Some new processes tap into modern information-management technologies and successfully drive limited improvement, while others fall over at the starting line due to poor consolidation or ineffective integration of data sources. These failures frequently reflect a mismatch between the operational ambitions of transformation and the historical realities of the agency where it is being implemented.

Auditable access across information management systems doesn't mean having to run a costly rip-and-replace. Year's worth of paper records don't just disappear overnight – and even when they are successfully digitised, they are often managed using manually-intensive processes that have changed little over the years.

This conceptual disconnect prevents government employees from tapping into newer methods of information organisation and access. It can also drive a two-speed transformation in which structured information and unstructured information are handled in very different ways. This can produce incomplete outcomes and create new problems when workers can't access the information they need, in the way they want.

Show me some discipline
To be clear, unstructured information is usually generated in the absence of a pre-defined data model or architecture that allows it to be categorized and indexed as it is created. Structured information, typically created in a software system, may have rules and definitions applied, but these frequently differ between products and installations, especially when customised.

As an information-centric pursuit, governments have of course used different kinds of enterprise document and records management systems (EDRMS) for decades. A breakthrough for their time, such systems have endured as a backbone of official records and communications, even as new applications across email, file transfers and even Twitter have all entered the public sector workspace.

The pain point for senior managers at the coalface of government who are now dealing with digital transformation mandates is that the myriad of applications, systems and formats don't always play well together —unless a conscious effort is made to wrangle them into a form that empowers users rather than adding work.

The good news is that achieving easy, controlled and auditable access across information management systems doesn't mean having to run a costly rip-and-replace exercise thanks to intelligent business process automation solutions that incorporates sound governance capabilities.

Automatic for the people
Automation of business and information processes using a process governance framework doesn't just deliver better access, efficiency and cost control, it reduces key risks of error and maladministration. And it hands back valuable time and money to agencies that can be deployed in areas with the greatest effect.

Governance is a crucial consideration when it comes to any government organisation that deals with regulation or that is bound by compliance requirements to maintain transparency and accountability. What really counts when it comes to getting automation to deliver in spades is getting on top of how you organisation really works.

Automation will hand access to and power over information back to its owners, but what turbocharges it is a firm and frank assessment of what business processes are at play — and their priority.

For many government organisations this can be a reflective exercise that distils down what a desired outcome or end point might be, rather than looking at how things have been done previously — especially when mobile access and cloud-based systems have become requirements.

Many popular consumer platforms and services, especially for storage, communication and sharing are great for home and family but unsuited for use cases that demand secure, verified and assured access provenance and versioning. Just think courts, hospitals and personal records and case files.

Step-by-step improvement
Automation certainly enables good governance at scale and there is plenty of seasoned corporate knowledge available to make it work quickly and effectively.

Experts like Objective Corporation, an ASX-listed specialist in government solutions, has been at the forefront of helping agencies weave together their disparate systems to create accessible and cohesive workflows across jurisdictions and portfolios.

A key recommendation made when embarking on an automation and transformation journey is for stakeholders to deploy a staged improvement plan that uses an iterative ‘test-as-you-go' approach that allows processes to be tested, validated and improved.

"Flexibility should be provided where necessary by leveraging workflow applications that are agile enough to support exception handling and dynamic case management," Objective's best practice paper on business process automation and good governance observes.

"This removes the traditional rigid confines of business process management, allowing process managers to add workflow options, or support ad hoc jumps from one step in the process to another to meet changing needs."

From pain point to payoff
Any investment in transformation, whether for compliance or productivity (and they're not mutually exclusive) still needs validation and metrics to stand-up a business case.

Here again there is strong evidence.

Implementing a process governance framework can produce 43% faster customer response times, 40% improved productivity and 38% improved compliance according to a whitepaper compiled by AIIM, an international not-for-profit industry think tank that taps the wisdom of Enterprise Content Management and Social Business Systems user communities and suppliers with access to a global professional community of more than 190,000 individuals.

It's that calibre of improvement that's certain to keep pressure on agencies to sharpen their good information governance game, both from policymakers above and citizens below.

Change, for the better, is coming and it is not before time.

Key steps:

  1. Re-engineer and streamline manual processes with automation
  2. Start small, then leverage workflows for more dynamic and complex processes
  3. Implement a measure and monitor model for continuous improvement

Find out more about how to achieve better automation, integration, productivity and information governance through this expert guide written specifically for the Australian public sector.

This blog post originally appeared in The Mandarin on 22 May 2017. See the original blog post here.