Forms-baesd systems taking off
As many cities and counties try to streamline their operations, automation becomes more important for the efficiency and cost savings it provides administrators. Many local government offices are implementing forms-based technology to automate business practices such as permitting, planning, bylaw enforcement and fire dispatch.
In addition, the technology allows administrators to easily conduct tax-based audits in order to identify clerical errors that may have resulted in people over- or underpaying their taxes. (That can be helpful because few, if any, taxpayers would report being undertaxed, and administrators need to be able to analyze their records to ensure that proper payments have been made.)
Cities and counties can follow a straightforward methodology that will simplify the automation process and ensure they get the system that best fits their needs. For example, local officials can:
1. Find out what is happening in the city and county marketplace. Local officials can look to a nearby city of similar size with comparable processes and applications, and talk with colleagues to see what kinds of products are available. Other cities may know of or may already be using special software packages designed specifically for municipalities.
2. Talk to financial system vendors. If vendors do not offer a forms automation package, they might be able to recommend a company that does.
3. Search the Internet for companies that provide forms automation software programs. Search terms include “process automation,” “local government software” and “municipal software.”
4. Gather information from vendors, contact them and ask them to send information kits and demonstration software. Local officials should review the material to be sure it can meet their needs.
5. Conduct an internal survey to determine exactly what the department or administration requires. At that point, it is vital to obtain input from staff members who will actually be using the systems on a daily basis. If a significant number voices objections to the system under consideration, concerns should be addressed before the next stage is pursued. Staff buy-in is crucial.
6. Determine the necessary software features. The proposed system should be flexible enough to meet a range of needs and should be able to expand as needs grow or change. After-purchase vendor service and support also is critical in order to maintain the system.
7. Decide what internal and financial resources must be marshaled to complete the project. A vital part of the buy-in process, the exercise also should include employees.
8. Negotiate with the proposed vendor. At that stage, it is important to set the goals for the project and expectations on both sides. It is worthwhile to document those activities to provide a strong administrative foundation for the automation process.
9. Decide to proceed, and secure an implementation date. Once the purchase decision is made, some administrators will want the system installed immediately, yet it is important not to push too fast. On the other hand, delaying for too long may cause the project to lose momentum.
10. Select a “live” date, and stick to it. Frequently, customers delay startup because they assume the system cannot be changed after installation. In fact, all systems are reasonably flexible, and most problems can be fixed easily later. It is better to go live and begin reaping the productivity benefits immediately.