How to Craft a Convincing Business Case for Records Request Software

Business project or program strategy planning and development

Guest Blogger: Donny Barstow

Donny Barstow is President and CEO of JustFOIA, the easiest-to-use records request solution on the market. He has over 20 years of experience in the GovTech market.

When we speak to public sector professionals like you about why you’re interested in a records request solution, it usually boils down to:

It would make your life so much easier.

But that’s not always enough to convince budget committees tasked with making the best use of taxpayer dollars. You need a data-driven business case for adopting a records request software to gain organizational buy-in and secure resources for such an investment.

With the growing complexity of public records requests, there’s certainly a case to be made.

In this article, you’ll learn to clearly demonstrate the value of FOIA software to stakeholders in terms of efficiency gains, risk reduction and compliance, and ROI.

Don’t Start from Scratch—Consult Your Peers

The good news is that you don’t need to create a business case for records request software from scratch. If you’ve worked in the public sector for long, you have likely discovered that your peers are incredibly helpful people! And many have already gone through the process. Chances are, someone at a similar agency to yours would be willing to share the business case they created and successfully presented to their stakeholders. From there, you can add, change, and adapt the report to ensure that it proactively addresses the specific needs and challenges of your organization.

Understanding the Need for a Records Request Software

The foundation of the business case for records request software lies in understanding the current challenges and pain points within the organization.

Start by conducting a thorough assessment of the existing records management processes. Identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, compliance risks, missed opportunities for improvement, and even revenue generation.

Common issues may include:

  • Delays from manual handling of records requests, such as lost emails.
  • Lack of a centralized process resulting in inefficiencies.
  • Difficulty in reporting.
  • Compliance concerns (including those caused by manual redaction).
  • High resource utilization for managing requests, leading to increased operational costs.
  • Lost opportunity to offset costs due to difficulty in manually processing invoices and fee collection. (Read about how Kissimmee, FL, generated $40,000 in revenue from lien requests).
  • Constituents now expect a virtual experience and great customer experience from government agencies, and trust and public sentiment decline when they don’t get it.

Quantifying the Impact

Once the challenges are identified, quantify their impact on the organization. Use data and metrics wherever possible to demonstrate the extent of the problem. For example:

  • Calculate the average time taken to fulfill records requests manually and estimate the associated labor costs. (Read our full breakdown of the hidden costs of public records requests.)
  • Assess the number of compliance violations or legal risks due to inadequate recordkeeping practices. Cite any state statutes that would leave your agency open to financial risks for noncompliance with records laws. This could include potentially needing to pay damages or the attorney’s fees of a plaintiff who sues your organization. If your organization has faced any litigation, be sure to mention it specifically. (If you don’t have any examples from your agency, describe incidents from similar organizations to show the potential risks. For instance, in November 2023, Pierce County, WA, settled with a requester for $250,000 for delaying the fulfillment of a records request.)
  • Evaluate the opportunity cost of delayed or missed opportunities (such as lack of payment collection) resulting from inefficient record retrieval processes.

By quantifying the impact of your current process, you can paint a clear picture of the tangible benefits that adopting records request software would bring to the organization.

Articulating the Benefits of Records Request Software

Now that you understand the impact of the challenges, outline the specific benefits of adopting records request software. These benefits may include:

  • Improved Efficiency: Automating records request processes reduces manual effort, minimizes errors, and accelerates response times (Read how San Marcos, CA, reduced their records request turnaround time by 70%.)
  • Enhanced Compliance: Centralized records management ensures adherence to regulatory requirements, reducing the risk of penalties or legal liabilities.
  • Cost Savings: By optimizing resource allocation and streamlining processes, you can realize significant cost savings in terms of labor and operational expenses.
  • Better Decision-Making: Access to accurate and timely information facilitates informed decision-making, driving organizational effectiveness and agility.
  • Increased Productivity: Employees spend less time manually tracking and processing record requests and more time on value-added tasks.
  • Improved Customer Service: We now live in a world of instant gratification, where constituents expect to conduct business with their government agency, much like they do when they purchase consumer goods online. The expectation is that business can be conducted virtually, easily, and with tracking and consistent communication. With a records request solution, there’s no longer a need for them to:
      • Conduct business through email.
      • Download and print a PDF form, fill it out, and then scan and email it.
      • Travel to the agency to submit their request, collect responsive records, or make payment..

Supporting the Business Case for Records Request Software

To strengthen the records request software business case further, consider incorporating the following elements:

Market Research: Provide insights into industry trends regarding records management software. Highlight successful case studies or testimonials from organizations that have benefited from similar solutions, and utilize any data-driven white papers.

ROI Analysis: Conduct a detailed ROI analysis, comparing the costs of implementing the software against the projected savings and benefits over time.

Risk Assessment: Identify and assess any potential risks or challenges associated with the implementation of records request software. Outline mitigation strategies and contingency plans to address these concerns proactively.

Stakeholder Alignment: Engage key stakeholders across departments to garner support for your case. Highlight how the software aligns with your strategic goals and priorities. Explain how you plan to start, and how the solution can serve other departments in the organization. Using a city government as an example, the City Clerk’s office may plan to start with the administrative areas, but may join forces with the Police Department given their high volume of requests and larger budget.

Transparency & Customer Service: Compare how your current process to how someone conducts personal business online. Citizens’ expectations are likely much higher than in the past, and when they are not being met, agencies lose the opportunity to create and maintain trust.

Vendor Recommendation: Due to the elongated purchasing process, it is essential to choose a vendor that can be thought of as a long-term partner. Be sure to not only investigate product features and fit, but also the implementation quality and the support the agency will receive. Many agencies reluctantly live with solutions for many years that are not user-friendly and lack sufficient support from the vendor because of the long, difficult process of changing systems. As a result, they may switch only after many years of dissatisfaction. Talk to your peers, and when investigating vendors, dive deep into retention rates, implementation process, product development strategy, and support resources. The best vendors answer these questions before they are asked.

Change Management Plan: Without buy-in, management and record custodians simply may not use the software. Develop a comprehensive change management plan to facilitate smooth adoption and integration of the software into existing workflows. Address concerns related to training, user acceptance, and process redesign to ensure successful implementation.

Educating Constituents: Create a plan for announcing the software and educating constituents on the improvements in how public records requests will be handled. This is an opportunity for creating trust and showing that you prioritize customer experience.

With a well-crafted business case, you can effectively and compellingly demonstrate the value of implementing a records request solution. When presented with the benefits, your council or committee is far more likely to help you secure the necessary resources and support to drive change.

About JustFOIA

JustFOIA is the feature-rich, easy-to-use records request software built by people who are passionate about helping you serve the public better.

If you’d like more information about how JustFOIA can enhance your organization’s efficiency and compliance, we’d be glad to help! Fill out the form below and we’ll get in touch.