Your local government likely receives hundreds of requests every day across departments. Dog licenses, permits, access to transparency reports, facility reservations, and event sign-ups are just the tiniest fraction of the documents and requests your administration handles daily. We bet you even receive inquiries asking where to direct inquiries, right? We thought so.
Don’t worry; you’re not alone. According to The Paperless Project, in the U.S., companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms, most of which outdate themselves within three months’ time. A typical employee spends 30-40 percent of his/her time looking for information locked in filing cabinets. These statistics represent an astronomical amount of inefficiency that can be minimized with the proper tools. If your local government is still processing paper forms, saving files in large metal cabinets, and licking stamps and envelopes, it’s time to go digital.
Save paper, time, and sanity, with online forms.
There are a variety of form tools available that integrate with most content management systems (CMS). The key for local government is to implement a single solution that will ensure a consistent end-user experience, serve as a reliable repository for all documents, and enable streamlined internal cross-departmental document management processes. The ideal form tool is one that’s already built into your CMS. An integrated solution eliminates the need for an additional product subscription, the need for third-party integration, and yet another tech vendor pointing fingers the other way when something breaks.
Any CMS that you choose for the hosting of your municipal website should offer a flexible, but robust form submission and document management tool with the following ten features. Don’t settle for anything less than what’s on this list:
The ability to create new forms without contracting out the work to a programmer.
A CMS suited for local government that will likely be managed by a variety of non-technical administrators from multiple departments needs to be user-friendly as a baseline requirement. Any integrated form functionality must be just as straightforward. You should be able to create fields, accept file submissions, indicate response requirements, and set up notifications for necessary administrators without referring to a training manual the size of the Oxford Dictionary.
Forms are mobile responsive.
In the United States alone, 77 percent of people own a smartphone, and one-in-ten American adults are smartphone-only users, which means their smartphone is the only tool they have to access online content and research local information. If your integrated forms don’t work just as well on a smartphone as they do on a desktop, you’re not accommodating the needs of a majority of citizens, and will likely not reduce the overall number of phone calls and walk-ins you’re currently managing.
Incorporating secure payment options.
Many of the requests citizens will need to submit to your administration electronically will require an associated payment, whether they are registering for a class, reserving a community facility, or paying a water bill. From a website usability perspective, content submissions and online payment should be integrated, seamless experiences. Doing so reassures the citizen that all the pieces of their request make it to the same office at the same time, eliminating the possibility of a phone caller who says, “We received your reservation but not your payment.” Make sure any form tool integrates with your (not their) preferred ePayment solution.
Accessible through the Internet or your intranet.
A form feature that can be used consistently by all departments, ensuring a consistent end-user experience is a must, but don’t forget it should work with your internal intranet too. If not, you’ll end up having to train your staff on a whole new product, copy documents from one repository to another, set up duplicative routine rules, manage separate passwords, and…see what just happened there? We lost efficiency. Stick to one form solution for both internal and external use.
Unlimited form creation capabilities.
You don’t limit the number of citizens you serve or the number of ways in which you serve them. Don’t accept tools that put limits on your service capabilities. If a solution maxes out your available form creation at any threshold, you’ll end up needing to implement another solution to accommodate all other online request types, so why not just stick to one system that can do it all?
Unlimited file submissions.
A citizen may be thrilled to know he can submit a business license application directly through your local government website without a trip into town hall. However, that excitement will turn to frustration when he receives the dreaded “Your attachment exceeds the maximum file limit” error message of misery. You need a form tool that will allow citizens to send you files, but if it can’t accommodate file sizes larger than 1 MB, you’re back to ripping open envelopes and manually processing paperwork.
Templated form options.
You need a solution that can accommodate unique request types and customizations, but we can tell you from experience that there are dozens of kinds of forms that can be pre-designed and templated for quick set-up. Every municipality in the United States and Canada needs a general contact form. Why create one from scratch when you can choose it from a templated list and move on to other, more strategic work?
Routing capabilities with built-in fail-safe features.
If a form only lets you send an automatic notification to one email address, ask yourself this question: What happens when that administrator is on vacation? How long do you think a citizens’ request for a marriage license will sit in an unresponsive in-box before the clerk’s office receives a frustrated phone call? Choose a solution that can accommodate your processes and backup processes. You likely have backup staff assigned to assist with key tasks. If your automated tools don’t accommodate these processes, you’ll never be as efficient as you should be.
If your Mayor were to call you to ask how many building permit requests have been received this past quarter, how would you get her an answer? Would you dig through paper files and manually count pieces of paper, hoping none were misfiled? With a form tool that incorporates reporting functionality, you can not only work efficiently day-to-day, but you can also analyze your citizen engagements to improve your processes further.
If you’re ready to implement a single solution CMS that will move you from paper-based, to paper-less, and give you the power to serve your citizens faster and better, take a tour of our powerful CivicEngage® solution. Click below to sign up for a commitment-free demo.