Thursday, August 27, 2009

Obama and my Day Job

I am now halfway through Pres. Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope". This is one of the few books I am compelled to mark. Here's one paragraph where he talks about the potential for electronic forms management can dramatically reduce administration costs. He speaks of it's use for health care, but it's application holds true for nearly every other way that government collects information.

"To further drive down costs, we would require that insurers and providers who participate in Medicare, Medicaid, or the new health plans have electronic claims, electronic records, and up-to-date patient error reporting systems - all of which would dramatically cut down on administrative costs, and the number of medical errors and adverse events.... This simple step alone could cut overall health-care costs by up to 10 percent, with some experts pointing to even greater savings."

Amen and amen. If you don't create the paper in the first place, you don't have to worry about how to manage it. There are physical realities with paper besides the environmental impact; it takes up space. Someone has to physically move it. And there will never, never be instant retrieval. Electronic file management takes care of all these issues. I find over time also that people are impatient with the space, movement, and time it takes to take care of paper filing. Why? Because we are quickly adapting to the electronic world and the conveniences it offers.

Why isn't there a greater adoption across the board for these e-forms? There are a few remaining policy issues that have to be dealt with, especially around signatures. This can be worked out, though. The biggest resistance, I believe, is from the paper pushers themselves. To implement an electronic forms forces us to review our business practices. Inefficiencies and redundancies will be exposed. We're starting to shave very close to home here; we can threaten jobs that may very well become obsolete.

The e-forms team may receive confusing and conflicting information, long lists of exceptions, and unusual reasons why an electronic form won't work in their circumstance. A true danger for the developer is that an apparently straightforward process is quickly mired by exceptions. The process for form completion and submission suddenly becomes complex.

Take a step back.

Was the original paper form ever so complicated?

Design for the rule, rather than the exception.

Before implementation, do testing with the end users of the form. Make sure in the process of e-information collection, you create something simple and useable for the client.

At the same time, the underlying fears of the administrators of this information (the former paper pushers) must be addressed. Are they working in a culture of trust, where they are reassured that their employer is concerned about their employment future, and is willing to retrain to new tasks? Addressing the fears directly can go a long way in reducing complications.

In the end, it's not technology that's the issue. This is a human problem, and we need to deal with the issues humanely. It's working with people, allaying their fears, and empowering them to believe in a hopeful future.