Through the Golden State’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency, California’s Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) works with parents and guardians to ensure that children and families receive the financial and medical support that they need. The operational and administrative management of the program involves an intricate network of government employees that need to work together, along with service providers, to facilitate the delivery of critical child support services.
Committed to better serving the needs of children, DCSS recognized that it needed to automate its manual approval processes, especially amid the disruptions, slowdowns, and shift to teleworking created by the COVID-19 crisis. To expedite internal approvals that have direct and indirect impact on the delivery of child support services across the state, DCSS turned to SimpliGov, a leader in next-generation, cloud-based workflow automation and online forms built for government, to automate the department’s executive “Red Folder” document review and approval process and introduce online forms with integrated electronic signatures.
Like many large government agencies, DCSS had a long-standing, manual “red folder” process for anything that required authorized and sequenced signatures for approval, and it often took anywhere from 60 to as many as 90 days to manually collect these signatures.
Imagine trying to get 17 different people’s signatures on a form in a red folder that is being passed around from location to location. This manual legacy process made people virtually “see red” at the inefficiency, complexity, and lack of modern, real-time digital tracking. The need for improvement was clear, and so was the choice of solution provider of process automation, online forms, and electronic signatures.
“We knew we had to go digital and automate the red folder process,” said Kimberly Peng, Chief of the Procurement and Contract Branch at the California Department of Child Support Services. “We had to streamline the timeframe from start to finish. We chose to partner with SimpliGov for its ease of use, integrated functionality, and compliant government automation capabilities—digital tools that allowed us to pivot.”
While ingrained in the culture, the department’s red folder process was highly inefficient—a similar pain point experienced by many other government agencies. Documents in the physical red folders that were being routed through executive review were taking months to be fully processed—what often got blamed on “bureaucracy” was often just an inefficient, manual process.
Making matters worse was the fact that there was no tracking mechanism to see who had a red folder at any point. It was impossible to get a “status update” on a red folder at any given time. No one could have eyes on a folder through every step of the process physically, digitally, or otherwise. Dozens of people could be involved in the routing of a single folder through the department, but digital visibility was sorely absent.
Red folders could go missing, or they were routed through the entire process only to be deemed “incomplete,” which created extra work and wasted more time. Detrimentally, a lack of reporting made genuine oversight difficult. Moreover, government employees invariably lost the ability to collaborate in the review process.
As a department with a high number of documents that require signatures for approval, DCSS aimed to improve this process. It wanted to work with a solution provider that could meet the unique needs of government, including all of the required compliance, audit capabilities, and integrated automation tools, in a budget-friendly manner.
At the outset, department stakeholders set a goal of halving the number of days for a typical red folder process to 30. However, SimpliGov opened their eyes to greater possibilities.
DCSS chose to transition to the no-code, cloud-based SimpliGov platform as the solution to its manual process woes. The platform met the department’s criteria, and the decision-makers felt comfortable with the team at SimpliGov, which is one of the only workflow automation, online forms, and eSignature solution providers exclusively focused on government.
The initial plan was to roll the solution out to 100 people, but due to the pandemic and the need to telework, DCSS decided to roll it out to the entire department. Not only did the system automate the functionality for the approvers, but it also brought their assistants into the ecosystem to facilitate a support net.
Furthermore, rather than have the review process proceed in sequential order, the new platform allowed for simultaneous reviews and approvals, and the approvers could see what previous reviewers noted and did, as well as bring in key individuals at specific points in the review process—similar to the ‘@’ feature on Facebook. It has served to improve knowledge sharing in real time.
The SimpliGov platform was so intuitive and easy to bring into the department’s existing environment that the project was completed three weeks ahead of schedule.
“SimpliGov allowed for simultaneous reviews and approvals…[Approvers] could bring in key individuals at specific points in the review process—similar to the ‘@’ feature on Facebook.”
With process automation and online forms from SimpliGov, DCSS has been able to far exceed its initial goal; it has reduced the number of days to conduct the red folder process from start to finish to just 10—all while maintaining the existing steps of the process itself, replete with all signatures required for fully compliant approval.
The shift to an automated red folder process has created new levels of efficiency, logistical simplicity, and digital visibility with new tracking and reporting capabilities. The department can now see the status of any red folder—where it is in the process, who has it, and when it is projected to be completed. It enables the person who is responsible for a red folder to better manage and facilitate it through the process from beginning to end, thereby improving accountability.
“Having a digital tool like SimpliGov that offers ease of use and the transparency of being able to see where the folders are in the review process is extraordinary,” said Peng. “Now we have eyes on every request, and the person responsible is able to follow up and track what each person did, while mirroring the existing process in the system.”
The automated process also came at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic began forcing shutdowns and stay-at-home orders in California and across the nation. The digitization of the red folder process meant that employees could continue to follow the process while working remotely.
If the department had not switched to the SimpliGov platform, the manual red folder process would have likely come to a virtual halt because of social distancing mandates. The transition to automated workflows fits the new normal in society, and in state and local government.
“Our department’s partnership with SimpliGov has been great to get the automated red folder process up and running,” added Peng. “We’re looking forward to building additional workflows on the SimpliGov platform in the future.”
The digital transformation journey of DCSS is just beginning.