Electronic Records For Community Action PartnershipsGo paperless using Laserfiche ECM
In the beginning
About 15 years ago, we got our first call from a CAP. It was Steve Long, IT manager for Lakes and Pines Community Action. They had just changed their retention policy from 3 to 6 years. And they realized that they did not have enough space for the additional filing cabinets that they would need. He thought that converting paper documents into electronic records was the solution for him. It turned out that Laserfiche was the perfect electronic records solution for them. They scanned their paper documents and were able to get rid of their filing cabinets. They not only started saving space, but they also found that it was extremely fast to find their electronic documents with Laserfiche’s full-text and index search capability. Steve was so excited about how well Laserfiche worked for their organization, that he began telling other Community Actions about his solution for electronic records for community action agency. (You can read Steve’s story at http://hemingwaysolutions.net/works/lakes-and-pines-community-action/
As more Community Actions began to use Laserfiche for storing electronic records for a Community Action, they build on what we had learned from the previous implementations. They found that Laserfiche not only helped them turn the paper documents into digital but it helped them automate and improve their processes such as energy assistance and weatherization application processes.
After more than fifteen years and dozens of implementations, we are excited to be continually learning ways that we can help our Community Action clients to become more efficient and effective.
Our paperless solutions for CAP agencies are tailored to your exact needs. You do not change your processes to use our software. We build your processes into our software.
Our paperless solution (sometimes called electronic records manager) for Community Action Agencies is built upon Laserfiche Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system, which is built upon Microsoft SQL. Your case management software, whether it be empowOR, THO, CAP60, or any other product, is typically built on Microsoft SQL also.
Having a powerful ECM system as the foundation is the key to a successful long-term paperless solution for CAP Agencies. Here is a video explaining some of the electronic document management capability of Laserfiche:
Our paperless solution for CAP agencies is more than a standard, out-of-the-box software that handles electronic document management tasks. We provide tailorable workflows for the approval process for energy assistance that calculates eligibility, weatherization approval process, travel voucher/expense approval process, headstart registration process, accounts payable approval process and as many other business processes that are found in a Community Action. But we have found that each agency handles these approval processes differently.
This is why our paperless solution uses Laserfiche as the foundation, and we custom-tailor workflows and forms for each agency to meet their specific needs. Each agency can then tweak their processes and workflow as they need to. Creating these tailored workflow systems is not a problem for us because we have done this for so many organizations. We don’t have to start from scratch each time.
The great benefit to you is that you don’t change your processes to work with our software, we change the software to fit your business processes.
Just as having a powerful workflow engine is necessary, having a flexible and powerful electronic forms capability becomes necessary as one progresses in their digital journey (often called digital transformation model). People often buy an application to fit current, specific needs, but soon outgrow it because they could not see what the future held for them and what capabilities the product needed to meet the future needs. If you use our paperless solution for CAP agencies built upon Laserfiche Electronic Document Management System, it will meet your needs today and into the future. Here is an explanation of the digital transformation model: http://hemingwaysolutions.net/services/laserfiche-transformation-model/
If you would like a good overview of Laserfiche ECM (also called Electronic Document Management software), I have a video below that you might find helpful. It will explain why it is such a good foundation for a paperless solution for CAP agencies.
The first step many Community Actions take when going paperless is to begin to archive paper documents. They convert their paper documents into an electronic filing cabinet for digital archiving and retrieval. And they begin organizing their documents so that they are easier to manage and secure.
Some organizations scan their documents and store them as PDFs on their network. This seems like a good way to begin the paperless process but, they often run into a roadblock. One of the roadblocks people run into is that they do not have a good way to find documents other than the file name and folder where they are stored. There is not a good search function for them, which is especially important if a document was stored in the wrong folder or named incorrectly. Another roadblock is that they don’t have tools to automate manual processes, such as simple as naming documents and as complex as automating an approval process. When that happens they either live with the limitations or they start looking for a new solution. For more info on this subject, read: www.hemingwaysolutions.net/scanning-and-storing-pdfs-is-a-bad-idea/
Another thing that people try is to store their documents in their line of business application such as CAP60, THO, empowOR, Dynamics, and many more. This seems to work well. You don’t think you need search capability because the document is linked to the record in the application. This is all well and good until someone attaches the documents to the wrong record, your organization decides to move to a new application, or you need advanced features such as workflow and electronic forms. For more info on this subject, read: http://hemingwaysolutions.net/is-storing-documents-in-your-client-management-application-a-bad-idea/
For these reasons, we recommend that you use Laserfiche to go paperless. It has all the capability to begin the project and for years to come as you look at automating business processes such as energy assistance, weatherization, AP approval, expense report approvals, and headstart student enrollment.
Here is a demonstration of Laserfiche scanning:
Once you have documents are scanned into Laserfiche. the document management capability of Laserfiche allows users to documents in seconds. One way to find them is to simply browse to them in Laserfiche just as you would in Windows Explorer. Or you can simply search by entering any word or phrase that may be found on the document or fields associated with the document. For example, you could enter the household number or first and last name.
Here is what the folder view looks like:
The first step many Community Actions take when going paperless is to begin to archive paper documents to electronic records. That is where Steve Long from Lakes and Pine CAC started. He was out of space in his office and the idea of storing more paper seemed too expensive for him.
They decided to purchase Laserfiche document management system and three small scanners. And they began scanning applications as they were completed and as time allowed they scanned past year files. Within a year nearly all the paper had disappeared from their office.
Steve said he had no idea going paperless was going to be that easy. READ the complete story here.
Energy Assistance is typically one of the departments that create the most paperwork. And often is the department that many CAP’s begin moving to paperless. In addition, this department has a well-defined approval process that lends its self to automation.
One of the first Community Actions that we worked with to automate their energy assistance application approval process was Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington County. They felt that their staff was spending too much time looking for and processing their paper documents. This left too little time to spend with their clients.
We worked with Catherine Fair, EA Director, and her staff to understand and implement their application process in Laserfiche Workflow. The project was a huge success, it dramatically improved the efficiency of their caseworkers.
Now no one had to search for the next case file to process. When they completed their part of the approval process the file was routed to the next person in the approval process. It makes such an impact on the organization that it was awarded Laserfiche’s Run Smarter Award for outstanding implementation of Laserfiche that made an organization more efficient and effective. You can read more about this implementation at https://www.laserfiche.com/casestudy/ramsey-county-community-action-agency/and http://hemingwaysolutions.net/works/laserfiche-workflow-community-action/
Here is a more detailed look at a LIHEAP/ Energy Assistance approval process:
As I mentioned before, each agency seems to have a unique process, so the following example is just one way we handle the EA approval process. This is an example of a CAP agency in Minnesota, and we will be covering a portion of the approval process. Note: If you purchase this solution, we will customize it to your specific needs.
First, the applicant fills out an application form that looks like this: (note: for some States, we create an electronic form for this and the client fills it out online, other agencies, intake personnel conduct interviews and fill out the paperwork or electronic form and send it to Laserfiche even if they are in a remote office.)
The application is mailed or delivered to the CAP agency in their area. A staff person at the CAP agency enters the information into the State of Minnesota system called EHEAT. Then the user hits the Laserfiche connector button which scrapes the screen for pertinent information and saves it temporarily. The staff person loads the application form into their scanner and enters the household number. Laserfiche pulls the household number and other key information that was temporarily saved by Laserfiche Connector into the index fields associated with the scanned application form. (Note this capability is done without the State of Minnesota modifying their EHEAT software.)
The picture on the left is a sample of the index fields that are associated with the application form. Laserfiche has automatically filled out the household number, program year, address, and applicant name.
Next Laserfiche creates a folder for this application and names it appropriately. It then it creates the electronic forms that are needed to approve this applicant and stores them in the folder. These forms are populated with the data that has been collected thus far to save data entry. Here is a sample of an eligibility form.
A set of index fields are attached to the application folder. These fields house the data that is used by workflow to know where the application is in the approval process and who has worked on the application at each step in the approval process. Here is a sample of this folder template.
As each step in the process is completed by a staff member, they update an index field indicating that they have completed that step in the process. Laserfiche then moves the application to the folder of the next step. (In all cases, there are people verifying that they have all the information, certifying that the income meets requirements, processing payments when income becomes available.)
If users wish, notifications can be setup that will email the user that a new application is ready for them to process. They can access that application right from that email. But, typically having an email for each application is too distracting for most users. They typically work out of a folder in Laserfiche that has all the applications that are ready for them to work on, in priority order.
The Laserfiche workflow handles all denials, missing information, and other exceptions to the approval process. In addition, it watches for time sensitive applications and makes sure that they are processed in the allocated time. If an application is nearing the allocated time, reminders will be sent, and it will, in extreme cases, expedite to the staff supervisor.
The other thing many CAP agencies have us work into the workflow is the ability to notify other departments of needs for other services that were uncovered, such as Weatherization, counseling, and Child Services.
When the application is completed, Laserfiche files the application and all the associated documents, such as the eligibility form, in its final resting place where it can be seen by anyone that has rights to do so.
We also have the ability to update other applications such as CAP60, empowOR, and many others with the information in Laserfiche. That prevents the user from having to do double data entry.
One additional thing we do for some agencies is to create a dashboard for management. It is a tool for CAP managers to help them manage their departments better. It will be explained in a section below.
Note: This is just a sample EA application approval process. We will deliver a solution that will be customized to your exact needs.
Weatherization is another department with a lot of paper documents and a very complicated approval process. We have helped a number of organizations automate their Weatherization and Energy Repair approval processes.
Using Laserfiche Forms we were able to create State approved electronic forms that can be filled in off-line on a IPAD or Tablet when the staff is onsite inspecting the property. When the Tablet is connected to the internet, the documents are securely uploaded to Laserfiche. Workflow is used to route the application and associated documents to the appropriate user to complete the next step in the approval process.
Laserfiche has greatly improved to ability to process Weatherization approval processes in a timely manner and helped management have better insight to begin improving their processes.
Headstart departments can benefit from going paperless using Laserfiche. They typically have a huge amount of paper documents. Often caseworkers are out of the office and having access to client documents via the internet on their tablet is very helpful. The users have told us that; remote access capability allows them to function without going back to the office, keep copies of a child’s artwork and give a copy to the parent, and give multiple people access to a case file all at one time.
Finance department of a Community Action can benefit greatly by using Laserfiche. We helped CAP agencies archive old finance records, automate AP approval process, integrate with ERP software application such as Great Plains, store finance reports directly from ERP program, and automate payment process with other departments such as Weatherization.
One of our clients, Win Grandstrand, Finance Director, Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin said; “When I needed an old finance report, I would have to search for it among 30 banker boxes. Now, those reports are available with the click of his mouse. You just can’t imagine how you appreciate that time savings when you’re busy.”
One great way to cut reduce paper in your community action agency is to eliminate paper forms. We have helped numerous CAP’s do just that. We can create your paper forms in Laserfiche Forms or we can take your PDF and add fillable fields. Not when these forms are submitted, Laserfiche Workflow picks them up and begins your approval process. We can also use the information gathered from the form and push it to your other systems such as CAP60, empowOR, and THO, just to name a few. This eliminates double data entry and makes sure all your systems are up-to-date with the latest information.
Dashboard for Community Action Agencies
Dashboard for Community Action Agencies is a tool for CAP managers to help them manage their department better. It collects data from a Laserfiche workflow, such as Energy Assistance or Weatherization Application approval workflow. It gathers data and populates an Excel spreadsheet.
The Dashboard is very useful for measuring and monitoring the performance of the whole department, or each caseworker, or individual steps in the process. It is helpful for managers to identify bottlenecks in their processes, And when they tweak their processes and workflow, they are able to monitor the impact.
Another thing it is helpful for is monitoring and adjusting staffing levels, Managers are able to predict peak workloads and shit staffing to meet those workloads. Caseworkers performance is monitored to help identify issues that may need to be addressed or that may require additional training.
Why a CAP Agency needs a dashboard:
- Improve cumbersome, complex processes
- Want better business insight
- Want to align processes with business needs
- Need better data policy oversight
- Would like to monitor and manage staffing levels better
- Would like more visibility into processes
What benefits an organization has with dashboard:
- Predictive analytics create new ways to improve doing business
- Processes built for growth and to support organizational goals
- Streamlined, simplified business processes
- Increased vision into process health and performance
- Ability to track employee productivity
- Ability to reach optimal staffing levels using analytics
Save time and resources by combining the information and functionality from your business applications with Laserfiche. We help CAP organizations by integrating our paperless solution for Community Action Agencies with their line of business applications.
- Laserfiche Connector: Integrate Laserfiche with your software applications such as a state supplied systems, case management systems, or accounting programs with one click using Laserfiche Connector, a code-free integration tool. It doesn’t matter where your software application is hosted; on your servers or in the cloud.
- CAP60: We have developed our own integration for CAP60. We can retrieve data from or push data into CAP60.
- empowOr: We have developed our own integration for empowOR. We can retrieve data from or push data into empowOR. empowOR also uses Laserfiche and our integration to offer powerful electronic forms capability to their clients.
- Microsoft Dynamics Accounting: We have integrated Laserfiche and Microsoft Dynamics to reduce data entry.
- Abila MIP
- if you don’t see your application on this list, no worry, call us we have integrated to so many applications, we can’t list them all here
Why do we integrate our electronic records management/paperless solution for CAP agencies to your line of business application?
- Save time
- Reduce duplicate data entry
- Ensure that data is accurate
One of the things that seem to frustrate Community Action employees and managers is travel vouchers/expense reports.
Each month the employee that travels as part of their job is required to document their travel expenses and turn them in on time. This is typically done by filling out a paper form.
The paperwork then must be given to their supervisor who must approve it. And then if the reimbursed amount is over a certain amount, it must go to management for approval before going to accounting to be paid.
Often, accounting only pays expenses once a month. So, timing is critical to get the paper application routed through the office in time to make the cutoff. And if at any point in the approval process the travel voucher is rejected it needs to go back to the employee to correct. This approval process is further complicated in organizations that have staff work from different locations.
We have helped community actions and other organizations solve these challenges by automating the travel voucher/expense reimbursement process. We start by creating an electronic version of their travel voucher using Laserfiche Forms and put a link to it on their company website or an internal intranet. We then map out the complete approval process and automate it in Laserfiche.
Each month, the employee clicks on the link and fills out the form. The form is checked to make sure the information is complete and then is routed to the 1st approver in the process. The forms are sent to their work folder in Laserfiche Forms and an email sends with a link to the voucher. The approver can go to their work folder or simply click on the link in the email and either approve or reject the form. They are also able to add notes and comments. This process is done for each approver in the approval process. Finally, the document is routed to accounting.
For some organizations, we push this data into their accounting program to save data entry. Other organizations, the accounting staff will enter view the voucher in Laserfiche and enter the data in their accounting system. Then a field in Laserfiche is updated to tell the system that the voucher has been paid. Laserfiche then automatically files the document in its final resting place in Laserfiche.