The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Secret to Success with Online Forms
Before shifting from paper-based and PDF-based forms to 100% paperless with online forms, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) made a strategic decision to first focus on developing an electronic workflow-oriented environment for all forms and approval processes.
To accomplish this feat, instead of just jumping to online forms randomly, New Jersey DOT mapped out a plan to align process improvement with a more effective use of online forms. After evaluating a series of online form providers, New Jersey DOT standardized on SimpliGov, a cloud-based, government workflow automation platform with online forms and integrated electronic signatures.
The SimpliGov platform has given New Jersey DOT the ability to quickly build workflows, which guide the launch of new online forms. It has simplified, integrated and accelerated the delivery of services to citizens while saving the state money, time and effort.
It has also helped elevate New Jersey as one of the leading states in the U.S. for adopting digital workflows combined with a digital transformation strategy in compliance with government policies, regulations and data security requirements.
Leading the effort to create the strategic, workflow-oriented environment, the New Jersey DOT’s application development and system support team managed to focus on higher-value activities, adopt a revolutionary approach to coding, and transition to a more budget-friendly, software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription basis.
“SimpliGov redesigned our thinking about how to approach forms and processes in government,” said Marc Dorsch, Applications Development and Systems Support, New Jersey Department of Transportation.
“Our ultimate goal was for everything to go paperless, but we could’ve been focused on the infrastructure that supports it all. Instead, because of SimpliGov, we have been able to focus on the business workflows of our clients within the state of New Jersey. Why spend the time and money to build web forms when we can use SimpliGov?”
The following are details of New Jersey DOT’s going paperless with a workflow-first approach to online forms.
All processes and all forms were paper-based for the New Jersey Department of Transportation for decades, carrying with it huge amounts of complexity, slow response times, high costs of manual labor and high risk of human errors. When other agencies within the state of New Jersey were switching to PDF-based forms almost a decade ago, New Jersey DOT discovered that the rate of change was extremely slow, and it was taking years to come to a workflow.
In addition, the rate of errors or incomplete information was disturbingly high, due to expecting a citizen to download, print off, fill out and return a PDF form to the state government. Because the government was paper-based and full of manual processes, even the simple act of applying for a job at the DOT was painful.
For example, to apply for a job as a snowplow driver during the winter operation, a person had to print off the PDF form, fill it out, submit it, and wait for it to be processed while it sat in a state employee’s mail box. The applicant would not know where the application was in the processing.
“God forbid there was a mistake on the paper form,” said Marc, who noted that the DOT traditionally still received hundreds of applications every year doing it the old way.
The challenge for New Jersey DOT was to move to its own environment in which it could build workflow processes. It didn’t want just another “PDF duplicator.” It was seeking a software-as-a-service solution that would meet its technical requirements.
“We knew early on that it would take a while for everything to go paperless,” said Dorsch. “But we also knew that we had to start somewhere and learn from the deployment government workflow automation. It includes online forms, but it’s much more than just online forms. We opened our minds to tackling processes and workflows as a way to add significantly more value to the state.”
Doing a complex, coding-heavy implementation presented a problem, however. It would take too long, cost too much and be outdated by the time it is deployed in the field. It would end up coding in live environments with old products. The state already had quite a few antiquated systems at DOT, in addition to outdated processes.
The new platform was going to need to be easy to use, secure and flexible. The department wanted a way to bring in non-IT folks to build their own forms without destroying the integrity of the governmental department.
To address all of the issues and pain points, the New Jersey DOT chose the SimpliGov platform, a cloud-based government automation and online forms solution designed to automate government processes in record time.
SimpliGov solved the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s challenges and met their needs, providing a software-as-a-service that enables the state to build workflows, along with each workflow’s associated online forms. The state turned to the cloud for flexibility, scalability and simplicity for the evolution to digital government.
“With SimpliGov, we were able to achieve our goal of going paperless and constructing a workflow process-oriented environment in which we could replace tedious manual work with automation to free up people to do higher-value activities,” said Dorsch. “The more we use SimpliGov, the more we find it useful.”
SimpliGov, which focuses exclusively on governments, provided the state with everything it needed for online forms and digital signatures within an automated environment, including APIs to connect with other systems it needed to connect with.
“The software subscription license with annual fee is very budgetable,” added Dorsch. “Even though you don’t code, code, code as an in-house team, the SimpliGov platform opened up new possibilities for the department’s in-house application development team and eased us away from nitty gritty coding to macro-coding across many systems and applications. The ability to handle all the data from every SaaS solution, not just SimpliGov, is a significant undertaking.“
SimpliGov gave New Jersey the tools to better map out processes. In addition, the SimpliGov platform allows the state to have a pre-production environment for online forms prior to going public. Rather than coding online forms in a live environment, the SimpliGov platform allows the state’s team to build, view and refine forms in a private, secure online developmental area. Standards for the pre-production, developmental environment, which the ways and means committee determines, are enforced.
Dorsch said, “SimpliGov’s strength is messaging, with all the info on the online form pre-populated. It is HTML 5-based, not a PDF duplicator. And now because of our shift in thinking to workflows, we have a data dictionary for each workflow, making it easier for us to do the hand-off to data warehousing and business objects. We looked at the downstream.”
As an added benefit, the SimpliGov platform meets FedRAMP requirements. This is significant because it ensures a standardized approach to secure cloud services, encouraging government agencies to use cloud services. This certification was more than the state needed, but the team valued it because it provides a compliant way to collect personal information, if they have to, and it ensures a high level of security for a cloud-based service available to the public.
The benefits of having a workflow-oriented environment in which online forms are created and processed in automated fashion include: time savings, cost savings, higher productivity, increase efficiency, improved employee job satisfaction and the elimination of tedious manual work (“busy work”) that was not adding value to the state – all of the benefits one would expect from a state government going paperless.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation can now build workflows and online forms quickly. The ease of use of the platform allows non-IT personnel to do their own forms – without compromising the integrity of the government.
The quality of the information is higher. The level of errors on government forms dropped. The process to vet partners of the state is now automated, providing faster turnaround and better quality outcomes. The pre-production environment also ensures improved quality control.
“The SimpliGov platform gave us the ability to look at, ‘Hey, this is how the person interacts with information and what they do with it.’ Because of it, better processes are created, along with the streamlining of forms that we present to the public, which benefit from the automation,” said Dorsch.
With the shift to software-as-a-service, the shift from micro coding to macro coding elevated the department’s work to focus more on high-value activities.
Another benefit is empowerment within the department. SimpliGov has given the department the tools to train non-IT personnel to build simple workflows. As a result, the department has created a “mentorship” program. Those who are trained to build workflows and online forms in the robust SimpliGov environment then train new people. If a person has a question about a workflow or a form, they go to the mentor, who is the liaison with IT.
“What we have accomplished in our department has served to break down barriers for other agencies in New Jersey, in terms of procurement, to adopt secure cloud services, such as SimpliGov, in a budgetable fashion,” said Dorsch. “What we have also done is prove that there needs to be a unified, workflow-oriented environment, and the fact that it can now be done in the cloud is revolutionary.”
And for all those applicants for snowplow jobs in the winter in New Jersey, the shift to the cloud platform resulted in applications skyrocketing from only hundreds to thousands of employment applications. HR has been able to process the applications (forms) faster because of the faster access to resumes online. The automated storage is also a time-saver. Applicants no longer have to fill out a paper form. Their applications don’t sit in someone’s inbox on their desk anymore. They receive automated notifications, keeping them updated.
Not only has New Jersey’s transition to government workflow automation and online forms with integrated electronic signatures resulted in snowplow track drivers being available and offered jobs to break ice faster and easier than in the past, but it has also broken new ground in what is possible for government.
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