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E-forms free workers inside prison walls.

The 28,000 employees of the New York Department of Correctional Services (DCS) oversee the operations of 68 prisons and more than 62,000 inmates. To envision the DCS, think of an immense spider web stretched across the state of New York. Phone lines and computer cables make up the strands of that web; the glue that binds it all together is electronic mail.

According to Vicky Drobner, information processing specialist with DCS, E-mail streamlined prison administration, enhanced internal communications and increased employee productivity. All in all, Drobner believes E-mail at DCS is an unqualified success.

In particular, DCS has made extensive use of electronic forms (E-forms). As with any large organization, DCS is dependent on forms--for everything from tracking inmate movement to requesting office supplies to generating monthly expenditure reports. When those forms are created, retrieved, transmitted, stored and indexed electronically, substantial time savings can be realized.

Though creating an E-form on the Department's system (SYSM, from H&W Computer Systems, Boise, Idaho) is a task most end users can easily handle, the MIS Department elected to retain a significant amount of control over forms creation, partly to ensure that the electronic versions are more efficient than their paper counterparts.

So, end users submit hard-copy versions of forms they wish to see converted, complete with specifications for such matters as the character length of each data field. MIS then constructs the E-form and adds it to the library.

Accessible to all 2,000 system users, the forms library has its own user ID, giving users two ways of accessing E-forms: by signing on with the forms-library ID or by calling up forms under their own user ID.

One of the MIS Department's primary goals is to prevent one workgroup from duplicating a form already in use by another. Now, because all E-forms are stored under the forms-library ID, MIS maintains control over form generation and use.

Using the central forms library, employees in the Payroll Department generate monthly expenditures reports by logging onto the system, retrieving the form from the library, completing the form and sending it as E-mail.

Personnel uses a similar procedure to notify employees of position vacancies; in this case, however, notice is sent out according to a distribution list.

All lists are maintained under a separate user ID, enabling users to retrieve a distribution list, add or delete names, then use the list to send messages.

When the message arrives, it carries a duplicate of the distribution list (much as a hard-copy memo would bear a "cc" list). However, users can choose a blind-copy option if they wish to route the message to a manager or supervisor without letting others know.

Perhaps the heaviest use of E-forms--and the most beneficial--arises from DCS's Classification and Movement Forms (C&M), which govern and document inmate status. Inmates don't move from one part of a facility to another, or from one facility to the next, without a DCS employee first filling out a variety of these forms. Now that those forms are available electronically, inmate movement is simpler and more efficient. Because use of C&M forms is sensitive, system security is ensured by passwords and assigned user IDs.

In addition, the system will automatically lock out a user after a certain number of unsuccessful attempts to log onto the system. The default for unsuccessful tries is three, though any number can be defined by system administrators.

Using E-forms, DCS realizes significant time savings. For one thing, says Drobner, DCS has fewer delinquent forms--those held up in internal mail, in transit with the U.S. Postal Service, or languishing in someone's in-basket.

"Because the system is always running," says Drobner, "a form can be routed almost instantaneously, at any time of day or night. And it seems like people are more prompt to process a form when all they have to do is push a few keys on the computer keyboard."

A side effect of such instant transmission is a reduction in the amount of hard-copy mail delivered each day. Inside prison walls, security measures govern who is allowed access to specific areas; as a result, simply transporting mail from one place to another becomes complicated. By reducing the paper transported from point A to point B, DCS's E-mail system made mail delivery simpler and more efficient.

E-mail also reduced the amount of time DCS employees spend playing telephone tag. With E-mail, messages are delivered whether recipients are at their desks or not.

"That in itself has been a substantial time-saver," says Drobner, though she acknowledges that such savings are difficult to quantify.

Still, the feeling at the New York State DCS is that prison administration is more efficient and more cost-effective. After all, when you're responsible for 62,000 inmates, you need all the help you can get.
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Title Annotation:New York Department of Correctional Services uses electronic forms
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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