Recently we hosted a webinar with the Office of the CIO for the State of Iowa, and the Iowa DOT, to discuss their online government forms initiatives. You can watch the webinar replay here, or read the transcript below.
The forms discussed in this webinar are located here:
Dawn Connet (DC)
I'm Dawn Connet, and I am the government services coordinator inside the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). Our office is the IT department of the state government. We work across the enterprise through all the state agencies to help them improve their interactions with Iowans, and make it easier for Iowans to conduct business with and get information from these agencies.
I work with all the agencies to try to improve the communication and the engagement and the delivery of services. Our office itself has about 200 employees in it. We support all agencies and interaction with all Iowans, which is about 3 million in the state of Iowa. We have been working with SeamlessDocs now for about two years.
Cherice Ogg (CO)
I’m Cherice Ogg, and I am on our web team at the Iowa department of transportation, which is a state agency. So Dawn and I work very closely on these initiatives.
We have over 2,700 employees and our responsibilities at the DOT include construction and maintenance of our primary highway system, licensing of drivers, and the planning and programming for aviation, rail and public transit. I specifically lead our three person web team and we're responsible for managing https://iowadot.gov. I've also been assisting our forms manager to convert all of our forms into SeamlessDocs, which we've been doing for a little over a year now.
Can you each give a quick overview of what you've built for the State of Iowa?
[DC] The state of Iowa actually has identified that we had a challenge in accepting electronic payment from Iowans. We did a study actually almost four years ago now where we analyzed the payments that come into the state and we've done a super job over the last 20 years integrating the big applications - for example, the drivers license system is online. You can renew your driver's license and pay for that online, and for this types of applications the big heavy lifting was done.
What we discovered is that there were still 1.6 million checks or cash payments that still came into this state. And the reason for that is: at one department they might accept 36 transactions in the course of the year for a particular kind of a license; or they might accept a 1000 transactions, but they are $10 a piece, and it doesn't make sense to build a full system, a front and backend, and spend a quarter of a million dollars or more to build a system to take payment when you need a simple form and you need to be able to take payment.
So based on that, we evaluated the marketplace and SeamlessDocs was one of the vendors we evaluated. They offered the best functionality to allow us to leverage the platform across all the agencies.
(A screen shot of the Service Center created by the Iowa OCIO.)
When we worked with SeamlessDocs initially we also asked that they would build the integration into the state's payment platform which was very unique to Iowa. We required that the funds be directly deposited into the state's bank account—we're prohibited from using a PayPal or Stripe and some others—and SeamlessDocs was able to do that work for us.
We piloted with a couple of agencies and created the electronic payment integration, which is hugely successful in helping us solve our initial problem. But then we moved on from there and in February of this year, we made the platform available to all agencies and did training.
For example, the department of natural resources (DNR) makes its W-9 form available online. When a vendor is going to work with the DNR and do mowing at a state park, we need to collect a W-9 from them. SeamlessDocs gave us the template for this form and it's great because the DNR gets this information electronically now, and it makes it easier for the small business person contracting with us because they don't have to mail something in now.
(A screen shot of the W-9 form created by the Department of Natural Resources.)
I should mention that the State of Iowa purchased SeamlessDocs through the state's master contract with Insight. That meant we were able to purchase the platform and make it available to all agencies to use. We are funded centrally so that there's no cost for an agency to use the platform. Other than if they're using the electronic pay piece of the electronic payment piece, we do charge them a dollar per form for that transaction. Then we're giving each agency a single license. So if additional users want to use the system, then we bill them for the cost of those additional licenses. But a lot of our agencies with multiple forms really, they don’t need additional licenses. We now have 22 agencies actively using the system.
Could just talk us through a little bit on this Iowa insurance division form?
[DC] Absolutely. I grabbed this form as an example because this form has a nice flow to it because you have the display, the instructions and the information about the cost up front. So before people get started filling out the form, they understand that they're going to have to make payment. I think that's one of the nice features that we can use from a design perspective with SeamlessDocsDocs.
The insurance division had a lot of their forms already built into large systems, but they have a few that, as I said, fall outside of those systems from either a volume or cost perspective. So it was very easy for them to get the form in place.
Probably one of the bigger challenges is our internal process and getting them set up with the payment system through the state treasurer's office and all of that. But they're able to take electronic payment now for these individual producer licenses.
Is there a single payment provider that you work with?
[DC] Elavon is our merchant processor and US Bank provides us with the platform.
Cherice - can you talk us a little bit through a little bit just what the Iowa DOT has accomplished?
[CO] Prior to SeamlessDocs, we were using Adobe Designer to create our forms. There were fillable forms that we hosted on our website, but the biggest issue we had is that those forms use XML, which require Adobe Reader to view. Within the last five years, most of the modern browsers have gone away from Adobe Reader as their primary viewer for PDF files. So when people would come to access our forms, they would get an error page rather than our form.
As you can imagine, we were getting a ton of complaints from the citizens who couldn't access the forms that they needed. The other thing we noticed is that our forms were being filled out on mobile devices more and more often. Through our Google Analytics we realized that 50% of the people who visited IowaDOT.gov were doing that through mobile devices and as a result of the XML based forms we were using they couldn't even view them on a phone, let alone fill them out.
So because our citizens couldn’t open our forms, we needed to move quickly to do something different. And that's where Dawn came in. In a separate phone call, we came across the fact that the state of Iowa had this contract with SeamlessDocs, so we were very interested in learning more about that and seeing if this could be a solution for us. We quickly realized that this is a great platform and definitely could meet our needs. So for our process we had to move quickly to at least try to get our forms into SeamlessDocs so that people could start viewing our forms.
(A screen shot of the Service Center created by the Iowa DOT.)
The biggest challenge is that we have over 700 forms. This is our internal and external forms. So it was a huge, huge project. It seemed very, very overwhelming at first, but we contracted with the SeamlessDocs team to help us get these converted very quickly, and they made it very, very easy for us.
Because we had so many forms to move and we wanted to do this quickly, we opted to just convert them so that we could at least get the forms online and provide the ability to fill out forms online, which is what we have today.
Now that we have everything in the SeamlessDocs platform, we're working on adding that additional functionality, such as digital signatures and workflows to the forms where it makes sense.
One form we digitized was our application to Proctor, a knowledge exam form that we have created. And this was one that we ended up not necessarily on our initial priority list, but because of the pandemic we needed to find a way to allow kids to be able to take their permit tests at home. So we were able to quickly put this together and it allows for digital signature, which is required for this particular form to be filled out. Then we can process it quickly because it goes to our remote issuance group who can then take care of this and pass it on, or pass the links on for those parents who are wanting to administer the test.
(A screen shot of the proctor application form.)
Could you maybe expand a little bit on how you were able to gain internal support for the digitization process? What were some of the steps in your process to rally the key stakeholders?
[CO] Our main stakeholders were our more than 90 form owners. So although my group manages the forms, the owners are ultimately the owners of the content and the forms. And this can be a kind of a tough group to work with. They're kind of a little set in their ways in the fact that they are used to the way they do business. So we knew it was going to be kind of a challenge to transition them into potentially a digital process, and also just to convince to move forward with us.
The good news is because we were already having issues with the Adobe forms being accessed by the customers, they knew that we had to do something and that we were looking for another solution. But we felt it was very, very important to keep them in the loop and to let them know the direction we were going.
We started that process by inviting all of them to a webinar where the SeamlessDocs staff demonstrated the features and gave an overview of what the product could do. Then during that webinar, it gave us an opportunity to talk about how we could take this platform and transition it into something that we all could use and benefit from. We talked about our process of converting the forms, the owner's role in moving forward, and then after that, I was surprised we heard from so many people saying they were ready to move forward, which in the past, when I've worked with our form owners, I've met a lot of resistance.
So I had a lot of optimism moving forward. Throughout the process we continued to send regular emails to the owners to keep them updated about the process. Once the forms were converted, we had them review those forms to make sure that they met their expectations and that everything worked the way they intended.
And then we went live with all of our external forms last January, and the feedback we received from our form owners was tremendous. Everybody was very excited about moving forward and they really started to see the value of moving in this direction. So, like I mentioned, one of the challenges is to change that way of thinking. Because, like I said, a lot of our forms are still just more of the fillable forms, but one of the things we've noticed is if you show people what can be done, it really makes a big difference.
[DC] Because we were able to fund across the enterprise within state government, it made it very easy for the agencies to be willing to adopt. And from the perspective of Iowans, once we got into the pandemic and we actually had citizens sending email messages into Iowa.Gov saying, “Please, can you fix this form and make it online?” That was great because then we were able to tackle those and go back to the agency and say, “You’ve got your constituency asking you to put this online. We can help you get this done and done quickly.” So we were really grateful to have the platform in place when the pandemic hit.
We also purchased services from SeamlessDocs and they did a super job. When we initially implemented and started using the payment platform, SeamlessDocs did that integration work. They helped train us on using the platform. They also helped us build a number of forms. And then when we expanded to make the platform available to all the agencies, we had them come out and we did an enterprise kickoff. So they presented to all agencies and we were able to have one on one questions. We know we have also bought an integration with our SQL server for the department.
The Department of Agriculture has integrated it to a backend system that they use. They have a form that when the data is submitted, it gets saved in SeamlessDocs and gets pushed automatically to their backend database for the pesticide testing sign up. So it was very worthwhile to have the SeamlessDocsDocs folks on hand—they are just so positive and so helpful, and again they helped build forms for agencies to make it easy for them to get started.
There was one other form I was going to have you show as well, Karl that while we really want to encourage the external use of the platform working with Iowans. Some agencies are also using SeamlessDocs for internal forms. The Department of Public Health has a need to have staff do a COVID self assessment check each day. And so they built an internal form and they’re able to put it up and to be able to have folks submit the information, and they can track the information. We’re grateful that we were able to do this and do this quickly.
Also, our office put our telework policy online so that the staff working remote can sign and agree to the telework policy. One of the benefits of the SeamlessDocsDocs platform then is the workflow that we can build in from a signature approval process. That telework policy then goes to a supervisor for signature and from the supervisor to the division administrator, and from the division administrator to director of the department who is our CIO. Karl’s showing a dropdown box that makes you choose what supervisor the submission goes to.
[CO] In the DOT, we built a proctor exam form and we also had an application that allowed minors to apply for their driver's license online. While our service centers were closed for most of the month of April, we created a SeamlessDocs form that allowed people to put in an application to have a remote issuance. In the form, they submitted a phone number and an email, and we were able to then call them and issue it over the phone. It was a great way to easily collect the information that we needed, like phone numbers and the emails, and also their signature because that process requires parental consent to be able to be issued. And so we had to have that form filled out with a signature and with the digital signature option.
These digital forms made it so much easier for us to collect all the information we needed. That's one of the challenges with a paper process is that you don’t always get the information that you’re requesting because people don’t always fill out the form completely. That was one of the easy wins I had in explaining this to people and trying to transition to a digital process was that you don’t have to worry about them missing a field or not completing a form and getting all the information. So it was wonderful.
One thing I've loved about working in SeamlessDocs is how easy it is. At one point the Director of the Motor Vehicle Division said, “We need something out there.” and I had that form up within hours and ready to go. The platform is so easy to use, to collect digital signatures like that and complete processes - it was all really awesome.
One thing we've noticed is, a lot of our forms when you're talking about contracts and specifications are forms that take a lot to fill out - they're long forms and the person filling it out maybe has to do some research and go find additional information. You’ll notice in the bottom left corner of our forms there’s a save button. SeamlessDocs has a save and continue option that I didn't realize how necessary it was for these types of forms.
This feature has been invaluable for the group. With it, someone can save their progress, create an account with SeamlessDocs and then can come back and continue to fill this out as they continue to collect information. This 19 page form we’re looking at is definitely a longer form and most of them are like that.
We're actually working with Dasha right now to transition another really long form into digitized format. It has lots of complicated steps - like one person will fill out their portion of it, sign it, and then they click submit and then it'll pass on to the next person in line who completes their portion, signs, hits submit...that sort of thing. We just met with the owner of that form and they were really excited. I don’t think they really realized what we could do in SeamlessDocs, and when they realized it, they were like, “Oh my gosh, this is going to save us so much time.”
What sort of results have you seen since you've digitized these forms?
[DC] We've had our forms online since February and we’ve received about 20,000 online submissions and we're at about 700 on average per month right now.
We estimate we save about 10 minutes of staff time for every form submission we get online. When you look at 20,000 online form submissions, that's a huge improvement in productivity, especially when our workload volume increases, as it has during this pandemic. And with this data, all agencies will be getting a document from the OCIO that provides a summary of what we see is your annual savings for this platform, as well as the other enterprise funded citizen engagement transactional systems that we make available. So that's the kind of result that we're seeing, which is I think, significant.
[CO] Similar to what Dawn said, the soft costs and the ability to be able to collect information in an efficient way. I've had several of our former owners talk about the frustration with our old system when they had to go back and reach out to the person who filled out the form because they didn't complete everything accurately. We were getting that using Adobe forms, because people were just filling forms out and then emailing them in. But when you have forms in a platform like SeamlessDocs, you can have required fields, which ensures forms can't even be submitted to you without completing all of the fields. And I know from the driver services perspective that has been extremely valuable cost savings and time savings for us, especially during this COVID time when we're getting large, large quantities of the applications I mentioned previously.
With SeamlessDocs we can also connect our forms to our Google Analytics dashboard for even more data. So, since we've launched we’re averaging 45,000 unique visitors to our portal. And I've had 160,000 views of our forms each month with 43% of our citizens accessing our forms on a mobile device.
Last question - what comes next for the DOT?
[CO] I alluded to this before, but because we have so many forms—700+—we are now meeting with our form owners and discussing their business needs and really trying to take advantage of all of the options we have to make these digital and make everything more efficient.
Our first big push in January was to get all of our public facing forms into SeamlessDocs. Now we’re working on our internal forms and we’re getting ready to launch our internal portal. Our team now has seen the value of converting our public facing forms so they see how they can really improve internal processes with a SeamlessDocs form and they’re asking, “Can you help us with that?” We’re working to set priorities and get those quick wins.
So we've been trying to start setting priorities and seeing where we can get those quick wins, but still try to get some of those larger projects in the works so that everyone can start benefiting from those efficiencies
And what comes next for the OCIO?
We continue to have agencies add additional forms. Some agencies are continuing to set up with our payment provider, taking payment for public record requests and things of that nature. We have not turned on the portal functionality yet but I do anticipate that we'll do that as well. And then we are also very close to doing an implementation for essentially single sign on for state employees using Okta. That will enable employees to use their regular login and password, which is another huge plus for our security division and will help make improvements for many systems, including SeamlessDocs, which we’re very pleased that SeamlessDocs works with Okta.
Finally, we will be encouraging agencies that have been historically collecting data in paper format to digitize so they can take that data and export it and publish it to our transparency portal at the URL data.iowa.gov. That’s not confidential or personal data, but information that can help Iowans understand the volumes or types of licenses that we are managing. We think that will get a good thought process going on how we can improve processes when more people are exposed to the information. So those are some of the things that are ahead.