Sonoma County Digitizes Staff Development and Wellness Reimbursement Process
Employees Receive Checks in Days, Not Months, Thanks to Easy, Streamlined, and Error-Free Workflow.
The Human Resources Department of Sonoma County in Northern California was looking to improve its Staff Development and Wellness Program’s internal processes. This is a popular benefit offered to its approximately 3,300 employees—90% of the program’s $3.4 million budget ultimately gets utilized, which necessitates a heavy volume of administrative processing. As part of the standard process, government employees are required to file a claim in order to seek reimbursement for eligible items within the program. Unfortunately, it was taking months for an employee to receive a check after filling out and filing a form, so the county set a goal to streamline the process down to a matter of weeks and make it easier overall for its staff.
The department knew that government process automation and online form solutions were the answer. After considering different options, they chose to work with SimpliGov, whose integrated workflow automation, online forms, and electronic signature solution is designed specifically for public sector environments.
The HR staff at the county government generally expected an uphill climb because any change from their legacy process and systems would pose a disruption. However, they were pleasantly surprised at how easy SimpliGov made digital transformation, and how simple it ended up being for the county to automate the process and make a positive change.
As part of the original reimbursement procedures, government employees had to find the right form among a complex collection of documents on the webpage, download and print the PDF, and complete it manually.
“The form was very busy and overwhelming, as well as difficult to complete,” said Deborah Lindley, Records and Information Manager, Sonoma County. “Tracking the submission was challenging, and there were no notifications at all during the process. Many people felt put off.”
Then the employee had to copy all of the receipts and bundle them with the form to create a packet, which was routed to a supervisor for review, either by hand or via courier. The packet often had to be routed again by hand or courier to internal payroll clerks for a second review. This labor-intensive process required several more pre-reviews before the form and all of the receipts finally went to HR for its evaluation. All the while, the department had to keep multiple copies of the form, often in triplicate.
HR would do a quick review and then separate the claim into taxable reimbursement and non-taxable reimbursement categories. If a claim had multiple filings, they would have to copy it, put it into two different stacks, and work in the order of the date received in conducting the full evaluation.
Moreover, HR often received incomplete submissions, bad copies of receipts, or duplicates—the latter because employees were unsure if their claims went through and were being processed. Only after this long, laborious, and manual process would HR handle the claim and submit the reimbursement to payroll.
It typically took up to four months for employees to receive reimbursement, excluding delays, which could possibly make it even longer. At times, some employees would not even bother to submit claims, which could be worth up to $500 in value for certain wellness and professional development services.
“Because the process was so painful, some employees concluded that it wasn’t worth the effort,” added Lindley.
“At Sonoma County, we saw an opportunity to introduce electronic forms and automated workflows that would help employees access their benefits in an expedient manner,” explained Lindley. “We believed that constructing an easier process on a large scale would result in happier employees who would use their benefits more fully. Process improvement would also save them a lot of time and administrative work.”
Sonoma County selected the SimpliGov platform to be the foundation for the new and improved process in part because its cloud-based government automation and online forms solutions could be implemented in record time without the need for coding. The county felt that the platform far exceeded other complex, code-intensive solutions or “freemium” point products that lacked SimpliGov’s robust, flexible features and scalability.
With the SimpliGov platform powering the new process, employees now enter the portal and open the online form. They key in a unique ID, and the form pre-populates all of their contact information on their profile, including required basic information, such as name, department, email, phone, bargaining unit, manager, contact info, and benefit eligibility summary.
“This shift to digital removed a lot of the guesswork involved in the initial manual filing and completion of the form,” said Lindley. “It helps ensure that HR receives complete content.”
The employee now selects the category for reimbursement, seeing and completing only fields related to that category—other fields that are not applicable are not displayed, which has eliminated a previous source of confusion. The new online form does the math for the requester and can accommodate up to five claims on one form. As the form is completed, receipts are uploaded. The submission now goes directly to HR.
The employee receives email notifications that the claim has been received and is ready for processing. Meanwhile, HR is similarly alerted to go directly to the form. It sees all of the information completed correctly, instead of illegible writing, bad copies of receipts, or missing data. If additional information is needed, HR returns it to the employee electronically—no longer manually. Once it is completed, the employee receives notification of what has been approved and when they will get reimbursed.
“Right off the bat, the new process with new online forms and automation has improved communication,” said Lindley. “It’s a far simpler process for us in the county.”
The most significant benefit of using the SimpliGov platform has been the time savings; it now takes one to two weeks to go from filing to reimbursement (defined by next pay period), considerably quicker than the four months it took to complete the manual process. Processing of the submissions themselves now takes only between one and five days.
With the SimpliGov platform, Sonoma County realized a speedy time to value—SimpliGov eliminated the need for a long and costly implementation and didn’t require the county to rip and replace existing infrastructure. Other benefits include:
- Considerably less manual work
- Reduced reliance on paper
- Easy and more reliable recordkeeping
- The ability to analyze data using a dashboard
“With the new process, we were able to free up resources, increase the amount of benefits utilized by employees, and receive more reliable information on a consistent basis,” said Lindley. “Thanks to the intuitive, easy-to-use form and quicker reimbursement time, employees now feel encouraged to file their submissions, and they absolutely love the new process.”