On March 10, 2010, two days after Illinois announced a new back-to-work program for constituents, the state's Department of Human Services posted application forms on its website with the goal of filling more than 10,000 jobs using a paperless process.
The agency's Bureau of Automation was able to create these electronic applications quickly thanks to Adobe LiveCycle software for forms creation and business process automation.
"LiveCycle is a whole myriad of tools that we can use to automate forms," explains John Rigg, chief of the Bureau of Automation for the Illinois Department of Human Services. "We can build in business processes, workflow and the different backend operations that help with calculations and the handling of data."
LiveCycle is popular with state and local government agencies because it reduces paper and helps slash administrative costs. Along with speeding forms creation, the tool helps eliminate costs associated with paper forms, including printing, mailing and storage. And it reduces the need for expensive, error-prone data entry because the information collected by online forms feeds directly into databases and applications for processing.
"In a business process, every place where you have paper, it's slower, it's less efficient and it's error prone," says Melissa Webster, program vice president for content and digital media technologies at IDC. "Paper is not really auditable or traceable because it just sits on somebody's desk. So getting off paper is really important.''
6 to 24 months: The time it takes for an organization to see a return on investment from replacing a paper process with an online transaction using software such as Adobe LiveCycle
That is indeed the goal at the Illinois Department of Human Services, agrees Rigg. "We parse all of the XML data and feed it directly into backend databases rather than having somebody handle it and re-key it," he says of the LiveCycle deployment. "The user logs in to the form, hits the submit button, and the information is automatically put into the backend database for us to use."
The Illinois Department of Human Services deployed Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader software about 10 years ago. The department used these tools to replace 2,000 paper forms with electronic Portable Document Format (PDF) versions.
Rigg says the agency -- one of the largest in the state of Illinois, with more than 14,000 employees and an annual budget topping $5.6 billion -- saw an immediate return from online forms in reducing its multimillion-dollar printing budget.
He concedes that it takes a few months for forms developers to master LiveCycle. But once they learn the software, they are able to create production-quality online forms and automate the associated, behind-the-scenes business processes in days because they can modify forms and processes they have already created.
"If you create a workflow for one process, you can replicate it in another process; so there's a huge reusability feature," Rigg says. "The time to market is substantially reduced. Instead of taking weeks or months to automate a form, you're talking about days."
Migrating a paper-intensive process to the web also saves considerable administrative overhead. This is especially true for interactions that agencies have with constituents, IDC's Webster says.
"You have this opportunity to have a real dialogue with the citizen electronically, and it saves everybody time and money," Webster says. "It saves you from having to do data entry. It saves needing to do forms recognition with the percentage of accuracy that you might get. And it saves all that error processing. It just phenomenally changes the quality of service you can provide."
Last year, the agency used Adobe LiveCycle to automate its contracting process, allowing the state's contractors to go to a website and save or print copies of their contracts. As a result, the agency returns only a signature page instead of a 20-page document to each individual contractor. "We cut all of our upfront postal costs and most of theirs," Rigg explains. Though he hasn't seen the dollar figures yet, he notes that the agency has thousands of contracts, so the savings are substantial.
The Department of Human Services also uses Adobe LiveCycle to partially automate travel vouchers. Staff members can fill out an online travel voucher that can be tracked electronically, though the Comptroller's office currently still requires submission of a hard copy. One goal of the project is to improve the accuracy of travel vouchers.
"We might get 7,000 travel vouchers a month. Before, these vouchers were totally paper based and prone to a lot of errors,'' Rigg says. "We're going to reduce the errors based on a wizard that we've built into the form. They enter the date and the time they left and the date and time they returned, and the form automatically calculates their per diem so there won't be so many mathematical errors.''
Next, Rigg plans to use Adobe LiveCycle to create an automated child care tracking system and to automate the work verification process required for needy families who receive temporary assistance from the state. He says that other opportunities for savings with LiveCycle might include automating employee leave request forms and internal contract approval processes.
"Our experience with Adobe LiveCycle has been great," Rigg says. "If you're looking to automate processes and get a quick return on your investment, it is probably one of the best things you can buy. The time to market is faster than anything else that we've found."
Rigg says the return on LiveCycle comes over time, as an agency replicates processes and reuses modules.
"This is not anything that's going to pay for itself on the first day," he warns. "You've got to use it over time. But because of the [ease in replicating applications], you'll show a fairly substantial return on it very quickly."
Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite 2 helps agencies automate business processes by: