The government hardly enjoys a reputation as an innovative, forward-thinking entity, especially when it comes to technology. But the U.S. federal government's efforts to digitize its procurement processes are pioneering, according to eSignLive President Tommy Petrogiannis and DocPoint Solutions VP of Sales Mike Ratigan.
The two companies recently secured a collaboration to enable eSignLive's digital signature capabilities within DocPoint's digital document management tools. Some of their biggest clients, the executives said, are federal government agencies looking to go paperless to not only save money but to gain a view of their finances and processes that was once nearly impossible to access.
"Quite often, government gets a bad rap for not being innovative and not pushing the envelope," Petrogiannis said. "The truth is that innovating in a regulated, confined, taxpayer-subsisted model is really hard. A lot of private companies don't get punished for trying and failing. If you're a government entity, you get punished, so you want to get it right the first time."
With this high-stakes pressure, government agencies have actually been able to successfully go paperless, and this isn't a recent phenomenon. Petrogiannis pointed to the move among the Department of Defense's Joint Chiefs of Staff to go paperless more than 20 years ago.
Ten years ago, he said, he would have seen some anxieties among government entities about going paperless and relying on digital signatures to get things done. Today, not so much. Instead, compliance concerns are more about how these government groups remain compliant in the cloud, suggesting they're still looking forward in their efforts to go digital.
Often, it's out of necessity.
"We've found that many of the federal agencies are moving to a paperless environment due to procurement cuts, due to just the need to outsource information to the cloud, as well as to become more streamlined," explained Ratigan. "These government agencies have been told at the highest levels that they need to become more streamlined, reduce costs and move to the cloud."
But it isn't like adopting electronic document and eProcurement solutions isn't proving fruitful. The procurement operations of many of these government agencies, the executives said, are working with public funds in high-pressure scenarios.
War might be as high-pressure as it gets.
"The face of war has really changed," Petrogiannis said. "It's gone from going to war with a country to, now, looking at terrorism all around the globe. The supply chain logistics nightmare is real."
Procurement for war and defense efforts means coordinating with suppliers and purchasing and delivering goods across the globe.
"On paper, it was impossible to forecast what you need, when you need it," Petrogiannis explained. Going digital, though, means near-instant decision-making to understand cash positions, supply needs and logistics. Forecasting demand and finances now takes only moments — not years.
Of course, the need to go digital isn't reserved for such dramatic circumstances in the government. Smaller agencies, the executives explained, are also looking to go paperless to streamline their procurement practices. According to Petrogiannis, there aren't many reasons why we print out paper today, but one of them is because we need to sign a document. Digitizing signatures means faster purchase order approvals and reviews, without printing out the documents involved in a procurement deal.
Going paperless, he added, "allows for a simple, easy, streamlined way to sign and approve [a document] in a manner that can be authenticated and approved across all levels of government."
Procurement officials across these government levels are forced to do more with less, he continued. Cutting paper is often the first step in doing so.
"Manual processes are absolutely the worst processes out there in terms of sucking out money from the government," Petrogiannis said. "When you have people doing stuff manually, it costs more money. The minute you go digital and get off paper, you get a quantum return on investment, because you're taking so much friction out of the equation."
Contrary to government's reputation for being slow to innovate and adopt new technologies, these agencies, Petrogiannis argued, are actually looking at going paperless as only the beginning in becoming more efficient in government processes like procurement. Many of these entities are now not only looking to go digital but also to go mobile.
Researchers and industry experts agree that government behaviors, like adopting eInvoicing within procurement processes, can act as effective incentives for the private sector to do the same. According to Petrogiannis and Ratigan, the government deserves praise for not only its ability to embrace digital processes but to go even further.
"Most government organizations think about going paperless as just the first step," Petrogiannis stated. "Once you get off the paper, you enter the realm of digital. It transforms how you do things. It becomes predictive. You start monitoring how things are done; you have visibility into the supply chain. It completely transforms."