Government, by their very nature of work and responsibility, need to be transparent and to be ‘demonstrably’ transparent at that. In addition, due to the current globalized setup of economy and diversified business practices, government need to be extremely agile as well.
A typical setup: Being demonstrably transparent is a substantially effort intensive exercise. Let’s take a scenario, for example, where a municipal body has to get a flyover constructed over a road crossing. Now, a process like this would have to relate to authorization levels within the organization for initiating, approving the concept, understanding/ approving the high level cost, getting the bids, deciding on the bid, referring to consultants and historical data points, verifying the progress, triggering staggered payments, full and final payment and closure of the project. Each such project would essentially imply a proverbial ‘File’ getting created and moved around departments or divisions at various stages, where the approval or rejection would trigger ‘actions’ within or outside of the organizations.
Fair and Effective: Now for a government body, which has to deal with many such projects in parallel, it is certainly a big effort. And then in real world, you always have few things/ items not working out in scheduled time or cost and managing those will imply the ‘file managing effort’ multiply manifold for the setup making this really huge. Remember, no one has infinite resources, not even governments.
On top of this, many countries and provinces are legislating and executing acts like ‘right to information’ act, which typically necessitates that the back office (whether electronic or physical) is able to track and report that all the relevant noting (comments/ approvals/ rejections) are done by the right authorized people at right time in the right file – so that a “no-bias” setup can be proven for any audit or any individual.
Automated Auditing: As we can understand, while the file system and setup is here to stay and needed for assurance of fairness, it can make the process sluggish. Society at large will perceive this as a lack of execution and as a dis-interest attitude of government and can even dub it as ‘policy paralysis’. We need to find a system, which is not only transparent “demonstrably” but also agile; basically a system, which can afford an almost-automated audit. This will free up the decision makers to continue with their new tasks rather than getting stuck up to an old one, where someone has questioned the ‘hows and whys’. Most of the times, decisions are pending because the officials don’t want to defend it ad infinitum and they would rather not take it(no penalties here). And so if auditing can be system tracked without involving the individual, the whole setup will become agile.
A basic analytics in such a setup can also find point of congestions, whether caused by people or process; and a slightly sophisticated own can also compare cases of similar nature and magnitude and show the deviation across years and all this without causing any disruption for the regular ‘new’ files and approvals.
Integrated: These features will demand that our file systems become digitized and they should also be seamlessly integrated with all the actions that take place based on approvals, rejections or clarifications etc. Going back to the earlier example, let’s assume that in principle approval is given for a flyover, and now you would like to ask for bids. And the best way to track the bidding and final allocation to a bidder will be if this file was linked to say a ‘Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) system.
On a similar line if we want to make the payment in stages and track the progress of the project, integration to a typical ERP system will be very helpful. Taking it further, if such an action was triggered by a citizen and if you would like to track request at that level (and also possibly give him or her, a restricted access to few data points), it will be worthwhile to integrate such a system with a Customer Relationship (CRM) system.
My argument here is that a fragmented solution or a stand-alone application is neither optimal nor really sustainable. If users work part of the time in one system and then go back to an ‘un-linked’ system or manual process, there is always a high probability that they will reject the new solutions and go back to old ways. And in an integrated system, where a user can track directly from a file, say, to which vendor the contract is allocated to and how has the vendor performed wrt previous contracts and how is your money outflow with him, etc., the user will stick to the system as he has visibility to the whole scenario without moving across systems.
A common Need: As we observe, while public organizations are moving towards agility, private ones, who were rather agile, now have to embrace transparency. Need for such a system is common. And the need is now. Few states approving “Right to Service” act for its common citizen will need to go for such a file management system soon to support their vision. And such a setup does give us a much better protection against disasters - Mumbai (financial hub of India) Mantralaya fire is a rather recent example of thousands of files permanently getting lost.
I would like to summarize that a file lifecycle management system, which is integrated seamlessly to a backend like ERP/ SRM systems and has analytics embedded in it, is fundamental need of the hour across countries and offices. This will instill confidence in citizens, make the government and public offices more agile and oevrall will create a sustainable good for the society.
SAP’s FLM positioning: Among the current solutions in this space available in India, SAP’s File lifecycle management handles most of the needs mentioned above, pretty well. With complete flexibility for defining file structures/ types/ numbering etc. and associating files with serial and parallel workflow along with possibility of attaching big and various types of documents with it, the solution certainly captures the basic ethos of file movements. With e-mail like movement along with formatted noting and extremely strong audit trail and search possibilities, it is very easy to use. An innovative configuration tool really manages the Total Cost of Implementation very well. As a sustainable solution, the product has looked for handling archiving and dashboard analytics. Being native product in SAP’s portfolio, integration with other relevant modules is rather easy to start with and will be enhanced later to suit market’s expectations.
This is a product in time and has a very rounded scope even in its first delivery.