectation, a paperless government agency can also improve its relations with the public.
Managing documents, content, data, and workflows in the cloud can improve efficiency while freeing up resources and benefiting government workers and citizens alike. Review this guide on cloud content management as you consider moving to a paperless government document management system.
Table of contents:
- The end of paper file storage
- Why go paperless?
- How to transition to a cloud-based document management system
- Go paperless with cloud storage management services
The end of paper file storage
Eliminating paper files has been one of the federal government's goals for decades. The history of electronic information storage in the U.S. government goes back to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980. This act required that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve any agency's attempt to gather information from 10 or more people, ultimately aiming to reduce the paperwork burden on individual citizens, state and local governments, and other institutions.
Recent years have brought additional efforts to curb paper-based data collection and government files. The Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998, for instance, required federal agencies to provide the option of electronic submission and signature for documents when practicable.
Even more recently, President Biden's executive order urged agencies, organizations, and state, local, and tribal governments to lighten the paperwork load on the American people and improve administrative efficiency. The order pressed agencies to enhance their understanding of their constituents and remove administrative hurdles to electronic data processing.
The approaching deadline for electronic file storage
In 2019, the OMB released a new memorandum lamenting that the federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to create and store records in analog formats. The OMB asserted that paper files increase the burden on agencies and the public, as citizens need to conduct business in person or by mail, and government workers can't find data efficiently.
This memorandum laid down a more rigid deadline to ensure government agencies are following the recommendations. The original deadline for agencies to transition to electronic formats for all permanent and temporary records to the fullest extent possible was set as Dec. 31, 2022. However, the OMB and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) have since extended the deadline to June 30, 2024.
This means agencies will soon be under pressure to create and manage all federal records electronically and close file storage facilities by the summer of 2024. By that same date, the National Archives and Records Administration will require electronic files of all new records. All legal transfers of permanent records should be in electronic format starting in July 2024.
Why go paperless?
Your government organization is likely considering ways to comply with electronic file regulations. Compliance is a primary motivation for going paperless, but you can benefit from a cloud-based documentation and filing system in several other valuable ways.
Traditional workflows typically require a paper trail and lots of effort to warehouse and store documents. Paper-based processes leave your people discouraged at the sheer volume of paperwork and your constituents discontented with inefficient systems. Cloud content management streamlines work processes like document creation and security and makes storing documentation much easier and more scalable.
Cloud content management also empowers your teams to easily update and access files at any time. When you move to an electronic system for your agency or organization, you free up time and resources for other tasks and convert your workflows to their most efficient state.
People appreciate the elimination of tedious paper-pushing tasks. Citizens and residents welcome the opportunity to digitally renew their licenses, submit document verification, and participate in the countless other activities that would normally require a visit to the post office or a government facility.
Here are a few benefits of switching over to paperless document management.
Speeding up processes
When you store documents in a cloud content management system instead of a filing cabinet, you can save a lot of time searching for the information you need. Instead of rifling through paper files or making a records request, you simply use digital search functionality.
You also speed up workflows such as searching for misplaced files or updating old reports. You streamline seemingly minor tasks like collaborating on proposals and delivering documents to co-workers. Digital workflow automation is a powerful tool for saving team members time by removing steps within content-based processes.
Cloud content management also enables you to serve constituents seamlessly, providing the public with self-service options and saving them the time it would otherwise take to locate documents and attend in-person appointments. Smart online forms are self-guiding and can automatically populate fields with data, reducing the need for manual entry.
Cloud content management reduces human interaction with paper documents, decreasing errors and delays. With shortened response times, you build trust with the public and better serve them.
Saving valuable time and energy
Paper-based document storage isn't the most effective use of your team's time. Inefficient processes inevitably frustrate even the most dedicated government employees. Tedious paper-pushing tasks consume staffers with monotony and take up valuable time better spent on more important work.
Electronic documentation can eliminate repetitive processes and give your people their time back. Cloud content management also provides easier access to every saved document, reducing errors and lost files. These benefits translate into a significant win for your team members.
A cloud content management system's power is its ability to streamline your workflow. It can populate document fields with pre-provided information, saving people time updating old files. It can also automate repeatable tasks, like content reviews and contract approvals, and add metadata to make finding information easier.
Automating document search and simplified collaboration liberates your people to spend more time on high-value activities. When you reduce the number of repetitive tasks your team members need to complete, you free them up to use their skills on more valuable work.
Better collaboration across departments
Requesting documents from across your organization can take time when you rely on paper documents. Instead, use a secure, compliant, cloud-based platform to store every piece of information your people need, allowing them to quickly search for documents within the system. Paperless document management simplifies content access and collaboration for government agencies.
Cloud content management brings every department in your agency together and prevents people from having to wait for the information they need to get their jobs done. Staff can connect and collaborate online, streamlining the decision-making process. And employees can communicate with each other and members of the public faster than ever.
A government document management system also provides team members with one easy-to-access platform that synchronizes everyone's workflows. Store all your records in one place to ensure employees are using updated files at all times. Your people get the information they need when it's time to help a citizen or make a business decision. A cloud-based system also accommodates remote and field workers and anyone else on your staff who isn't in the office.
Easy access to data across all your departments improves customer satisfaction. Members of the public won't have to wait for days to get answers to their questions about documents and cases. Employees can access that information right away, improving customer service and their own experience at work.
Content security is an ever-growing concern for all businesses. Federal agencies, in particular, need to secure the public's sensitive personal data. In fiscal year 2021 alone, civilian federal agencies reported more than 32,000 cybersecurity incidents to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Data breaches put the essential financial and identity information of citizens and residents at risk.
The avalanche of paperwork that slows down employee processes and frustrates members of the public is also a security threat. Government agencies handle a lot of personal data that workers could misplace or lose. If paper or digital files fall into the wrong hands, private information is jeopardized. Paper files are also susceptible to decay through water damage, pests, mold, and more.
A cloud content management system provides multiple layers of data security through passwords, data encryption, access limitation, two-factor authentication, and more safeguards. Expert data protection in the cloud automatically backs up your files and prevents cybersecurity attacks through threat detection and disaster prevention. Cloud content management also helps you comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).
Perhaps most importantly, electronic data access enables secure online portals where citizens can experience frictionless service. Portals give the public a protected platform for uploading forms and tax documents, providing peace of mind and building trust in your ability to secure their data.
Cost efficiency is a prime concern for agencies at every level of government, and they use a lot of resources to maintain paper records. Costs include the time needed to manually enter data and update files and the money to print and mail documents to individual people, warehouse files securely, and physically manage files across locations.
A cloud-based document management system can reduce or eliminate many of these expenses. Moving documents to the cloud removes the need for content servers and physical warehousing. Automated file backup reduces errors and cuts repetitive work while increasing productivity.
Going paperless throughout your administration can reduce the costs of creating, storing, and securing physical files while simultaneously improving your efficiency. Paperless document management slashes costs to improve your operations. And cloud content management facilitates compliance to save costs and ensure you safely manage highly confidential data.
How to transition to a cloud-based document management system
The benefits of a paperless government are pretty compelling. But how do you get your agency on its way to a cloud-based document management system? Remember, embracing technology is about streamlining processes and making your administration run smoother. Your transition needs to include:
- Employing more efficient tools: Implementing digital systems is the key to efficiently handling documents, files, and memos that you previously printed
- Automating data entry: Ensure all new information is in electronic format so you can automatically enter it into the correct database for ease of access later
- Digitizing old files: Digitize and host historical data in your central document management system for improved accessibility
- Automating work: Improved workflows can replace and streamline old manual processes
- Focusing on end user adoption: Educate your constituents about the new and improved online services while supporting those with limited internet access through other avenues
Implement digital tools
An excellent first step is to consciously implement more digital processes into your daily workflows. Your organization may already be using common electronic tools such as slide presentation software, word processing applications, and digital spreadsheets. Chances are also good that your organization uses email rather than printed memos to pass around information from colleague to colleague.
The next step is to adopt cloud content management. This aspect of document management prevents issues with version control, misplaced files, and information roadblocks. Cloud content management enables you to collaborate on documents in real time so you can approve projects and leave comments for your colleagues from any device.
Electronic materials can prepare employees for meetings without using reams of paper. Cloud content management also cuts down on paper faxes, spreadsheets, and proposals. Giving your employees one place to review, edit, and assign documents puts everyone on the same page, so you can finish projects in a snap.
Minimize using paper
Going paperless is a process and requires that you educate your people about your new systems. It's helpful to start simple.
Begin by digitizing one small departmental process and expanding outward. For example, you might digitize the incoming documents of a previously inefficient process, like handling permit applications. Taking the time to digitize new paper can save you the effort later.
It's also helpful to invest in software that allows you to accept digital permitting, applications, and document uploads. Many customers will choose to upload their files via the internet, saving you time and hassle when processing paper applications.
With the right software, digital uploads and applications will automatically populate with the rest of your electronic files for faster case intake. The appropriate department or staffer will receive a notification to complete the application process. Once team members become familiar with this process, you can then speed up document processing and archiving across multiple operations.
Digitize old records
Digitizing new data streamlines your operations on the front end, but uploading old records to the cloud is equally critical for creating a paperless government agency. To eliminate the need for manual processing, you must be able to access historical data from your centralized document management system even while importing new electronic documents.
The task of digitizing your agency's back-end documents can seem daunting, but it's necessary for optimizing your workflow. Best practice is to create a system for digitizing records by their level of importance, so the most critical information is accessible first. Then, methodically work your way through your historical data.
One approach to assessing a document's importance is to rank how many requests you get for a specific kind of information. Requests could be from other departments, citizens, or inquiries through the Freedom of Information Act. Viewing metrics on the frequency of requests for categories of information can help you decide what to prioritize.
You can also upload all publicly available information for easy searching. Ensure data is usable by determining the most helpful format for digitized records. A scanned PDF version of an old file is paperless, but it may not be the most user-friendly format. Look into a document management system that helps you create machine-readable files you can share across multiple platforms.
Use software to automate workflows
Automated workflows use your current manual workflows as a launchpad to create a more streamlined process for handling files. A paper application may arrive on a central clerk's desk, where it gets rerouted to the appropriate department for processing before moving on through the approval process.
A cloud-based document management system uses the roadmap of your current operations but automates steps to save time. For instance, when your document management system receives digital application submissions online, it electronically routes them to the correct department. The system notifies the appropriate party of missing information, and a staffer can then open the application and complete the necessary steps.
A centralized database of files helps your people fill in the required information in a snap, populating document fields with client or case information saved in the cloud-based database. With e-signatures embedded in your content, you can also automate final approval of documents. The entire process may take as little as a couple of hours and save days or weeks of the usual turnaround time.
Providing your constituents with user-friendly procedures and timely assistance is essential for improving your services to the public. A user-friendly experience with your agency or organization cultivates public trust and saves constituents time filing information. Ensure the public is aware of the changes by advertising new services you'll be offering, like electronic document submission or an updated citizen portal. Your agency might consider a social media campaign to alert the public of changes in your processing system or provide informational packets at physical office locations to spread the word to those who might not see other kinds of advertisements.
While some demographics may be highly familiar with online file uploads and digitized customer service, others may need additional support to adapt. Vulnerable populations like the elderly and the underprivileged may not have equal access to the internet or the technology required for interacting with a paperless government agency. Ensure you're providing support to all your demographics, especially those who might otherwise get left behind. It's essential to help these groups transition by providing resources to navigate online document submission, tax payment, and more.
Discover the power of the Content Cloud
With a single secure platform for all your content, Box enables you to manage the entire content lifecycle: file creation, co-editing, sharing, e-signature, classification, retention, and so much more. We make it easy for you to collaborate on content with anyone, both inside and outside your organization. Frictionless, enterprise-grade security and compliance are built into our DNA, so you get total peace of mind that your content is protected. And with 1,500+ seamless integrations — as well as a range of native capabilities, like Box Sign — the Content Cloud provides a single content layer that ensures your teams can work the way they want.
Learn more about Box for the federal government and for the state & local government.
The Content Cloud is a game changer for the entire organization, streamlining workflows and boosting productivity across every team. Contact us today, and explore what you can do with Box.
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**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blog post is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.