Four Workflow Automation Challenges for Government

There are four key challenges associated with storing, sharing and protecting information in an increasingly digital environment.

Today’s information landscape is marked by rapidly growing amounts of digital and printed information requiring organizations to find innovative ways to manage, store and access that information. As processes transform to become more digitalized, the need for physical storage areas is reduced but the requirement for effective, user-friendly document capture, storage and online access to information is increased.

At the same time, new privacy and security requirements have put additional pressure on agencies to keep citizen information safe. Protecting data effectively can be complicated by the fact that data takes many forms and is stored in a variety of ways. Despite an increased focus on digital data, Australian government agencies continue to rely on vast swathes of handwritten forms, all of which must be processed and stored safely and efficiently.

Government agencies are also looking to share information securely with each other, so that they can collaborate and meet common goals cost-effectively.

Four key challenges
1. Governance
Government agencies are highly visible and must set rigorous standards when it comes to complying with regulatory, legal, risk and operational requirements. Putting the right framework in place to manage governance and compliance issues is essential. Start by understanding and acknowledging the value of the information the agency holds. The same factors that make it valuable to the agency could also potentially make it highly lucrative for cybercriminals.

Next, understand what obligations the agency has regarding information governance. This includes complying with all relevant legislation as well as best practices. Develop an information management policy that sets out how to create, capture and manage information to satisfy all legal and stakeholder requirements. To achieve strong governance, agencies should agree on and then document the policies and frameworks that they will abide by. This can include commitments to keep information secure, accurate, updated, transparent, searchable and valued.

2. Privacy and security
Agencies must have a plan in place to manage security of personal data processing workflows and how to manage data subject requests. The Australian Government created the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF) to help government agencies protect people, information and assets. Agencies must comply with a range of policies and frameworks when securing data, depending on the nature of the data in question. When it comes to working with the public, government agencies have a responsibility to minimise the risk of harm.

It can be helpful for government agencies to follow simple privacy principles when working with information including basic security precautions such as never leaving confidential documents on public printers, never clicking on links in unsolicited emails, never using USB drives to store sensitive information and password-protecting all devices.

Multifunction printers (MFPs) have long been considered a vulnerable endpoint in the IT infrastructure. MFPs provide welcome functionality and efficiency through internet connectivity and the ability to handle print, copy, fax, scan and email. However, MFPs monitor usage and collect data, making them an attractive target for malicious actors. Furthermore, MFPs are often located in easily accessible areas, making them even more vulnerable.

A security assessment is crucial in identifying vulnerabilities the organisation may not have found out about until after it was breached.

3. Productivity and efficiency
Government agencies need to demonstrate efficiencies across the entire operation. This includes helping staff to be more efficient, which can be achieved through digitalising more documents so they can be inserted into workflows more effectively.

Using optical character recognition (OCR), agencies can scan documents, even handwritten forms, and turn them into searchable, editable content. These forms can be saved as PDFs, Microsoft Word or Excel documents. They can be secured using password protection and automatically sent to the right destination for the next step in their process. Scans are automatically stored in predefined, authorised locations and an email is sent to let the appropriate person know that the document is there. This process lets users enter metadata with the form, which makes it even easier to find the right information in context, every time.

By eliminating paper-based processes, or reducing them and automating where possible, agencies can achieve high cost and time savings. Having backed-up, digital versions of all the information an agency needs to store also reduces the chances of that information being lost or damaged in a fire, flood or other natural disaster. Unlike documents stored in a physical archive, digital documents can be easily and cheaply stored in multiple locations, building in redundancy.

4. Discoverable and usable information
Agency team members and citizens alike often waste significant amounts of time trying to find the documents they need. This can be because they weren’t filed correctly, were saved on a team member’s desktop or because the agency’s file servers aren’t intuitively organized. Agencies can save hours of productive time by automating document workflow to predefined destinations.

Also, using OCR technology to scan paper-based documents creates digitalised documents that are editable and searchable. This can save massive amounts of time when it comes to managing forms and other paper-based information within the agency, letting agencies focus on delivering services instead of shuffling papers.

High-quality metadata associated with the document is essential in making it easy to find, even if the person isn’t already aware of its existence. It’s also necessary to select appropriate formats to make the information usable. Open formats are preferred because they reduce the need for expensive software.

The workflow management challenges present today are unlikely to recede. In fact, the ongoing expansion of data and information suggests government agencies will only face more, and more complex, challenges as time goes by.

Implementing a strong workflow management governance approach that includes security and privacy management, delivers productivity and efficiency, and helps government agencies fulfill their legal, organizational and moral obligations will help position these agencies for a strong and successful future.