Page 32 - FCW, November/December 2021
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RPA Speeds Agency Adoption of M-19-21 Paperless Mandate
The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) mandate to help federal agencies drowning in paper is set to take effect in a year, with agencies looking to December 31, 2022 to have all permanent federal records and appropriate metadata created, managed, and maintained in electronic format.
Even though NARA’s Directive M-19-21 will stem the tide of paper documents, turning them into digitized data, it isn’t just for the sake of going digital. Digitizing paper records and putting them in an online format that federal workers can easily retrieve can help federal agencies better deliver on their mission—and save millions of dollars.
That efficiency translates into benefits in the real world.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA), which can speed up the digitization process across the records lifecycle, can boost those benefits even more.
When documents are readily accessed, for instance, veterans don’t have to wait weeks for vital medical claims to be processed. Flood victims can get claims processed and insurance checks in their hands faster so they can rebuild.
Paper costs money
The paper problem has been well-documented. The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) estimates American businesses waste about $8 billion every year on managing paper. A typical office worker in the U.S. uses 10,000 sheets of paper a year.
The costs are staggering. One study on the paperless office found that each four-drawer file cabinet holds an average of 10,000-12,000 documents, takes up nine square feet of floor space and each one costs $1,500 per year. Multiplied by a factor of several thousand file cabinets, plus the cost of real estate to store all the documents, and the costs explode even more. The study also found that more than 70% of today’s businesses would fail within three weeks if they suffered a catastrophic loss of paper-based records because of a fire or flood.
It’s no longer tenable for American businesses to remain so vulnerable and the same holds true for federal agencies.
As the NARA deadline looms, can federal agencies meet the deadline in time? After all, the federal government has been trying to digitize its paperwork since the early 1990s when the first document imaging systems were deployed.
“Agencies that started this process before the pandemic closed down office locations and limited access to paper documents are likely in a good position,” said Rob Johnson, senior industry consultant, government, at Hyland. “But most federal IT organizations now have competing priorities such as supporting a remote workforce. This is where newer solutions like RPA can help agencies catch up.”
The bots have arrived
While it’s not news that federal agencies have been trying to solve the paper glut for more than 30 years, today we have RPA, innovative technology based on artificial intelligence, that can eliminate many of the time-consuming, labor-intensive manual tasks that have held federal agencies back.
Troy Doller, director, federal government at Hyland, said his team has identified key steps in the information lifecycle where RPA can automate records management tasks typically done by humans; tasks that when automated can help federal workers meet the NARA mandate while also freeing them up for more value-added activities.
Pling / Shutterstock

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