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An Old Lesson-repeated Again! by Ray Killam

Posted By Kelly Halseth, Friday, January 8, 2016

From a recent article in the Washington Post


“Heaving under mountains of paperwork, the government has spent more than $1 billion trying to replace its antiquated approach to managing immigration with a system of digitized records, online applications and a full suite of nearly 100 electronic forms. A decade in, all that officials have to show for the effort is a single form that's now available for online applications and a single type of fee that immigrants pay electronically. The 94 other forms can be filed only with paper. This project, run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was originally supposed to cost a half-billion dollars and be finished in 2013. Instead, it's now projected to reach up to $3.1 billion and be done nearly four years from now, putting in jeopardy efforts to overhaul the nation's immigration policies, handle immigrants already seeking citizenship and detect national security threats, according to documents and interviews with former and current federal officials.” (read full article here)


I realize that this was a major undertaking, involving new back-end systems and more. However, I think it demonstrates what we in the forms management community have known for a long time: if you automate bad processes you just get bad results quicker.


So most of the work would have been done in studying the existing processes, determining how to improve these processes, developing the new process requirements, and ONLY THEN, deciding what technologies would be employed to implement the new processes. While I cannot say for, sure (I wasn’t there), it appears to me that did not happen; rather, technology was first selected and the processes were developed to fit that technology.


To be sure, automating 100 forms just isn’t that hard, once you know exactly what the requirements of the back end processes are to be. Adding fields and field properties, along with proper scripting, enables the form to be connected to a database and the data automatically captured upon submit. The data are then available to support any back end operations, including pre-filling related forms with the data already captured.


The hard part is mapping each of the business processes involved, streamlining each process, understanding the business rules that the form is required to implement, and developing a central depository for the data (the technology!)


I can see how starting with the technology and trying to make the processes fit could be a recipe for disaster.


I wonder how many forms professionals were involved in this project.

Tags:  electronic forms  FAFSA  forms  INS  process improvement  usability 

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