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L.A. County Agency Gives Up On Paper, Embraces Process Automation

The Community Development Commission of Los Angeles County is just one of many local government agencies that are moving to update their workflow structures.

The Los Angeles County Community Development Commission — a single entity that handles housing, community development and redevelopment — has upgraded the workflow structure that allows its staff to digitize documents. 

As a result, public servants within the department have an easier way to track much of the information the commission deals with on a regular basis, said Doug Van Gelder, IT manager for the commission. Using an enterprise content management platform called Laserfiche, the agency can now digitize documents in a way that also allows for automatic filing of documents, easier document disposal, more efficient auditing and generally better access and tracking.

For example, when a resident of Los Angeles County applies for public housing, they have to provide many documents that show things like employment information and financial records. In a county with roughly 3,200 public housing units and 23,000 more residents in a housing voucher program, being able to pull up submitted information at a moment’s notice is vital, Van Gelder said.

This paperless way of doing things is relatively new, having reached full implementation in 2016, but for Van Gelder, a veteran of government IT work, it’s been a refreshing change.

“When you walk around now, you don’t see walls of file cabinets anymore,” Van Gelder said. “In fact, the building would probably collapse if we printed everything out now and put it into file cabinets.”

This has made a difference for members of the public who come in to get housing information as well, who are often on tight schedules and none too thrilled about having to spend some of their valuable time visiting government offices. Van Gelder said caseworkers can pull their files and audits up in moments, rather than having people wait while they hunt them down.

“The idea of a system like this is to take that tedious work away from the case manager like this to allow them to focus on the people they serve,” he said.

The community development commission is far from alone in pushing to make these sort of changes and reaping the subsequent benefits. Due to legacy systems remaining in place, it is not uncommon for government agencies across the country to still have paper-based workflow management systems.

Local governments as prominent as Philadelphia have ongoing efforts to digitize paper-based processes right now.

Thomas Phelps, who is Laserfiche’s CIO, said that while Los Angeles County is one of Laserfiche’s largest government clients, the company often partners with other local governments, too, going through a process in which they do interviews to learn their clients' needs.

“You’d be surprised how many departments or organizations out there are still in the analog world with filing cabinets and paper,” Phelps said.

Speaking from his own experience, Van Gelder said many government agencies sign on for digitization platforms but don’t do the necessary work to train employees how to use them well enough to fully integrate them into everyday workflows.

“I still feel like we’re kind of scraping the tip of the iceberg,” Van Gelder said, “even though we’ve done this extensive records management program for our agency. You invest in these technologies, and I’m always amazed at how people don’t exploit the capabilities of the products they invest in.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.