By Jean McGann, CPA

This is the first article in our three-part series on the benefits of automation for governments. The second article will describe a few ways automation can assist your fieldworkers, and the third will focus on your most important stakeholders—your residents.

As you might recall from the introduction to this article series, “automation” is the act of automating certain processes, such as those related to finance or administrative functions, within an organization. Automation tends to involve software, but it’s never about reducing an organization’s head count. Instead, it’s about eliminating redundancies, paper, and inaccuracies while empowering employees to focus on meaningful work.

For governmental organizations, automation can provide numerous benefits, particularly for full-time employees. There’s always so much to do…and so little time! Here are a few ways automation could make life easier for the in-house employees within your organization.

1. Use purchasing cards to free up your finance staff. One way to automate tasks within your finance department is to implement purchasing cards. Using purchasing cards gives you an opportunity to reduce or eliminate many of your organization’s “house” accounts. Depending on your financial software, you may also be able to download activity from the purchasing cards directly into your system. This prevents your finance staff from having to chase down receipts and reconcile numerous house accounts. Some purchasing card programs even come with a rebate.

2. Leverage software to automate your accounts receivable and payable workflows.
As I mentioned, automation often relies on software. Sometimes this means making better use of software your organization already owns. Other times it means purchasing new software or applications. The encouraging thing to know is that automation typically pays for itself by saving time and money. For instance, automating your accounts receivable process may allow you to accept ACH payments—and keep you and your finance department from waiting for checks.

On the accounts payable side, automation can help to streamline the approval and storing of vendor invoices. For example, certain software platforms allow for invoices to be routed and approved                          electronically. Even storing invoices electronically—instead of printing and physically filing paper copies—can help to create efficiencies, especially when this step is integrated into an automated workflow.

3. Implement an online solution for building license and permit applications.

Allowing customers to apply for and purchase building permits and licenses electronically is a win-win for all. For your full-time employees, it eliminates the need to complete the paperwork typically associated with permitting and licensing applications. A robust e-permitting/licensing application may also allow your inspectors to perform their fieldwork digitally, using a laptop or tablet. This, too, eliminates paperwork for your office staff, as the files can be electronically transferred instead of manually transcribed.

4. Adopt the use of electronic work orders for utility billing.

Many cities rely on paper and email to process utility work orders. Cities that use electronic work orders, however, can skip this tedious step. Here’s an example of how it can work: If a utility billing clerk notices a faulty water meter read, he or she can document this on the customer’s account. This would automatically generate a work order that would be transmitted electronically to public works staff in the customer’s area.

5. Post meeting agendas online.
Although considered a “baby step” in automation, posting a PDF of meeting agendas online—instead of printing multiple copies—can save precious staff time and resources. Consider implementing a process that empowers employees to publish meeting agendas on your organization’s intranet or file-sharing site at a predetermined amount of time before a meeting starts.

Questions?
Automation can be a powerful tool for helping your employees do more. When used to its full potential, automation can free up your employees to focus on the work they were hired to do—and to spend more time on their passion projects. Imagine what your organization could accomplish with this kind of momentum! If you have questions about automation or how it could make a difference for your organization, please contact us today.