In March 2018, 50 years after the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, the US Department of Justice released their Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Reports. According to these reports, the number of FOIA requests continues to increase. And in 2017, for the first time in 50 years, the number of FOIA requests exceeded 800.000.
The US Department of Justice announced that only 35 out of 135 FOIA agencies reported they have no backlog at all. The other 100 FOIA agencies reported they had a backlog of approximately 100 FOIA requests. This would not pose a big problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the backlog is, in fact, increasing year after year. But more about the stats later in the text.
For years, FOIA agencies have been relying on various FOIA Software Solutions. But, as you can see from the reports of the US Department of Justice, a large number of FOIA agencies still struggle with a backlog.
What could be the reason for this situation?
What could be the reason for the inability of FOIA agencies to respond to every FOIA request within the estimated time?
To answer this questions, we must first answer what FOIA agencies need in order to increase their productivity and efficiency so they can timely respond to all requests addressed to their agency.
How FOIA Agencies Can Effectively Respond to the Growing Backlog Problem?
Every FOIA agency deals with a different matter. But all 135 FOIA agencies have one thing in common: the everyday struggle to respond to the ever-growing number of FOIA requests.
If we’re to ask a citizen about FOIA processing, they may think it’s a very simple and straightforward work. But as someone who has been doing this job for so long, you know the truth is quite different.
The FOIA process is not a simple flow of the Submit-Search-Provide process. It is time-consuming and it requires much effort because every piece of information is somehow governed by at least one law.
For that reason, FOIA agencies need something new. Something much easier to use. Something revolutionary.
Something that will help every employee in the FOIA process: A cost-effective FOIA Software Solution that will respond to all of your needs and help you quickly and easily respond to every FOIA request.
Such a software would be:
- An open source FOIA Software Solution which allows easy integration.
- Easily configurable, with automated and pre-configured workflows for most repetitive tasks.
- Simple to use, with one interface for communication with other departments, agencies, and requesters.
- A centralized database which will provide an easy access to case-related data at any time and form any device.
- Equipped with a tracking and automatic status update system.
FOIA agencies need a solution that will help them respond to FOIA requests quickly and easily.
They need a reliable, flexible, scalable solution.
They need a Modern FOIA Software Solution.
FOIA Software Solutions by Established Vendors
In the last decade, many startups have tried to focus their attention on developing a good FOIA Software Solution. And truth to be told, some of them did somewhat of a good job.
But, FOIA agencies relying on such software solutions very often pay their fair share. Most of them, trying to cut the costs, end up paying double. Partly because startups quickly go through the boom and bust phase. Partly, because startups just don’t have the field exposure so they’d produce a well-rounded solution.
Experienced vendors, on the other hand, focus their attention on developing a flawless FOIA Software Solution. A solution that will respond to every specific need of every FOIA agency. After all, all those years in the industry are not for nothing.
But, not all FOIA Software Solutions developed by established vendors in the industry are equally good. Some are good, some are great, some… not so good. This is because different vendors use different philosophies of building up the needed technology stack of their FOIA solutions.
To see the difference between FOIA Software Solutions developed by established vendors, I’ve decided to make a little comparison.
The main reason for this comparison and this entire blog post is to raise awareness among FOIA agencies about what the industry offers. I encourage you to make your own comparison between your current FOIA Software Solution and the ones I will be talking about.
I hope this will help you understand why some FOIA agencies have no backlogs at all, while others still struggle and can’t effectively respond to FOIA requests.
Armedia FOIA vs. AINS FOIAXpress
Being part of an established vendor that offers a FOIA Software Solution, it would be false humility to compare FOIA Software Solutions and not to include the one I stand behind.
For the sake of approximate value between the two software solutions, I’ve decided to include an established vendor in the industry, AINS, and to talk about their FOIA Solution – FOIAXpress.
Capabilities of FOIAXpress
FOIAXpress is basically a FOIA Software Solution which operates as a single, unified platform that offers management of the entire process, from submission to final response and delivery, including in the process:
- Document review and redaction,
- Correspondence management,
- Payment management,
- Request management,
- Data management.
To be able to do all of this, i.e., to work as one unified platform that will take care of the entire FOIA process, requires years of work and a dedicated team.
Obviously, AINS have that. Throughout the years they managed to develop a FOIA Software Solution that relies on the following features:
- Workflow-driven Case Management
- Document storage and management
- Flexible reporting
- Audit trail of user actions
- In-document search
- Cost tracking
These are some of the most important things you need to know about AINS FOIA Software Solution. There is so much more to be said, but my point here was to bring you up to speed with the key features.
Main Characteristics of FOIAXpress
It’s obvious that the team behind FOIAXpress knew what they were doing. They’ve developed a FOIA Software Solution characterized as:
- Connectible (I think I just made up a new word). Their FOIA Software Solution is an open-source platform which allows integration with a variety of document management systems, such as SharePoint, Hummingbird, Livelink, etc.
- Functional. FOIAXpress can easily be characterized as a functional FOIA Software Solution. The software solution manages requests form the moment of submission, all the way through delivering the requested information. Including storing requests and all case related records, implementing a correspondence interface, measuring time and costs, etc.
- Established. AINS FOIA Software Solution is an established software solution with a lot of history and it’s being used by many agencies. More importantly, it’s built and maintained by companies with very strong technical staff.
But, FOIAXpress seems to not have kept up with modern technology stack. At its core, we are talking about an old VB application.
Let me bring in the game the Armedia FOIA Software Solution now. But let me share a strong disclaimer here. Even though this is my baby so to speak, I am very rigorous in my comparison. We’ve done tons and tons of analyses and features lists in the early days of Armedia FOIA Module. Our goal was not to be “just another solution” out there. Our goal was to map out the FOIA Agency needs, and the FOIA Deliverables from existing software solutions. And then to produce the best possible FOIA Solution that’s predominantly focused on team effectiveness and FedRAMP compliance.
Armedia FOIA Software Solution
Armedia is an industry leader which helps organizations improve their operations and deliver IT as a Service. One main focus of Armedia is ECM Migration, specifically, migrating Case Management systems from old and proprietary setups into a new, modern, flexible environment that is user-friendly and Web-based.
Our focus and partnership with ArkCase also lean toward Case Management Solutions, including Armedia FOIA Software Solution I will be talking about today.
Capabilities of Armedia FOIA Software Solution
Like FOIAXpress, Armedia FOIA Software Solution is a unified platform that manages FOIA operations, from request submission to the delivery of the requested information. Encompassing the same areas of action I mentioned when I talked about FOIAXpress:
- Document review and redaction,
- Correspondence management,
- Payment management,
- Request management,
- Data management.
To do this, our team relies on ArkCase, a disruptor in the Case Management industry. With the help of ArkCase, we’ve developed a modern FOIA Software Solution that responds to the specific needs of every FOIA agency.
Now, let’s take a look at a short list of the key features of Armedia FOIA Software Solution.
Key Features of Armedia FOIA Software Solution
I’ve talked about the key features of our FOIA Solution and the benefits it brings to FOIA agencies so many times now in my blog posts. For the sake of not repeating myself, here I’ll focus the attention only on the key features which include:
- Centralized processing from various request channels: fax, web, paper.
- Simplified uploads of documents, photos, and videos.
- Compliance with security and records retention.
- Mobile friendly and cloud-ready module.
- Automated Business Intelligence.
- Reduced risk of information lost.
- Faster information assembling.
- Automatic records declaration.
- Improved workflow capacity.
- Faster access to information.
- Higher user productivity.
- Faster response rate.
To learn more about the FOIA Module, take a look at this blog post: The 5 Key Elements of a Solid FOIA Software Solution.
Main Characteristics of the Armedia FOIA Software Solution
The Armedia FOIA Software Solution is revolutionary, secure, flexible, scalable, fast, cost-effective. Let me expand on all these a bit.
- Revolutionary. With an experience of more than 15 years in the industry and strong partnerships with established vendors like AWS, Alfresco, and Snowbound, we have created one of the strongest industry disruptors in the FOIA Software Solutions market.
- Secure. At Armedia we take data security seriously, especially when it comes to large organizations that deal with enormous amounts of sensitive data. That is the reason why we decided to rely on Alfresco because their system is DoD 5015 Compliant. I have written another blog post on Alfresco.com on this topic if you’d like to read about this issue.
- Flexible. When we worked on creating Armedia FOIA Software Solution, we were aware of the complexity of the FOIA request processing challenges. This is why we’ve created a flexible FOIA Solution which enables every FOIA agency to create their own customized workflows and their own customized forms.
- Scalable. In 2016 the Government received 700.000 FOIA requests. In 2017, the number jumped to 800.000. That’s 3% annual increase in submitted FOIA requests in 2016 vs. 2017. Because of this substantial increase, the Armedia FOIA Software Solution relies on AWS because of its practically unlimited scaling potential.
- Fast. If you remember me mentioning the issue of a growing backlog, this is the spot where I expand on the problem.
FOIA Government agencies in 2016 processed 770.000 FOIA requests. In 2017, this number jumped to 820.000 FOIA requests. So, the Government increased productivity by only 6.5%. While as we’ve mentioned, the FOIA requests jumped by 14.3%. This means that actually, the Government is struggling to keep up with the pace of submitted forms vs. processed forms. The Armedia FOIA Software Solution is addressing the speed issue with automation and a very user-friendly interface.
- Cost-effective. Armedia Modern FOIA Solution will cost you only $39/mo per employee. Without overhead, with no hidden expenses. Cloud-based, secure, and infinitely scalable.
One thing I’d like to point out here is the strong redaction mechanism we’ve built for the Armedia FOIA Solution. You can redact any document and add annotations that explain what laws govern the masking/hiding of each spot on a released document. FOIA workers can review other redactions, edit them as needed and the system stores all these versions. You can “burn” a redacted version that’s ready for sending out to the public, without affecting the actual document. And all this is handled with great care and a strong focus on data security thanks to Alfresco.
It’s Up To You Now
As you can see, the two FOIA Software Solutions have much more similarities than differences. At least when you’re looking at simple checklists of features.
The reason for this is that both vendors have been in the industry for so long, and both teams know their job well enough.
Both Armedia and AINS have long partnerships with established companies.
Both Armedia and AINS have a strong presence in the ECM and Case Management world to be able to offer usable and useful solutions.
And, although FOIAXpress is one of the leaders in the industry, Armedia FOIA is built cloud-native with AI/ML integrations.
Switching to the Armedia FOIA Software Solution will certainly help you switch sides and move past the backlogs problem that so many FOIA Agencies are facing nowadays.
Talking of switching, with Armedia FOIA Software Solution you don’t have to worry about the challenges of migrating onto a modern FOIA solution. We’ve done so many ECM migrations that we have the entire process almost automated.
I hope this comparison will help you take a deeper look at all FOIA solutions out there. When it comes to choosing a reliable, flexible, cost-effective, modern FOIA Software Solution, you simply must look deeper, way past the simple checklists and features comparisons. One such deeper look was the issue of document redaction, but believe me, each and every item on a checklist requires a deep-dive.
If you want to find out more about Armedia FOIA Module, read some of our other blog post about FOIA. But to take a deep dive, it may be best if you contact us for a demo. That way, you can get a guided tour of the capabilities we’ve built into the Armedia FOIA Software solution.