Improving productivity through better information management

A major obstacle to efficient government information workflows is speed of access. This can be broken into two categories: the efficiency of intra-agency personnel and systems, and the efficiency of inter-agency information transfer.

In a study published by the IDC in 2012, Melissa Webster exposed the amount of time information workers were spending just on document-related challenges: more than 11 hours per week – with 2.3 hours being spent looking for things that were never found.

Information processing practices have progressed rapidly since then, revolutionising the way agencies operate, so we might expect efficiency of access to have increased accordingly. Not so, say the information management experts. Staff are still spending up to 30% of their day chasing down physical copies of documents. Delays that were once the result of a lack of automation are now caused by a dearth of information that is indexed poorly, or not at all.

One cause of this is the inflexibility and inaccessibility of physical records. While the government is seeking to address this through the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy, the reality is that agencies will be reliant on paper for many years to come and still need processes capable of managing this. “The computer system is fast. Everything is right there,” an Administrative Affairs Tribunal employee told us. “But paper files get lost – especially when we have to move offices. Then everything just stops [until they’re found].” The opportunity cost of unnecessary legwork is a burden on government as a whole. But more significantly, it has a major impact on agency response times – and therefore the experience of the public.

Information asset sharing issues present another unique challenge. With a volume of information passing between agencies that is unparalleled by other business sectors, inefficiencies in one agency can have a profound knock-on effect. For physical documentation there is the relatively simple issue of transit times, which results in the accessibility issues that the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy seeks to address. More significantly, however, are the sharing issues related to electronic information. With cooperating agencies using different systems that generate a variety of file types, shared information assets must often be converted for compatibility before or after they are transmitted. Directly commenting on this issue in her IDC study, Webster said: “[Challenges related to collaboration add] up to seven hours of wasted time each week (or 14.2% of the work week) at an annual cost of [AU$10,629] per information worker.”

Even if the cost isn’t an issue, across the whole of government these delays can have a detrimental affect on agencies’ ability to meet their KPIs, and can ultimately hamper the ability of government to deliver services to the public.

A secure in-house fleet and workforce model helps good information management companies deliver solutions faster, and with greater frequency. They are similarly speed-conscious when it comes to making their systems easy for clients to access and utilise, automating much of the document retrieval and management process. Interfaces are intuitive and responsive, with indexing that integrates seamlessly with that of their clients. A smart solution not only makes searching faster, but delivers information in a way that eliminates long wait times and the need for document reformatting.

But perhaps the most attractive benefit of comes from better information management is increased efficiency. There may still be a wait time for physical documents, but the time is almost entirely taken up by the transit process, and no longer by staff searching in vain for files that may not even exist. With document retrieval outsourced, staff can get on with more productive tasks.

In terms of requesting information, a more streamlined and intuitive electronic document access system naturally increases retrieval speeds. Off-site electronic information storage doesn’t necessarily need to offer a higher transfer rate to be faster either – just the knowledge that all data has been consolidated inside a single system can greatly improve staff efficiency.

Information asset sharing between agencies can be improved when two or more agencies use the same information management company. Not only does this help agencies draw more easily from the same data sets, but allows them to use common file formats, reducing the need for time-consuming conversions. Smaller agencies without the budget to engage an information management company can also piggy-back on a contract held by a larger agency.Both agencies then enjoy reduced costs at the same time as their shared information management solution helps them fulfill the interoperability requirements of the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. Find out more in Grace’s FREE in-depth information management report for government agencies – available exclusively at www.grace.com.au/information/government