The Challenge

The mission of the State of Alaska’s Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing sounds deceptively simple: “ensure that competent, professional, and regulated commercial services are available to Alaska consumers.”

In reality, the Division’s work is far more complex.

  • For example, if a physician wishes to practice in Alaska, she must apply for a professional business license.
  • This would require the physician to provide documentation demonstrating her education, existing licenses, hospital privileges, exam scores, etc.
  • The Division collects that information and provides it to the medical licensing board, which decides whether the physician meets the state’s statutes and regulations (i.e., laws and rules).
  • If she meets them, the physician is licensed to practice in Alaska.

Now take this process and imagine conducting it with 175 board members serving on 21 licensing boards that meet quarterly or monthly. Before bringing in OnBoard, this paper-based process was time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating.

“We found ourselves spending a lot of time doing document preparation,” recalls Sara Chambers, Director of the Division of the State of Alaska’s Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing. 

“Board packets sometimes consisted of 600-page license applications that included correspondence, white papers, documentation, and investigative cases that the board may have in front of them. Much of that information was sensitive or confidential.”

“We were shipping these packets to board members all across the state,” Sara says with a chuckle. “And Alaska is really, really, big and really, really rural.”

Sara used OnBoard not only to overhaul the preparation that goes into each board meeting but to transform various regulatory processes and make her area of state government more responsive to constituent needs. She selected the platform to resolve several challenges, including:

  • Simplifying the preparation and creation of board materials.
  • Making the collection and recording votes simpler and more efficient.
  • Simplifying the creation and distribution of board materials.
  • Reducing the amount of time licensees have to wait to learn the outcome of their license application.
  • Improving record keeping by creating a single location where all information about a licensing decision is maintaine 
“We found ourselves spending a lot of time doing document preparation. Board packets sometimes consisted of 600-page license applications that included correspondence, white papers, etc. We were shipping these to board members all across the state. And Alaska is really, really, big and really, really rural.”
- Sara Chambers,
Director Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing State of Alaska

Persuading the Skeptics’ Hearts and Minds

Even as she was solving problems and reducing preparation costs, Sara knew that persuading 175 board members to adopt OnBoard was not going to be simple. The Division was implementing other technology projects at the time, and a feeling of “project fatigue” set in.

“We had a lot of change going on,” Sara says. “But I think it was just hard for a lot of people to envision doing on a screen what they had been doing on paper. A lot of people were just paper people, and getting over that mental leap was difficult for them.”

OnBoard’s ease of use and intuitive design helped convince some of the skeptics. Ultimately, though, Sara won over the rest with what she calls a “hearts and minds campaign.”

“We shared data points to illustrate why OnBoard was a good idea,” Sara says. “Also, some of our boards who were more resistant were allowed to phase it in. Other boards had staff that acted as early adopters and champions. They pulled their boards forward and just jumped right into it.”

Sara also utilized her office’s authority to give her the cover she needed to implement a deadline. “We’re statutorily responsible for the administration of board programs,” Sara explains. “Boards are responsible for program governance, who gets a license, and whose licenses are disciplined. So we set a hard cutoff date where we said ‘No more paper packets. No more 600-page PDFs as of this date.'”

Voting 1.5x

The Solution to a Complex Process for Creating and Distributing Board Materials

A typical meeting of a licensing board includes a discussion of candidates’ application material, review of regulations, and scope of practice issues and proposals. Additional investigative or administrative hearing matters such as settlements, suspensions, appeals, etc. are also handled during these meetings.

Before implementing OnBoard, the process for creating and distributing board materials was – as Sara remembers – “unpleasant, unnecessary, took too many hours, took too much time, and cost too much money.”

“We would take over conference rooms and every flat surface available to assemble a packet,” Sara says. “We’d have to take people off programs because it was ‘all hands on deck.”

When all of the documents were collected, they would be painstakingly scanned and converted into a PDF. With massive file sizes and inconsistent page numbering, this PDF solution created its own set of problems. Last-minute additions meant having to create supplementary PDFs that were confusing and difficult to follow. If board members weren’t printing out the PDFs and bringing them to the meeting, they would spend time during the meeting endlessly scrolling through the file to find the right information.

Board members and staff alike were equally frustrated with this existing process. After implementing OnBoard, however, the division was able to resolve these issues quickly.

  • Board materials were created quickly and easily using OnBoard’s Board Book Builder.
  • Late-arriving documents were easily inserted into the board books with pages re-numbering automatically. This eliminated the need for supplementary packets.
  • Documents were organized into one central Resource Folder for each board, eliminating the need to ship materials to each board member.
  • Sensitive and confidential information was kept secure and not distributed on paper throughout rural Alaska.

The Solution to Making Votes More Efficient

Besides making preparation more efficient, OnBoard significantly improved a board’s ability to execute responsibilities by simplifying voting. Alaska law allows voting by mail outside of a public meeting for some routine matters, including licensing. Prior to implementing OnBoard, a PDF ballot would be emailed to each board member on a pending license application. With anywhere between 5 and 11 individuals serving on a board, the voting process was overly complicated. Tracking votes was time-consuming, and the back-and-forth of answering questions and chasing down missing votes resulted in significant delays.

Sara’s division used OnBoard to transform the voting process.

  • First, they used the platform’s built-in approvals and survey functionality to eliminate the need to email PDF ballots.
  • OnBoard now sends a notification to board members that the voting period on a license application is open and that a response is needed.
  • Since state law requires an explanation for rejecting a license application, additional space and voting options are provided.
  • Relevant documentation is also provided in the same place, making it easy for the board member to access additional information that can help them make their final decision.
  • On the day the voting period is scheduled to close, staff can verify at a glance who has responded and who has not.
  • After the vote closes, a staff member puts a ballot summary into the licensee’s file and transfers the result into the state’s electronic licensing database.

“Before OnBoard, we had to gather everybody’s ballots, try to synthesize that information, and upload a big stack of things to the licensing file,” Sara says. “Using OnBoard, licensing staff can gather the voting information in one spot and then go about their duties.”

In the end, all of the efficiencies gained by using OnBoard adds up to a significant reduction in the amount of time it takes for a license application to be approved or rejected. The benefits are equally significant for both board members and applicants alike.

  • For the board members, Sara says, “We’ve reduced the amount of time our volunteer board members need to take time off from seeing clients and earning money to attend these board meetings. So if you’re an engineer, a physician, a hairdresser, or a chiropractor, you can see clients for those two days that you were otherwise stuck in a government conference room looking at papers.”
  • For the applicant, Sara says, “We’ve been able to reduce a huge stack of applications down to manageable bite-size electronic requests. We can give a 10-day window for board members to take a look at an application and respond. That gets people to work more quickly, and it helps speed up the licensing process.”
“Anecdotally, we are able to tell people – whether it's a legislator, the governor's office, or an applicant – that for the most part, boards are taking ten days to approve a license application as opposed to having to wait for quarterly board meetings. Three to six months of board review is now being done in 10 days.”
- Sara Chambers,
Director Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing State of Alaska

The Results

Sara Chambers is an enthusiastic advocate for making her area of state government work better for its constituents. “I’ve ingrained customer service in the culture since I started in 2011,” she says. “Sometimes that’s measured in licensing fees, sometimes it’s time, and sometimes it’s measured in the number of hoops a licensee has to go through to prove X, Y, and Z to receive their licenses. OnBoard has been a huge catalyst for improvement in the amount of time it takes for us to complete those regulatory processes.”

Indeed, Sara says implementing OnBoard has resulted in a steady improvement in productivity and efficiency by:

  • Simplifying the creation and distribution of board materials.
  • Making the collecting and recording of votes simpler and more efficient.
  • Reducing the amount of time licensees have to wait to learn the outcome of their license application.
  • Improved record keeping by creating a single location where all information about a licensing decision is maintained.

“Anecdotally, we can tell people – whether it’s a legislator, the governor’s office, or an applicant – that for the most part, boards are taking ten days to approve a license application as opposed to having to wait for quarterly board meetings.” Sara says. “Three to six months of board review is now being done in 10 days.”

Alaska

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