Making the Business Case for Public Records (FOIA) Management Software


As technology provides news way to collect information and demands increase for transparency from government agencies, public records requests play a critical part in the relationship between state and local government administrative operations and the communities they serve. Even if they don’t take up a large portion of an agency’s mindshare on a day-to-day basis, public records promote effective and efficient government and preserve the contributions of governments for future generations.

Many agencies, however, continue facing reduced budgets that require more to be done with fewer resources. The idea of embracing the new technology that can not only expedite public records requests, but also help agencies stay compliant with legal requirements can seem like a luxurious expenditure for some. For departments looking to get buy-in from management, the idea of making the case for public records management software can seem daunting. But with a good game plan, staff can show stakeholders the value of making the move to current technology. Here are some keys to developing that strategy:

The Importance of Technology… And Taking the Next Step

Public records, created or filed as part of public law or business processes, traditionally come in paper form. Many government agencies have taken the first step toward modernizing public records by moving toward digital copies which can be stored and accessed via online databases.

For many agencies, that approach may seem “digital enough.” But while many of these processes may seem digital, there’s great deal of manual work that creates new bottlenecks. Combining spreadsheets with wall calendars and manual marker redactions can create opportunities for errors, missed deadlines, and other problems.

The enormous body of work generated by agencies and organizations can be daunting. Nearly everything an organization does is documented with a public record and creates an enormous body of work to document, file, maintain and share. Success lies in knowing what records exist and in which systems they live, as well as having processes that can automate the common areas where errors can occur. The current generation of public records management software looks to solve those problems. Granicus’ GovQA, for example, features automation that can take human error out of records management and make it much easier to find the right information when records requests come in.

The difference in newer technology and older, makeshift processes, saves time and staff resources that translates to budget savings. More than that, especially in public records management, new features help make sure that all records are handled with compliance and within the scope of public records code.

Build a Team That Can Identify Opportunities

The first step toward success in making the case for public records management is the same as in any other successful project: compiling a strong team. In this case, the team looking into records management software should reflect the departments that will encounter the issues of both technology and public records.

It should include:

  • A representative from the IT department who understands the existing system, or the gap created by not having a system.
  • A representative from the Legal department who can identify and offer solutions in that realm.
  • The department manager
  • Internal users who would most benefit from this type of software solution and offer insight into how the software could be used.

Once gathered, this group can outline and address the impact of overwhelmed staffs operating across a variety of systems. Organizations are capturing information better than ever before, but are they putting it to work effectively? Having organization information at employee fingertips should be achievable and an agency mission.

As part of this team discussion, recognize pain points that could come from inefficient or worse, non-compliant public records request management. Focus on ethics and integrity and how mismanagement of public records or failure to respond to records requests could lead to litigation or appeals. While it may seem a “doom and gloom” approach, underscoring the presence of potential non-compliance can change the viewpoint of agency stakeholders when it comes to the cost of public records management software. It isn’t just FOMO. It’s FOPF (Fear of Paying Fines). Make sure that your game plan reflects that.

Detail The Current Situation

When people are close to a problem, they assume that everyone shares their frustration. That’s very rarely the case, and even less so in government agencies where silos can impact day-to-day understanding of issues even in the same department.

When creating a gameplan for public records management software, it’s important to explain the current system to stakeholders so they can better understand the gaps that need to be addressed. In some cases, this might take the form of a demonstration of what the current system can’t do versus what it can. Seeing first-hand the functionalities and improvements that are needed, with input from the IT representative on the team, can help make clear the opportunities that new software can create, as well as savings in development work.

While they may be focused on a budget, agency management should still be interested in better serving the public and, thanks to new technology, allowing the public to increasingly serve themselves. Offering real-time request tracking and centralized coordination not only helps achieve that goal, it increases the overall perception of the agency as a transparent and customer-friendly government entity.

Preparing And Presenting Software Options

While having a diverse team helped identify the gaps and opportunities in the current system, that representation is even more important in developing a list of solutions that can be presented to management as replacement options. Investigating software solutions for public records management requires attention from all departments. Understanding system requirements and necessary infrastructure is vital to making any new solution work.

From there, understanding the options that come with each potential software solution, and the impact on overall pricing is important. Is a cloud solution, allowing for remote access and savings on storage costs, a feature that takes a high priority? Creating a table of various software solutions that outlines options and pricing side by side provides management with an easy view and shows that the team has taken important management concerns into consideration.

When preparing a comparison of options, don’t hold back for fear of costs. Make sure that the solution is customizable to your needs and can accommodate future growth. Discussing the desired solution, including all costs, modules, and options, up front will prevent sticker shock impacting plans down the road. That means also consider department budget numbers to help identify funding sources for the new system. Are there trade-offs that will be required? Can some of the savings that will come from implementing new automated processes?

For some departments, the idea of a new software solution might be sold by compiling numbers on potential return on investment in staff time savings and fees being tracked and paid with software implementation. Addressing these issues early is important to success.

Make Sure Change Doesn’t Impact Productivity

While a public records management software solution can create new efficiencies for departments drowning in requests, the impact of implementation and training of that new system should be considered when making the case to management. For agencies with no solution in place, it may be easier because there would be no interruption, and implementation will only improve employee productivity and collaboration, reduce risk and costs, and increase security and efficiencies.

But with or without an existing platform in place, having a clear implementation plan with target dates set early in the process, is important to making sure that time, money, and resources are used efficiently. Regular communication with the project team, an implementation timeline, and discussions with proposed system users are all important elements to include in the plan.

Another important implementation element to consider when making the pitch to management is the extent to which customer support and training are offered by the solution provider. While many companies will provide initial training during the implementation of the software, will they also offer support and training post-conversion? And if so, how long will they provide those services? The impact on costs may be worth considering when comparing options presented to management.

Training is a critical segment of the implementation process. Make sure that whatever strategy the agency takes during implementation, that training continues to evolve throughout the process. This may start with only a few specific users transitioning to use of the new system and then slowly expanding the group as more staff are trained or conducting off-site training for all staff to learn at the same time. Make sure that the chosen software solution provider offers flexibility to meet the needs of the agency.

Planning Improves Success

As with any management negotiation, having information at your fingertips not only shows the dedication to an idea but the respect to understand the issues that management regularly face. In the end, public records management software provides a means to better meet the needs of agencies dealing with public requests and strengthens the relationship with the people they serve. Taking the time to identify gaps and opportunities, as well as keeping a realistic vision of how best to achieve department goals will make it easier to create a gameplan that is strong from planning through implementation.

Learn more how GovQA can help public records management in your agency!

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