To most efficiently realize cost savings with an IT transformation, the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) decided against digitizing paper benefit eligibility forms the agency has been accumulating for years. Instead, starting early last year, the department started digitizing all new eligibility forms.

DHS secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler said the agency, which is responsible for providing integrated services through 100 Family and Community Resource Centers, generates 7 million paper forms a year. Given recent leadership changes at the state level, Saddler said the agency began looking for a new way to reduce paper and improve file management while maintaining cost efficiency.

“Part of the initiative led to discussion of needing to digitize file cabinets, but digitizing and imaging for the thousands of file cabinets that we have was really cost prohibitive,” Saddler said.

DHS CIO Doug Kasamis then spearheaded efforts to digitize and store three types of benefit eligibility determination forms, which collectively make up nearly 70 percent of the agency’s total form volume. These forms are currently created on the department’s mainframe technology.

But instead of sending the forms to a print queue for printing, they are now turned into PDFs with their corresponding metadata – like case number and recipient ID – and then stored securely in an IBM content management system. Within four weeks’ time, the content management system was deployed statewide for the DHS’ 200 offices and 2,000 case workers.

Kasamis said that the department determined it was more cost effective for the agency not to scan and digitize forms the department already has stored in file cabinets, and to only digitize forms from present day forward. The department’s records retention policy requires that forms be stored for five years, so as the DHS continues to digitize forms, forms that are currently stored in hard copy will be phased out.

“Rather than trying to figure out a way to scan all that legacy paper, we’re basically getting rid of 20 percent of our problem every year over the next five years,” Kasamis said.

The IBM technology cost the department $325,000 and Kasamis said the DHS saw return on investment within three months of deployment. In the future, the DHS plans to integrate its other 15 form types into the system to be digitized and stored electronically. Currently the electronic data is housed in Illinois’ statewide data center, but there are no immediate plans to migrate the data into a cloud computing environment.

Ken Bisconti, vice president of products and strategy for IBM’s enterprise content management software, said because the content management system is designed to hold large amounts of data, there isn’t a pressing need to delete files from the system after the forms have been stored electronically for their required five years.

“These content management systems are capable of storing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of items and documents,” Bisconti said.

According to Kasamis, the DHS has seen a reduction of 650,000 paper forms each month since the IBM technology was deployed in early 2012. The department has already reduced its paper load by 7.5 million forms.

Saddler said the new system will prevent the DHS from using 40 10-foot-by-10-foot file storage rooms per year for storing paper files.

In October of this year, the DHS will also implement a new system to follow new Affordable Care Act requirements. The agency plans to implement the Medicaid eligibility system and integrate it with its IBM content management system. According to the DHS, some legislative uncertainties remain regarding the Affordable Care Act, so issues surrounding the new system’s compliance requirements are subject to change before its October implementation.

Photo from Shutterstock.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.