Will 1999 be the year that bureaucracy dies in state government? It's not likely, but a case can be made that a huge step has been taken toward ending the bureaucratic flow of paper that permeates agencies. That step was taken earlier this year in New York, where the state Workers' Compensation Board began rolling out a document-management system that, when completed, will integrate virtually every type of information needed to process and adjudicate a worker's claim for benefits. The $50 million system will be one of the largest of its kind in state government, and is expected to shave $500 million from the $5 billion in annual unemployment insurance costs.

It's true that other state compensation agencies use imaging to process claims, and there are agencies that have replaced paper-based processes with information systems. Too often, however, these solutions stop short of completely automating the entire business process. For one reason or another, a vital link in the chain remains enmeshed in traditional bureaucracy, negating some of the automation project's biggest benefits.

But the move by the board represents one of the most aggressive efforts to date at overhauling how information is processed from top to bottom. Yes, the board still must process paper. As a government agency serving the public, they can't get rid of it entirely. What the board did, however, was take advantage of technological trends affecting networking, software and enterprise computing to create a nearly paperless work environment that will produce significant benefits.

While it's still too early to tell whether the board's project will fully succeed, the agency appears to have in place the necessary components for realigning its entire business process for workers' compensation. The key is a full-fledged investment in imaging, workflow and document management.

Scanning Farm

The project, the Claims Information System, expands the board's existing imaging system to include case management and, through workflow, to make case documents accessible to board judges and other employees. More than 1,400 employees will have access to 29 million documents.

The imaging system eliminates the paper-based case folders in which the agency once stored, administered and processed workers' claims for benefits, employers' reports of accidents and illnesses, medical reports from physicians and reports from insurance carriers and self-insured organizations. By scanning all these documents into electronic case folders, the board has significantly reduced the time spent on filing and routing. It has also ended the problem of mislaid and lost folders.

These benefits are typical of what happens with an imaging application. But the board decided to push the envelope by using imaging to conduct business in an entirely different manner. For starters, the board didn't hire new workers or redirect existing employees to the task of scanning and indexing documents. Instead, it farmed the job out to QCSInet, a scanning facility in Binghamton, 134 miles southeast of Albany. There, workers scan tens of thousands of documents per day, index them according to case number and claimant name, and then transmit the data and images over high-speed T1 lines to optical disc jukeboxes and an Oracle database in Albany.

With the old paper files, the board staff handled cases with an assembly-line approach, each worker performing a task once the folder physically reached his or her desk. With electronic file folders, however, work is queued up and routed automatically, and multiple tasks are performed on the same folder at the same time.

Again, simultaneous or parallel workflow is typical of many imaging systems. but the Workers' Compensation Board has taken the workflow process several steps further. While claims are processed at nine district offices scattered around the state, injured workers, their attorneys, employers and insurance carriers can view the electronic folders at an additional 30 service centers. Interested parties now have far less distance to travel to view a claim while it's being processed