Editor’s note: The right taxonomy is just one element of modern technology that’s designed to put the human back in human services. Read our new post, Not Your Average Electronic Document Management System, to learn more about what features can make information more searchable, discoverable, and useable.
Resourceful human services agencies are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to modernize their enterprise content management system (ECM/ECMS) and/or electronic document management system (EDMS). The stakes are high on these large projects, and there’s a great deal of pressure placed on the agency’s IT leaders and staff to succeed.
To reduce the level of project risk, it’s common for agencies to choose one of the larger or better-known ECM or EDMS vendors.
This can be a fine decision, but there’s a caveat: Since these platforms are built to work for a wide variety of industries and users, the EDMS “taxonomies” (a fancy name for the naming convention and file structure used to organize electronic files) don’t always meet human services agencies’ very specific information needs.
Why is this significant? Because the taxonomy ultimately determines how easy or difficult it will be for users to find the information they need from the system to do their jobs each day. A well-designed taxonomy—one that's purpose-built for human services―makes caseworkers’ lives easier instead of getting in their way. It also takes into consideration the complex relationship between human services programs and makes it easier for caseworkers across program types to access the right documents.
Looking at a real-life example can help illustrate this… Here’s what can happen when the ECM team chooses a taxonomy that is not tailored to human services:
Our caseworker hops on the new EDMS in search of lab results for a particular client. Once inside the client file, she clicks on a folder named “Medical,” which opens to display a barrage of documents ― each named “Medical” (followed by a series of letters/numbers). She has to open each document one-by-one until she finds the record she needs. All told, it takes her 7-8 minutes to locate the record.
Later, she’s on the EDMS in search of a client’s driver’s license. In the client file, she chooses a folder called “Records,” which she opens to discover 20 documents inside named – you guessed it – “Record.” She then opens the documents one-by-one hoping to find the record she needs. Frustrated, she asks a coworker to help her look. She considers calling the client and just having him resend the information, which is frustrating to clients as well. She spends 10 minutes on the task and still doesn’t have the document she needs, potentially causing a delay in processing the client’s benefits.
Do you see what’s happening? The system that was supposed to bring efficiencies is being rejected in favor of workarounds that eat up agency resources and impact service levels―all because its taxonomy doesn’t meet the users’ needs. So much for efficiency.
Now, compare that to an EDMS with a human services-specific taxonomy…
Believe it or not, human services-specific taxonomies do exist. You needn’t try to build or customize one yourself (much too costly, labor-intensive, and risky). These taxonomies are purpose-built for human services agencies. They speak the same language caseworkers speak and align with their specific document creation and retrieval needs.
Let’s go back to our example, but this time imagine that the EDMS has been designed with a human services-specific taxonomy…
Our caseworker can find the first client’s lab results in under a minute because the EDMS has all client information arranged in meaningful categories AND the medical content is further divided into sub-categories (e.g., Medical History, Medical Expenses, Medical Lab Results, etc.).
Finding the other client’s identification, such as a driver’s license, is also a snap, for the same reason. The information is named and arranged in relevant, useful ways, so rather than having to open multiple documents named “Record,” she spots what she needs right away: “Identification.”
Human services is a unique field and caseworkers have very specific information needs. That’s why it makes sense for human services agencies to demand a human services-specific taxonomy when implementing a new EDMS or ECM project. Those that do can achieve impressive results:
- High user adoption. Caseworkers will easily learn and readily adopt the system because it eases their workload.
- Faster document retrieval. The time it takes caseworkers to find and retrieve client/case information is greatly reduced.
- Reduce duplicate work. Caseworkers don’t have to recreate files that are too cumbersome to find, while clients don’t have to submit same information twice.
- Minimize error rates. Caseworkers can easily and instantly access accurate, up-to-date, quality client records, which reduces the chance for human error.
- Higher productivity agency-wide. Less time searching for client/case information leaves more time for higher-value tasks, like helping clients.
- Higher job satisfaction. Caseworkers have more time to work with clients and help them move forward on the path to self-sufficiency.
- Client service levels increase. Workers who aren’t bogged down by low-value tasks like searching for information can offer better service to clients.
- Better support for decision-making. Management can access complete client/case information quickly, enabling faster decision-making.
These days, resourceful state human services agencies are taking advantage of OMB’s A87 Cost Allocation Exception to help fund a new (or overhaul an existing) enterprise content management system (ECM/ECMS) to include a document management system (DMS). The stakes are high on these large projects, and there’s a great deal of pressure placed on the agency’s IT leaders and staff to succeed. A well-designed taxonomy — one designed specifically for human services ― makes caseworkers’ lives easier instead of getting in their way.