Jul 06 2015

Why the Federal Government Needs to Address Its Paper Problem

The joke is a good one: On the classic sitcom The Office, Michael Scott, regional manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton, Pa., branch, is addressing a business school class. A student asks how a paper company will adapt to an increasingly paperless world.

Ever the idiot, Scott downplays technology’s importance and says, “Real business is done on paper. Write that down.” Every student then types his advice on a laptop.

This clip is from eight years ago, but it still holds true. Some organizations, particularly the federal government, are still accustomed to doing business on paper, but a study from IDC sponsored by Adobe shows that this practice is holding them back.

In fact, 60 percent of respondents said that employee satisfaction would improve if their organization used more digital document technologies, and another 63 percent said productivity would increase. This reliance on disconnected document systems reduces revenue, degrades customer service and takes away administrative time that could be spent on higher-priority tasks.

“The biggest reason we see for this is simply a culture gap,” said John Landwehr, Adobe’s public-sector chief technology officer, in an interview with FedTech. “There are still people that feel a comfort level with paper, and it’s easier for them to stay in the status quo than integrating digital document usage into some of their systems.”

This is particularly true when it comes to electronic signatures. Landwehr said the federal government has made significant progress in incorporating digital documents — but only up to a point.

“We found that people still want a physical sheet of paper signed,” he said. “This brings the process to a dead stop.”

For instance, employees who need their supervisor’s signature on documents often find that these articles sit on the individual’s desk for a long time, especially if the supervisor travels frequently.

With electronic signatures (yet another use for mobile devices), digital documents can be signed no matter where the person is. It simply makes the process more streamlined and efficient, leading to less wasted time waiting for papers to be pushed around.

Digital signatures are also more secure than traditional ink signatures.

Landwehr said it would be relatively easily for a person to change a page in a long document that an executive must sign by simply removing the binding (most likely a staple) and inserting new pages, giving the impression that the individual has signed off on them.

Digital signatures, though, feature more detailed measures.

“If a single pixel is changed on the document, the signature is no longer good,” Landwehr explained, not to mention altering a number, letter, word or paragraph.

Agency leaders who participated in IDC’s survey said that correcting the “document disconnect” could lead to a 39 percent increase in revenue, a 23 percent reduction in costs and a 16 percent decrease in risk.

For more on the subject, read Landwehr’s blog post.

Ingram Publishing

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