In December 2008, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was launched Renew Virginia, a series of one-year legislative and administrative actions that promote renewable energies, create green jobs and encourage environmental conservation. A noble goal indeed, and as many such initiatives are, it is usually more challenging than a decree. Environmental conservation is on everyone’s mind these days, and rightly so. Since we believe that the world is now home to more than 6 billion people, we must all consider shared resources.
One of the most important environmental zones that government agencies in particular can target is reducing paper in their processes. In the past 10 years, many of these organizations have embraced the idea of moving away from paper and have implemented electronic document management systems, which can store paper in electronic format for easy retrieval and sharing without the need for additional paper. Many have even taken the extra step of ‘digitizing’ or converting their older, historical papers and microfilm plates into digital formats, and have been able to ‘recycle’ the hugely expensive space they previously used to store these documents.
However, one of the most overlooked areas of significant improvement is the point at which citizens actually interact or communicate with these agencies. Currently, many of the Commonwealth municipalities have posted a plethora of necessary forms on their respective websites for citizens to find, print and fill out themselves without employee interaction. This is a step in the right direction, but somewhat limited in its efficiency and ‘green’ electricity. For example, if I want to have a garage sale in my hometown of Chesapeake, VA, I can go to the town’s website, open the permit form, fill out the required fields (all right so far …) but THEN, I need the form print (waste of paper and ink), write a check (waste of expensive paper and ink) and either drive to the tax inspector’s office (waste of gas and time) or email it to the COR office (waste of envelope, stamp and post office gas and time). Once the Commissioner’s office has received my permit application and control, the paper form (which started out as an electronic document) now needs to be digitized and entered into their document management system for approval and filing. The check must also be deposited (and someone must verify that it is erased …) The inefficiencies are monumental!
Doesn’t it make much more sense to eliminate the waste between the original electronic form on the website and the completed electronic form and the deposit in the Commissioner’s system? A cursory discussion of the Chesapeake’s City online forms page shows more than 140 forms! How much paper, gasoline and manpower can be saved by eliminating the ‘waste’ in this process? Multiplied by the number of municipalities in the Commonwealth? Or the country?
So, congratulations to many of the Virginia Governmental agencies that have hired electronic content management systems… you’re halfway there. You have made the back-end of your process ‘greener’. Let’s start focusing on the front-end in the future, and a “revamped Virginia” reality can be much closer for all of us.