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AINS Blog - FOIA and Case Management

Tuesday
Sep192017

Top 10 "Must Haves" in an HR Technology Solution


The most important elements technology should have to improve the employee experience.

Ashwin Eapen, AINS Product Manager, meets with Federal HR departments to learn about their needs and how technology can solve problems. While every agency is different, there are similar elements HR Professionals are looking for.

Managers need an easier way to accomplish tasks, respond faster and positively connect HR to employees, improving interaction toward a shared, desired outcome.

Ashwin reports here the 10 “Must Have” features in a software solution as requested by HR Professionals.

10. Automated Assigning of Cases

Our clients use eCase HR’s assignment feature to set up rules to send the right forms to the right people. Going on vacation? It even includes integration with “Out of Office” Autoresponders to reassign cases when you are enjoying time at the beach.


9. Search

It’s much faster to type in search words than sort through piles of paper. Easy search capabilities allow the user to search all fields and within documents in the system through keywords, wildcards, IDs and advanced fields.



8. Attachment Size

Nothing is more frustrating than getting an error message that your attachment is the wrong size. eCase HR was designed with flexibility in mind. Administrators can select unlimited size or define size limits; a powerful system like eCase doesn’t slow down when files are uploaded.


7. Alerts & Notifications

A smart system should remind you what to do next. eCase sends email notifications to let users know when a case moves to the next stage, has a deadline pending or transfers to another application. Email alerts are customizable so users can add notes or instructions with each notification.


6. Security

Security comes in two forms: protection from the outside and from the inside. Role-based permissions lock down information internally so only authorized users can see or make changes. The system has built-in security features and is hosted in a FedRAMP certified data center designed to safeguard the Federal Government’s most critical information.


5. Visibility & Reporting

Knowing who, what, when and how a case is progressing keeps processes on track. The user interface shows case details on the home screen – down to each task, assignment and save. Dashboards compare cases or workloads. Easy reporting features allow leaders to get valuable metrics for strategic workforce planning.


4. Access Anywhere

Human Resources is about more than processing forms – it’s about relationships. Interactive web portals for both employees and HR Professionals create two-way conversations. Cloud-based systems allow users and employees to log on anytime, anywhere – from work, home, smart phone or tablet.


3. Easy to Change Processes

The only constant is change. Our customers lamented that major software systems that took months to update when a process changed. eFlow, eCase HR’s configuration tool, allows the user or administrator to quickly change a workflow as simply as you would create a chart. Drag and drop editors allow administrators to update the user interface, digital forms or major documents. The goal is to put the power back in the administrator’s hands and not require a technical expert to make changes.

 

2. Integrations with Microsoft & Enterprise Systems

Today’s HR Professional must work in a number of systems to process requests. eCase integrates with core Federal systems from eOPF to USA Jobs. It ties into common Microsoft Applications like MS Word, Excel, Outlook and SharePoint to update or host documents. An added benefit: the software isn’t just for submitting forms, users can work in MS Office applications within the system to complete Word documents or update spreadsheets.

 

1. Digital Forms, Letters & Autoresponders

The first question we get asked in demonstrations is “but, does it have the forms I need?” The answer is “yes.” The core feature of a case management system is the ability to move paper-based processes to a digital format. Digital forms, letters and pre-written emails are the base for all eCase Applications whether it’s Onboarding or Labor Relations.

AINS works with your agency to import your paper forms into digital format then design a workflow (how it gets from point A to B) to match your business process. A robust forms library comes integrated. The system can include pre-made email autoresponders to let employees know that their information is needed, received or to keep them engaged in the process.

Find out more about how eCase HR case management software can make the HR process easier for your team through the NFC BPA.

 

Download the PDF version of this article.


Thursday
Sep142017

Gartner Innovative Insight for BPM-Platform-Based Case Management Frameworks

As more industries consider treating some types of work as a case rather than a simple transaction, application leaders are evaluating alternative approaches for delivering solutions. Business process management (BPM)-platform-based CMFs are a market innovation that can provide the answer they are seeking. With design features like configuration, not coding, they can more easily and less-costly create adaptive solutions to meet their needs.

Download this complimentary report to learn:

  • Evolution of BPM-platform-based CMFs and why they are important todayThe main benefits and uses of this technology

  • Evaluation factors and capabilities when considering a solution for your organization

  • Evolution of BPM-platform-based CMFs and why they are important todayThe main benefits and uses of this technologyEvaluation factors and capabilities when considering a solution for your organization

AINS® is a leading global provider of cloud-based, adaptive case management solutions. Since 1988, AINS has empowered organizations around the world to rethink how they work, and how they develop and deploy new technology, by providing innovative, agile software solutions and services.

View the full report to understand how next generation BPM-platform-based CMFs can help your organization achieve its goals.

 

Tuesday
Sep122017

Q&A Series with Fred Sadler


Frederick Sadler retired, after serving 40 years with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As the Director of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office, he was responsible for administration and implementation of FOIA and Privacy Act (PA) programs.

 

Question #3:  Why is there such a continued emphasis on FOIA request backlogs? We’ve made great progress, but that’s not been acknowledged, and everyone keeps talking about it.    

Answer: Let's be realistic - backlogs have been an issue for well over a decade in both the Federal and requester FOI communities. And while there's no denying that significant progress has been made over time, the problem still continues and it's almost a trendy topic of panel discussions at nearly every FOI conference held. Why? 

No Thorough Review of the Issue
Maybe it's because neither the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress, nor the Congressional Research Service has ever done a thorough, comprehensive, government-wide review of the issue. And even if that were to happen, any such discussion should be held in strict confidence with the FOI officers themselves, rather than Agency management, who might have a vested interest in presenting the best face possible on the issue. Even leveraging the system as much as I could, I was only able to reduce my previous agency's backlog from 21,000 to 3,000. Good, but not perfect.

Sure, we prepare and post our Annual Reports, but these don't analyze the issues or tell the full story. One example of a report analyzing a component data element is the GAO report which focused on the fact that FOI offices don't really capture the true cost of disclosure-related litigation, which is a required data element of the Annual Report (see https://www.gao.gov/assets/680/679631.pdf ). 

Beneficial Alternatives
GAO did state that a comparatively minor adjustment to the FOIA itself could result in gathering more accurate, substantive data for this cost, but they concluded with the statement "We will update the status of this matter when the Congress acts to consider it." 

From my perspective, this isn't likely in the near future. So, it behooves agencies to work toward finding alternatives to backlogs (and the litigation that can result) by making full use of the role of the Public Liaison, offering Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) mediation, or trying to find mutually beneficial alternatives. Things can get out of hand quickly, and litigation is expensive and burns scarce resources. Bear in mind that the scarcity could increase in the near future with budget cuts.

Litigation Can Happen
I'm not familiar with all of the salient facts of the recent case against the FBI, and in no way should this be construed as diminishing their successes in dealing with difficult requests - they have a tough job. But the FBI just lost a FOI-based case, based primarily on non-response within statutory time frames because there were 110,000 pages at issue, explaining that their policy was to only release 500 pgs. per month when responding to large volume requests.  

Certainly there could have been mitigating circumstances, and without more information, I can’t “arm-chair quarterback” their process. But, weren’t there options, alternatives, negotiations or other ways to approach this without resorting to litigation? The Court’s decision has resulted in pushing the FBI to change its existing policies, and forces them to release up to 2,850 pages a month (See https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2015cv1303-67). 

The State Department got pretty much the same response from the DC Circuit, under Judge Jackson, when State claimed that processing requests for former Secretary Clinton's email would take decades for them to process more than 600,000 records.


Now that much of the agency hiring has have been frozen for months (including FOI offices, along with other operating components), and there is every expectation that there will be potentially significant budget reductions in 2018, we need to look at these constraints while realistically understanding that the FOI rules of the road haven't changed - other programs may be reduced or even eliminated, but the FOI hasn't even been mentioned for possible revision.  

So, FOI offices can still be sued for non-response within 20 working days, even if they've lost staff, can't upgrade equipment, have legacy databases which practically defy searching, don't have contract funds, etc.

 

Hope for the Future
One panel discussion at the July 27 Chief FOI Officers meeting was neatly summarized by OGIS in its blog (see https://foia.blogs.archives.gov/2017/08/02/reflections-on-the-july-27-chief-foia-officer-council-meeting/). It states that “We are in a new era of FOIA.  We heard from several panelists and members of the audience that FOIA’s star is rising—the number of requests to agencies across the government grows each year, the number of litigations have also grown significantly, and a new generation of journalists and researchers is harnessing the power of this important tool. Agencies need to be mindful of the expectations of these new requesters who are technology savvy and customer service focused."  

No one would disagree with this, but the question is how to get there.

Continue to consider the options that FOI offices have available to them; gather that data and present it to management as part of your justification to obtain resources and funding.  However, as the size of many FOI offices declines in the absence of the ability to backfill vacancies, and funds for various improvements are less available, we all need to think about how to make the best use of the resources that we have. 

Technology can certainly be used to help address some of the reasons that backlogs exist, but when it comes to the bottom line, there's simply no substitution for a line-by-line, word-by-word review and redaction. It’s all about education and training, reasoning, understanding, experience, and most of all communication with the requester community.   

FOIAXpress
FOIAXpress software by AINS is the pioneering technology solution making significant strides for the FOIA professional by automating the FOIA request process in a way that saves agencies time and money, while ensuring compliance with requirements. Customers leverage this powerful solution to manage the entire lifecycle of a FOIA request from initial request to final delivery of documents, including request management, document review and redaction, correspondence management, document management, fee/payment management and reporting.

 

I will be presenting at this year’s FOIAXpress User Conference & Technology Summit on October 25, 2017 at the Marriot Marquis, D.C, where I will be discussing backlogs in much further detail, alongside Richard Huff. Nikki Gramian, Deputy Director of OGIS, will also be presenting.

 

Visit the conference website for more information. http://info.ains.com/2017-FOIAXpress-User-Conference.html

Thursday
Sep072017

Top 5 Tips to Convince Your Manager Why you Must Attend 

Attending October's FOIAXpress User Conference & Tech Summit will be the most educational and professional development choice you will make all year. We know that and you know that. Get your supervisor and organization on board with our proven tips to help build your case.

Plus, use this downloadable justification letter we created to save you time and effort – then visit our site to register!

  1.  Focus on the issues at hand. Explain what you plan to get out of attending and how that will benefit your work and organization. Explore the conference session schedule and make a list of the sessions that will help you address those groups. 
  2. Share and present. Offer to share handouts and present Q & A session to your colleagues to share what you learned. They will get the benefits of your attendance too.
  3. Talk up the Tech Support. Our Tech Support Team will be onsite all day for 1-on-1 facetime to provide you solutions to your challenges that you can take home.
  4. Build a networking list. Our User Conference & Tech Summit is an unmatched source for networking, bringing together FOI professionals, experts and industry peers from across the country. Make note of speakers, sponsors and AINS team members you would like to meet or learn new techniques from.
  5. Have a plan. Be ready with a plan that shows who will cover for you while you are attending the conference.   

Who Should Attend
If you’re a Chief FOIA Officer, FOIA Officer, FOIA Specialist or Senior IT Leader who uses FOIAXpress, or a FOI professional seeking industry knowledge and expert insight, don’t miss this opportunity to learn and network.

For more information and to register for the FOIAXpress User Conference, please visit the conference website: http://info.ains.com/2017-FOIAXpress-User-Conference.html 

We look forward to seeing you there!


Wednesday
Sep062017

20th Century Technology Doesn’t Work Anymore. So why are your processes built around it?

5 ways to modernize your core with Adaptive Case Management 

Business is undergoing a digital transformation. No longer reserved for manufacturing or retail, this movement is reshaping the way knowledge-driven industries structure their processes. Traditional Business Process Management (BPM) hasn’t been able to deliver the results needed for complex, fast-pace business. 

Today’s knowledge worker won’t stumble blindly through a rigid, structured path with unwavering focus. Knowledge workers need flexibility to veer from a pre-defined course and use their expertise to choose better outcomes. You hired professionals to think. Leverage their knowledge to achieve greater success. How do you leverage the benefits of BPM without falling into the dead zone? 

Here are 5 ways adaptive case management can transform your core business for the modern age.

  1.  Adaptive is the Cure for Zombie Processes

New low code, Adaptive Case Management Platforms, like eCase®, are next generation tools to enable digital business. It takes the benefits of traditional process-based work tools – transparency, efficiency, automation – combines it with a powerful engine and enables users to apply their knowledge to achieve better outcomes. 

The new technology prompts organizations to work smarter, collaborate and innovate to find the best solution – every time. Adaptive Case Management is ideal for practices that employ knowledge workers. Professionals who apply industry-specific knowledge to solve a problem or accomplish a complex goal, such as leading an investigation or managing a workforce. It is not right for ‘zombie processes.’ Those processes that don’t require thought and are the same every time.

Adaptive Case Management doesn’t lead by a strict process; instead, it mirrors the way you work and finds efficiencies to make your processes better. Faster. More accurate.

Your knowledge workers power the “adaptive” by choosing the right path for each specific case. They give life to zombie-processes by grouping information into cases then selecting the course of action – from changing an approval to linking a case to a new process when escalation is needed. Automation doesn’t reduce the role of people, it augments it.

  1. Personalization Improves the Customer Experience

At the heart of BPM is the repeatable process. It treats every interaction as a transaction – request, process, complete. Adaptive Case Management reframes the way activities are managed. An action or request, such as a digital form submission, becomes a case. Cases capture all related activities, interactions and documents in one package. It’s a holistic way of looking at a business function. No longer “one and done,” cases are treated as unique entities going through a process to achieve the best possible outcome.

This case-centric approach echoes deeper trends in business to individualize experiences. Consumers buy up to 40% more from retailers who deliver unique, tailored experiences to each user. This emotional draw doesn’t just apply to retailers. Consumers turn into constituents, users, members or employees and expect the same level of service. They don’t want to be treated as transactions. With cases and dynamic workflows, Adaptive Case Management enables organizations to provide a personalized experience every time while still leveraging the efficiency, speed and cost savings of BPM.

  1. Make Processes More Efficient With Flexibility

In matrixed organizations processes are rarely point A to point B. They involve levels of approvals, collaboration and weave across the enterprise. Adaptive Case Management is designed for complex processes with multiple steps, interactions and players. Once a case is created, the steps in the process are automated through workflows. Workflows dictate where the case moves to next, such as for an approval or additional input.

In BPM, workflows are static. An activity must always go through the same path in the name of efficiency. Adaptive Case Management enables the business user to define the workflow. Workflows can be pre-determined and structured - always going from A to B to C. Or, workflows can change on the fly allowing the user to choose a new path based on what they think the right outcome is for that situation – such as A to B to D to E back to A then to R. The dynamic nature of the system allows businesses to mirror spider web-like processes of large complex organizations.

With traditional BPM systems, if your process changes you would need to go back to the developer to make a change. Low code, adaptive case management products like eCase® help organizations keep pace with change through configuration, not coding using integrated tools. This eliminates the need for major technical support and puts the power back in the hands of the user.

  1. Empower Users, But Control Technology

Technology is the answer to many problems – it makes things faster, smarter and extends the reach of physical activities.

But, what if your organization has too much technology?

An Adaptive Case Management Platform, like eCase®, helps organizations solve the problem of too much tech. The platform provides a single, unified system as a base– a powerful case management engine – to build, customize and link between unique applications across the enterprise. More dynamic than traditional BPM, adaptive case management solutions enable the platform to power a wider range of business functions.

The software becomes a core part of organizational strategy to drive performance through efficiency and collaboration. Using one platform means consistent data flow, interface, reporting and easy maintenance from application to application.

The biggest benefit of system consolidation: a restful sleep for your CIO. With one platform as a base and different applications per department, it puts an end to a CIO’s worst nightmare: Shadow IT. The low code, platform approach has a twofold benefit. One platform brings consistency across the enterprise. The low code environment empowers business users to define organizational needs during application design and continually adjust applications as processes change. No longer will departments create their own homegrown systems; CIO’s can empower them with tailored applications, while retaining control of the overall platform.

  1. Agility Equals Better Return on Investment

Custom enterprise BPM applications often take years to develop and implement across a large organization. As processes evolve over time, a developer must reengineer the application to meet current needs. The cycle is slow, costly and impacts audience engagement.

Adaptive Case Management platforms, like eCase®, are designed to help organizations keep pace with change. A “low code” solution, the platform speeds innovation. It enables organizations to rapidly build and deploy applications, all without custom coding. It changes the timeline from years of development to weeks.

The agility comes from the idea of configuration. Visual UI designers guide a user through making changes to commonly used features such as workflows, forms and reports. Simple drag and drop tools give users control over the system. Knowledge workers can make active decisions to keep pace with change instead of waiting for IT.

The Low Code Advantage also means less risk. Systems that can adapt have a longer lifecycle which lowers total cost of ownership. Platforms that power multiple applications consolidate maintenance issues which reduces downtime and preserves resources.

Move Business Forward With Adaptive Case Management

Choosing the right technology can speed innovation and bring your knowledge workers back to life.

eCase® is a single platform that unifies and enables digital business across an enterprise. A low code, adaptive case management solution, eCase® enables organizations to rapidly build, deploy and manage case-centric applications – all without custom coding.

See eCase® in action and request a demo today!

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