Magazine Article | October 1, 2002

Don't You Have Something Better To Do?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

When it tired of wasting 10 full-time staff positions on manual data entry, a large tax department made the move to electronic forms processing.

Integrated Solutions, October 2002

No organization likes to make its customers wait while paperwork is being processed. But, fast turnaround is impossible when ream after ream must pass through the transaction processing mill. At the Employment Securities Department (ESD) for the State of Washington (Olympia, WA), the flood of papers rises steeply four times a year. ESD's primary function is processing unemployment benefits. So, each quarter, ESD collects unemployment taxes from the state's more than 197,000 employers, who submit wage tax documents for approximately 3.2 million employees.

Of course, citizens who have recently received pink slips from their employers don't appreciate further aggravation in the form of governmental red tape. For ESD, that means getting unemployment benefits out to eligible recipients as quickly and accurately as possible. Unfortunately, ESD's processes weren't always efficient. Because it relied heavily on manual data entry, ESD typically took three- and-a-half to four months to process and verify each quarter's tax and benefits statements. During the last few weeks of the cycle, ESD was paying as many as 30 people 30 hours of overtime each to enter data.

So, ESD turned to a document imaging and workflow management solution from Optika Inc. With the help of systems integrator ImageSource, Inc., an Optika reseller, it implemented the Acorde process and context platform.

Keep Digital Images Flowing
Using the Optika tools and a Kodak 9500 scanner, ESD now creates digital images of all incoming wage and tax documents. Newly scanned documents, as well as those being converted from microfilm, are stored as digital images in an optical jukebox that Acorde accesses. Data from those images can be scraped for database use and for transaction processing, reducing much of the need for manual data entry. Wage and tax data scraped from the images is automatically entered into ESD's SQL database. There, it is indexed and manipulated before being uploaded to the IBM mainframe that runs ESD's tax accounting systems.

Having the digital images readily at hand enables ESD staff to quickly validate information. Business rules set up within Acorde alert auditors whenever there is questionable information in the database for an employer's account. Acorde automatically routes those red-flagged wage and tax reports to workflow queues. Because the scanned documents are indexed, auditors can quickly pull up and review the original materials submitted by employers. "We have 55 full-time users retrieving documents from the system," says Cinda Sackrison, ESD's unemployment insurance tax automation manager. "Because we want the data that goes to the mainframe to be as clean as possible, we rely heavily on the workflow tools as we verify data and make changes to the records."

Reduce Data Entry - Save Labor
In addition to scanning images into the system, ESD also receives wage statements electronically from some larger employers. As Sackrison admits, some incoming forms don't meet ESD's specifications for electronic or scanned entry and, therefore, must be entered manually. Nonetheless, the digital imaging and electronic workflow solution has cut a huge chunk from manual data entry. "Each quarter, we now can get all of the information into the system three or four weeks earlier than we used to, and we're not paying anyone overtime to do that," says Sackrison. "In fact, by eliminating overtime and reducing manual data entry, we have seen a labor savings equivalent to 10 full-time staff positions. And, we're making a lot fewer overpayments to claimants."