Public service portals in government websites have been a huge help for citizens seeking sidewalk repairs, potholes patched or broken traffic lights fixed. They’ve been a little less so for the government officials tasked with responding to those complaints through pretty much the same internal processes they have always relied on to keep public spaces and services in proper order.
That is changing at the Ada County Highway District in Idaho, which recently expanded its electronic records management system to do a lot of the manual administrative work behind responding to citizen service requests, leaving a lot more time for making the improvements and repairs tax payers ask for.
The new system starts with the Tell Us Form which can be found behind a hyperlink attached to the first sentence on the “Contact Us” page on the district’s website. Click on that link and that’s where a whole new method of responding to public service requests is saving hours of time each work day at the district’s Garden City offices just outside Boise. At the same time responses to those requests are quicker, prioritization of work assignments is more efficient and progress reports are more readily available for supervisors and citizens involved in the requests.
“We turned our electronic records management system into a business process automation system, says Misty Perry, the district’s information records administrator. It not only streamlines internal operations, but it lets citizens work more closely with their government in affecting these repairs.”
Cumbersome Legacy Process
Previously, customer service requests or other public correspondence came in through the district’s Outlook email website portal called “Tellus.” Once received, the contents of the email had to be copied and pasted, along with the district’s response plan, into a correspondence log that tracked progress and additional input involved in satisfying the request. The problems started with the incoming emails. Outlook and the correspondence log weren’t integrated. Sometimes an email was copied multiple times to go to different staff members in different departments. So there were times when multiple staff members were working on the same issue because there was no way to track if the issue was already being handled.
Moreover, staff also had to manually enter the dates of the district’s response to public service requests. Public service requests often came in with key information missing such as exact locations and time of day that help the district supervisors better understand the nature or severity of the problem. That missing information could add days and weeks to response time.
“With so many people involved, items could get lost and projects could fall through the cracks,” Perry says. “There was no structure for citizens or staff to actually see our response to service requests.”
A Better Way
The duplication and double work ended with the implementation of business process automation using the district’s Laserfiche electronic records management system. The system enables the district to build electronic workflows and configure eForms, which put more detailed public service requests into the right hands much faster.
Requests are now filled out online via the Tell Us Form which was built into the website using eForms. Citizens input the details concerning the request into specified fields and upload any relevant pictures. Once the eForm is submitted, the electronic workflow automatically assigns a date stamp and tracking number to it while sending the citizen a confirmation email. The system then routes the request to the district’s public information specialist who in turn assigns it to the appropriate department administrators. The administrators then coordinate work crews to execute the request.
Automatic notification of that assignment also goes to the director, chief of staff, the district’s five commissioners and executive assistant. If a request is deemed incomplete, the system sends it back to the public information specialist for further clarification. It all works seamlessly, Perry says, except there are still people who correspond by email or worse—snail mail—and that’s required a little public re-education.
“eForms require people to be specific, otherwise the request cannot be submitted,” says Perry. “That leads to greatly improved performance on our end, which is ultimately making this system a huge success with the public.”
The district estimates business process automation is saving the equivalent of four staff days out of every month. Perhaps just as important, automating the correspondence and communication behind each service request allows the district to more easily identify and eliminate bottlenecks to improve overall performance.
“Since automating the process, the district no longer has project information all over the place,” Perry says. “Having all correspondence and progress reports within the same system makes it easier to analyze those records to see where information is not flowing smoothly and then we can make the changes that help us run more efficiently.”
Improved Record Retention Process
Business Process Automation is helping the district tame an unruly archive system which depended on paper, microfilm and computer files. All are being replaced with an ever-expanding electronic records repository where archived documents are easily providing a vital library that highway department supervisors and their staff depend heavily on to know what work was done, where and when. When those records are no long necessary, the system automatically deletes them, facilitating easier compliance with the Idaho code for records retention.
“We kept all records, we never got rid of anything,” says Perry. “The microfilm alone was very cumbersome to research. Duplicating files in different ways without a central repository or management system led to different versions of status reports, as well as a lot of unnecessary storage clutter. Now it’s all in one system.”
The initial success also has encouraged the district to start expanding its use of eForms and workflow into other departments. Public records requests are submitted to most every department in the district as well as internal records requests. Responding to them involves processes that can be similarly simplified and improved through business process automation, says Perry. The district is also integrating Laserfiche with third-party software to see just how far into all operations they can push the automation envelope.
“We’re hoping to eliminate paper forms and automate information gathering and processing in every department possible,” says Perry. The success we’ve had with our public service portal can be replicated in any area of operations. It’s up to us to see how far we can take this thing.”