The COVID-19 crisis will have a lasting impact on the world long after the rollout of a vaccine. The race to adapt to a swiftly changing world led to the rapid uptake of digital technologies by public and private sector organisations alike, initially for outbound communication, but also as a channel for service delivery and interaction.
But this trend towards digitalisation in the public sector had begun some time before 2020. Agency leaders have long known about the opportunities for greater efficiency and improved service delivery that are possible through digital channels.
At the same time, consumers have come to realise and expect the benefits of digital interaction, especially the ease and speed with which they can get things done.
But in the rush to digitalise government services, many agencies were forced to simply put a digital front end over an existing process. The need to roll out solutions quickly took priority over the desire for process redesign.
The result now is that not only have inefficient processes been retained, in some instances, they have been pushed to the forefront. This is clearly seen in document workflows.
Documenting process outcomes
Documents are the essential carriers of information in government services, being the preferred instrument for both establishing credentials and conveying instructions.
In the paper-based world, the movement of documents through a service workflow has always carried expectations of delays. But the ponderous progress of paper documents has masked other inefficiencies, such as bottlenecks in approval processes.In an electronic workflow, where document movement is instantaneous, these additional efficiencies are starkly revealed.
This was critically apparent through the pandemic, where delays could result in life-threatening situations. The risks arising from poor document processes became visible for all to see.
These risks were highlighted in a recent report from research group Forrester, titled How Digital Document Processes are Shifting from Best Practice to Business Necessity.
Forrester describes how good digital document processes can help organisations establish business resilience, and how digitalising processes can reduce operational risk. The report goes on to say that digital document processes are becoming standard practice that will help to improve customer experience and employee experience over the long term.
Considering the needs of all parties
But achieving these beneficial outcomes requires more than just the digitalisation of an existing process.
Firstly, processes need to be designed for the people using them.
Historically, documents have been a tool of the service provider to gain the information it needs.
But documents also need to work for the people that are filling them out. And in a digitalised world, the document may be the only channel open for them to communicate with the provider. It needs to work for the user and enable them to convey what they need in the most simple and straightforward manner possible.
Much work needs to be done however, with research from Adobe finding that 60 percent of organisations say they are behind on digital transformation, which means they are delivering experiences that are often interrupted by insufficient and costly paper-based tasks.
Establishing digital trust
But experience is only part of what must be considered in the journey to digitalisation. A second important consideration is how the creation of effective digital document flows requires a rethink of how trust is established between parties.
This is especially vital in a world where ID can no longer be physically or manually verified. And the desire for smooth and efficient workflows means verification needs to occur without creating bottlenecks
For this reason, many public sector agencies around the world are turning to e-signatures.
This technology both establishes trust and eliminates the efficiencies that creep in when manual processes are digitalised, such as the time taken to print, sign and scan documents – an e-signature solution can achieve the same outcome in just seconds.
E-signatures are quickly emerging as a key requirement for successful digitalisation strategies. According to Forrester’s research, 77 percent of respondents in North America reported that e-signatures were very important or a critical requirement to support business resilience. And 60 percent of respondents rated document signing and approvals as the most important in supporting business continuity and agility. More information on the integration of e-signature technology for government agencies can be found here.
Digital trust technologies are also attracting the attention of regulators. For example, the Australian Federal Government’s Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021 proposes that measures introduced to facilitate a safe response to the COVID crisis be enacted permanently, such as enabling the fixing and witnessing of a company’s common seal to be managed electronically.
The trend towards the use of e-signatures in other jurisdictions is also apparent, with the US Government’s 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act leading agencies to consider the use of this technology to replace paper-based processes with all-digital experiences.
This points to the ongoing normalisation of the use of e-signature technology, and its growing acceptance as a suitable and robust alternative to existing practices. More information about e-signature laws and regulations in Australia can be found here.
Internal and external benefits
Better processes and robust trust are not just beneficial in an agency’s interactions with the outside world. According to Forrester, 67 per cent of the workforce is now working remotely on a regular basis – up from 20 per cent prior to the pandemic – and 39 per cent anticipated their workforce would stay away from the office even after the crisis has abated.
This means the need for improved document workflows will be a key factor in ensuring workforce productivity for the foreseeable future. Not surprisingly then, 65 percent of respondents said integration of digital document processes with everyday productivity applications would be very important or a critical requirement.
Forrester also uncovered the benefits that can flow from good digital document workflows, finding that organisations that exclusively used digital document processes were seeing five-times improvement in business continuity than companies with minimal or no digital document processes.
Achieving these benefits requires work to be done, both in ensuring that document workflows are optimised, and then enabled using appropriate technology.
Only by adopting technology such as e-signatures can organisations hope to both maximise efficiency and trust, and create outcomes that drive productivity and meet the rising expectations of the public at large.
Citizens look to government organisations for support through uncertain times. Give them seamless, positive experiences with digital document processes. Download and read the Forrester report here.