Like many local governments across the country, Ventura County in Southern California has been dealing with its share of tough economic times in recent years. While the county continues to boast a strong economic base with a large and diverse labor pool, the sluggish job market has seen more residents looking for work and caused poverty rates to inch higher. As a result, more families and individuals are turning to the county’s Human Services Agency (HSA) for assistance with basic needs ranging from nutrition and housing to medical care and job training.
The surge in county residents seeking assistance has translated into a heavier workload for HSA across the spectrum of social programs it supports. Examples include:
- CalFresh, the state’s nutritional assistance program (formerly known as food stamps), has seen cases skyrocket in the county, rising from 12,000 to 30,000 active cases since 2006, a 150% increase.
- Medi-Cal, which provides healthcare assistance, has seen a 19% increase in cases in Ventura County since 2006, with more than 112,000 residents now receiving services.
- CalWORKS, the welfare program that gives cash aid and services to needy California families, has seen its caseload increase by 15% in Ventura County since 2006, putting pressure on existing staff and budgets.
Handling the rising volume of cases has posed operational challenges for the Human Services Agency, which has had to make do in recent years with flat to declining budgets. “The current economic conditions have created an environment where more people need help, but unfortunately there are fewer resources to provide it,” said Barry L. Zimmerman, Ventura County’s HSA director. In 2006, the Human Services Agency served one out of every 10 people in Ventura County. Today, it serves one out of every seven.
That reality is what drove county officials to step up efforts to boost efficiencies at HSA’s 12 offices, where caseworkers were inundated with case-related paperwork, causing work backlogs that threatened to delay the delivery of services to needy residents. “The business case for this project was to address the increase in workloads, while the budgets and funding remained flat, and, in some cases, were reduced,” said Mike Pettit, the county’s chief information officer.
Officials were confident that harnessing technology to reduce the document-processing burden at HSA would lay the foundation for implementing efficient flexible systems that allow multiple workers to service clients from any location countywide. Their search for a solution eventually settled on a new generation of capture and business process management (BPM) technologies , that automatically captures, classifies, extracts and validates information through an efficient “touch-less” process.
Managing Over 600 Forms
Deploying a solution at HSA would allow for faster processing of eligibility forms and supporting materials and enable caseworkers to serve needy clients more effectively. But the solution would have to be robust enough to digitize and interpret the agency’s vast array of forms — more than 600 in total — and extract data accurately and consistently from sources ranging from handwritten documents to emails to faxes. “We had hundreds of forms, many of them redundant,” Zimmerman said, “And they were tremendously hard to manage because we didn’t control the content or where the client information was placed.”
The county also needed the solution to integrate with HSA’s existing systems for managing social services, including the state’s CalWIN client benefit system and the county’s call center system and other business applications. “Whatever solution we implemented had to work with the IT infrastructure we have,” CIO Pettit said.
The county also needed to be convinced that a paperless solution would keep documents safe and secure. “Document and data security can be a major concern, especially where health and human service, or law enforcement or criminal justice information is concerned,” HSA Director Zimmerman observed.
The search for a solution to HSA’s document overload challenge concluded in 2011 with Ventura County’s decision to invest in a suite of Kofax products —specifically Kofax Capture and Kofax Transformation Modules (KTM).
The Kofax investment provided the technology backbone for the county’s overall enterprise content management (ECM) initiative at the Human Services Agency.
The county has since implemented Kofax-powered ECM solutions at each of HSA’s 12 offices, giving caseworkers and program managers a unified platform for digitizing and automating the flow of documents they need to qualify applicants and rapidly deliver services to eligible citizens. The Kofax solution does this by extracting and classifying data from more than 600 forms and converting the paperwork into easily shared and managed digital case files.
On the frontline of the ECM solution is a fleet of more than 70 digital scanners stationed at HSA offices; it includes a mix of scanners at several mail centers, several medium-volume scanners, and a number of small-volume scanners. Each month the county scans about 350,000 documents, or about 4.2 million each year, as shown in Table 1. Besides standard forms, the solution allows for scanning and indexing of all kinds of non-standard documents — like client letters, receipts, and other types of paperwork — for later retrieval.
Scanning operators perform an initial quality check before validating the output and “committing” the images to a central repository that can be accessed by caseworkers at every HSA office. The easy sharing of case files among offices has led to significant productivity improvements and load-balancing efficiencies.
Officials say that the ECM platform has helped the agency add flexibility to its case management process by enabling multiple people with the right mix of skills to work on a single case, thus speeding service delivery. In addition, the solution has improved organizational performance by giving managers greater visibility into cases and improving the agency’s regulatory compliance and audit capabilities.
Not least, the solution is proving to be a source of significant cost savings for the county. For example, once the files are validated and committed to the repository, most of the documents can be securely shredded, saving on storage space. Paper-related expenses have plummeted since the Kofax solution was rolled out in 2011, while staff’s ability to access key data across traditional organizational and geographical boundaries has surged.
“The combination of Kofax Capture and Kofax Transformation Modules has enabled us to drive a lot of expenses out of our business processes from a hard cost standpoint — for things like paper and real estate — while empowering staff to access the information they need in real time to get the job done,” Zimmerman explained.
According to Mainstay Salire’s assessment, Ventura County is on track to realize a range of operational and financial benefits, as detailed below.
Reduced Warehouse Storage Costs
By dramatically reducing the amount of paper documents it needs to handle and store, the county will avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in off-site document warehousing costs.1 As shown in Figure 2, the county has seen its annual warehouse storage and processing costs fall by 52%, or $272K, since the Kofax system was introduced in 2011. Over three years, those savings will total $810K. The county will realize additional savings, estimated at $300K over three years, by significantly reducing costs related to holding files at HSA offices, prepping records for permanent storage, and shredding and disposal of files.
Space Optimization Savings
The ECM platform has allowed Ventura County to retire scores of filing cabinets, opening up close to 4,000 square feet of file-cabinet storage space at county offices, a 48% increase (Figure 3). The county is planning to re-purpose the extra space, which should help it meet facility expansion needs without as many new real estate purchases — a space optimization benefit valued at $279K.
Savings in Paper and Related Costs
As predicted, the county’s adoption of the Kofax solution led to massive reductions in paper consumption and related expenses like photocopiers and filing systems. Over three years, Ventura County is expected to save $525K in paper purchases and related costs.
Staff Productivity Savings
Cutting paperwork gave county caseworkers a big productivity boost, allowing them to handle information requests significantly faster. Today, caseworkers on average access files and retrieve information in about 4.6 minutes using the Kofax solution compared to about 12.8 minutes using the paper-based filing system — a 64% time savings.
Applying these savings to HSA’s 720 caseworkers, the agency could be saving an estimated 88,500 hours per year in information retrieval time.
With records stored and indexed online, county managers can track the flow of documents and generate accurate reports with comparative ease. Managers said the new platform marks a significant advancement over the old system in which workers had to physically count paper files to track caseloads and compile reports. Over three years, these labor efficiencies are expected to help the county add five fewer case-workers per year than it otherwise would, generating savings of about $1.9M over this period.
The online ECM system gives the county agency a new level of visibility into the inflow and ongoing management of cases. Supervisors now utilize the Kofax solution’s tracking tools to divide workloads more equitably among caseworkers. Freed from having to ship physical case files between offices, the county can instantly assign and redistribute cases across the entire 12-office workforce, with caseworkers going online to access the full set of supporting documentation.
This new flexibility has helped the county respond faster to the needs of residents. No longer limited to the resources in a local office, the agency can move quickly on every case and achieve its “No wrong door policy” goal. The equitable load balancing has also had a positive impact on staff morale, since workers know that no single office is being unfairly burdened with work.
Stronger Data Security
The move to the online ECM system has given the agency tighter control over case documents — a key improvement that offers clients better privacy protection compared to paper files, which are at greater risk of being misfiled or falling into unauthorized hands. The Kofax solution enables the agency to enforce strict document access rules based on user profiles and case assignment criteria.
The system’s security safeguards allow for multiple levels of access and confidentiality based on the type of case being managed. Furthermore, the online ECM system offers better disaster recovery capabilities compared to paper-based systems.
More Efficient Audits
Like other public agencies, Ventura County’s HSA is subject to audits on a regular basis to ensure tax dollars are being appropriately spent. Not surprisingly, in the earlier paper-based environment, tracking down the documents requested by auditors entailed an extensive commitment of time and labor. Officials said it took two to three days on average and cost as much as $9 per case file. The task also was a distraction for employees, taking their focus away from serving clients.
Introducing capture enabled process automation has minimized the work associated with supporting these audits, allowing HSA to produce requested documents in a fraction of the time. Moreover, the efficiencies have allowed the county to shift about $100K in resources from full-time audit support to client-focused services.
Efficient Regulatory Compliance
Speedier case processing also has the potential to correct another operating inefficiency: overpayment of benefits. Paperwork delays can lead to missed compliance deadlines, allowing clients to receive more benefits than they should — overpayments that the county then needs to collect.
With the automated system helping caseworkers review and process paperwork more quickly, overpayments are expected to decrease significantly along with the time and effort to reclaim these funds.
Streamlined Staff Training
Managers identified additional savings from the solution’s fast and easy deployment, which included a training program for 700 users in 12 offices. In addition to full-day courses for regular users, the streamlined rollout delivered advanced training to a handful of “super users” who later served as on-site solution experts at each office. Officials said the approach was an important success factor in helping new users to embrace new ways of working. According to the assessment, the optimized training program saved an estimated $172K compared to similar deployments.
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