It’s tempting to think of failures in document workflows as a minor nuisance – a temporary lapse in the smooth functioning of a business, a profession or a government agency.
How bad could the effects of a poorly designed workflow be, after all? Perhaps poor communication between coworkers? A decline in a workgroup’s productivity? Or, worst case, a missed deadline, a disappointed client or constituent.
But a recent case of domestic assault in Lawrence, Mass. reminds us that timely and accurate delivery of documents can sometimes have serious implications.
On a Monday in late April, a judge in Lawrence District Court granted a woman’s request for a restraining order against the father of her two children. Citing the boyfriend’s threats and previous arrests for assault, she claimed to be in fear for her life.
Following its standard procedure, the District Court faxed a copy of the restraining order to the Lawrence Police Department within the hour. The police had recently adopted a new procedure on the receiving end: Such faxes would be accepted digitally by a server, which would convert the fax into a document, which would be sent via email to the officer(s) responsible for serving the order.
But in this case, the server was down, and failed to perform its function. The Police Department did not realize that the restraining order existed until almost 24 hours later, which wound up being too late.
This is an extreme case, to be sure, and one that doubtless involved a host of factors that extend far beyond the delivery of a document. Yet as the mayor of Lawrence observed, “I’m sure the public is going to be shocked to find that such an important document is being transmitted in such an imperfect way.”
The search for a better process
Two days later, the mayor met with Lawrence’s police chief and the clerk-magistrate of the District Court, to review what had happened and discuss how to expedite the transmission of restraining orders in the future.
The issues that confronted them are central to the design of any effective document workflow:
- The number of steps required to effect the movement of the document (fewer is better),
- The number of computing/communication devices required (fewer is generally better),
- The number of conversions required in the form of the document (analog-digital, or between electronic file formats),
- The optimal balance between human activity and automated steps,
- The need for redundancy, in case of hardware failure or human oversights.
One clear opportunity to improve the restraining-order workflow would be to remove faxing from the process altogether. The weaknesses of standalone-fax technology, in terms of efficiency and security, are well documented.
In order to implement better document workflows – and replace fax machines – many organizations, including courts and police departments, rely on a technology that they already have in-house: the multi-function printer (MFP).
When MFPs are equipped with advanced workflow and document-management software, it becomes a straightforward task to create a document-based workflow that will reliably get documents out of “limbo”… and into the hands of those who truly need them.