Government IT Idea: Centralized Document Clearing House

After a few years working at different government agencies I’ve come up with a few ideas. Some I thought of myself, many from discussion with consultants like myself, some seen from abroad, etc. I’ll be writing at least one per week, starting with this one:

Idea: Centralized Document Clearing House

THE PROBLEM:

Government agencies send hardcopy letters, memos, invitations, official papers and all sorts of documents to each other all the time. The potential for fraud is medium to high especially for example when LGUs write to ask support from government agencies and Congressmen or Senators for regional projects ie. bridges, buildings, medical facilities and all sorts of infrastructure.

PDAF aka ‘pork’ whether we like it or not exists so Congressmen and Senators are especially prone. While government agencies by default do not give straight cash there is potential for example, for an opponent of a sitting LGU Mayor or Congressmen to send a damaging letter on the incumbent’s behalf to sully his name, or a document to miss a page or two either by accident or design.

The ways to authenticate correspondence at the moment is fairly ordinary. Receiving staff usually call, send a letter back to ask if it was legit, or communicate with a third party to authenticate for them ‘ie. ‘kilala mo ba si xx? Totoo ba ‘tong pinadala niya?‘ Granted, a bogus attack is usually stopped right there but a well planned attack that would anticipate these can theoretically be prepared, and in any case precious time and effort is wasted merely authenticating documents.

If the authentication process is tedious there is risk the receiving office will not find it worth the effort to authenticate at all. For example if a lower level LGU or public school is trying to ask a favor, say, invite a Senator / Congressmen or Head of Agency to an event, their staff might just ignore it and focus on the more higher profile documents instead because it is too difficult to authenticate their letter.

THE SOLUTION:

The Government can setup a centralized web based document clearing house that generates QR codes. Free access will be provided to verified government personnel representing their agency or LGU, preferably the people actually receiving documents and regularly vetted by the agency that will run this.

To send a document agency staff will login, enter details of a document (ie. title, date, subject, body [optional]), and so on, producing a QR code. To print it, a good hi res printer is ok but a relatively affordable QR or barcode printer is preferred. They can then print it on sticker paper or just staple it to their document.

The receiving government agency can then use a QR code scanner or their smart phones to scan the document, assuring its authenticity, quickly facilitating processes and defeating evil doers in the process.

HIGH POTENTIAL FOR SUCCESS

National Agencies and LGUs both small and big will be motivated to use this system because letters and memos they send to each other are usually of high importance (to the sender more than the recipient) and occasionally classified. Any way to hasten or expedite these would therefore be welcome.

Note: It is important that projects have a high success potential because a failed system unused by intended users will reflect badly on the agency who will develop this not to mention the wasted time, money and effort.

OPTIONALS:

  • The sending agency can inform the receiving agency, via a certified automated email from the website, that a document is on its way. When a sending agency inputs the details an email will be sent to the receiving agency saying it is coming. This way the receiving agency will not be surprised, and if they do not have a QR reader, (recipient is a remote Barangay office or a public school for example), they have the option of logging into the website to see what documents are coming their way or view a history of documents meant for them.
  • Among the fields the sending agency may fill up is the number of pages. This may play a crucial security role because an insertion or deletion may occur while the document is in transit. Bad guys may want to change a contract’s terms, definitions or signatories for example.
  • Receiving agencies can implement two factor authentication by using this and their normal authentication process ie., QR code + an email, or QR code + a text or call from sender, etc.
  • There is a risk the website may be made the guarantor for delivery of documents which shouldn’t be. It should only be a vetting service and optional at that. I do not find mandatory use a good idea because it makes the system ‘too important’, that is, it becomes too crucial too fast. I am a great believer in making systems that become valuable over time as opposed to forcing systems down people’s throats whether they want it or not, or whether it really works or not. I am a believer in the organic software building process where systems and methods are employed because users really want it and use it to its fullest extent.
  • Eventually the system can evolve to become a closed messaging system for government agencies. Something like GMail or YahooMail but only for vetted government agencies. Agencies can send email to each other knowing that the recipients, being regular users, are already vetted and known to be the authentic. This should facilitate processes even more.

GOV’T COST TO MAKE THE WEBSITE: P-1M

AGENCY / LGU COST FOR GUN, SCANNER AND PRINTER: P15-20K.

 

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