Saving Annie and the Urban League from Paperwork Overload

A case study in paperwork automation

The first time I walked into Annie’s office, I could barely open the door and get to the chair in front of her desk. Piled from floor to the ceiling were boxes and boxes of paper, stacked on top of each other. Every square foot of the office was filled with boxes full of paper forms. I didn’t know it at the time but those boxes were exactly the reason I was there. The Urban League wanted us to help them get rid of these mountains of paper forms.

Every month, the branches would submit a big batch of paper forms – consisting of the monthly attendance reports with the supporting paperwork for each program and the services they had performed – to the central office. Annie’s job was to check and verify these forms and to approve an invoice based on them. If an affiliate needed to correct one of the forms, Annie had to contact them and wait for them to send the updated form back with the corrections. Keeping track of all of this paperwork was a daunting task and the reason for the stack of boxes in her office. And often affiliates were not getting paid on time simply because it was taking too long to manually verify the forms and correct them. This process inevitably created errors – and these were not caught, as cross-referencing the data was difficult.

After conducting a detailed analysis of the paperwork process – including what information it captured and how it was routed between different people – inelion designed a web-based database system that would address the problems the Urban League was facing in manually processing the paperwork. The system was designed to completely replace every step of the paperwork process, from information collection to invoicing. The system incorporated a sophisticated form routing subsystem, with notification and approval by each responsible party in the process up to final submission.

This system has not only eliminated the mountains of paperwork in Annie’s office but has also improved the speed at which the information is processed and each affiliate is paid. inelion was contracted to design and implement the system based on our extensive experience building web-based database applications. The Urban League knew they wanted the system to be web-based so people could use it from anywhere and at any time, and this is exactly what inelion specializes in. We were able to quickly create a prototype that they were able to start testing and giving feedback on. This prototype was then developed into the current working system using a continuous feedback and integration methodology. This feedback turned out to be essential as some of our initial assumptions turned out to be inaccurate. For example, collecting the participants’ information turned out to be more difficult than initially presumed. We have learned through experience that it is only when users begin to actually use a system that best practices can be tailored to the real-world needs of the client.

Today, Annie’s office is free from the mountain of boxes. All of the company’s paperwork is now stored online and can be accessed at any time from anywhere. The system now tracks and reports on over 34,000 people receiving services from the Urban League in Florida. It has processed over 9,000 attendance forms, and stores and allows online access to over 28,000 support documents. It took some time to get it right, but at inelion a project is never over until we do.

For more information about this software or to find out how inelion can help you to automate your business, please contact us.