Putting pen to paper

Mobile workers are numerous within local government. Traffic wardens, social workers, benefit, planning and environmental health officers are just some of the roles that require staff to work out and about; in people's homes, on the street, in public places or at business premises.
    
Traditionally, paperwork created by such workers would need to be processed back in the office, creating time-consuming data re-entry. However, recent developments in mobile technology are helping to eradicate such inefficient paperwork processes, increasing productivity.
    
Many local government organisations have adopted digital pen and paper technology to revolutionise the way paperwork generated by mobile workers is processed. Slightly larger than the average pen, the digital pen works the same way as a normal pen but the information written is captured and sent back to the office electronically.
    
The pen is designed to write on special paper printed with a tiny dot pattern, which identifies the position coordinates on the paper. The pen’s inbuilt camera uses this pattern to store the handwriting. The data is then sent to a computer using a mobile phone with Bluetooth.

Increasing efficiencies
As data is captured on-site and fed directly into back office systems, much time can be saved on paperwork and data re-entry that would otherwise have to be completed in the office. Workers can then spend more time on their core objectives – ultimately improving services to citizens.
    
There are other benefits associated with digital pen and paper technology. Its deployment requires minimum change to the method of data capture from traditional form filling, therefore the need for major training is eliminated – including the cost of such training.
    
Digital pen and paper technology is generally cheaper than other mobile technologies such as a laptop or PDA, making it a cost effective solution. The technology is also inconspicuous, with the pen fitting neatly in the pocket out of sight. It also has limited value to thieves meaning there is less risk of being targeted by thieves than you are with a laptop or PDA.

Leading by example
Care managers at Greenwich Council have given the thumbs up to the digital pen – or more fondly known as the ‘digi pen’ – which is making a huge difference to how they work.
    
In the past, for every one hour spent carrying out an assessment in a service user’s home, care managers would need to spend two hours doing the paperwork back in the office. One option would have been to take laptops and printers on visits but service users, especially the elderly or confused, can find computer equipment off-putting. Also, staff were concerned about their security when carrying computer equipment to clients’ homes.
    
Now, armed with the new digi pen, staff can provide the one-to-one assessment; new technology streamlines the whole process, and service users just see their care manager completing a form with a pen.
    
Dave Plumb, client records team manager, said: “The digi pen ticks all the boxes – we get huge efficiency gains, clients feel at ease and we can leave a copy of the form with the client – so there are no misunderstandings. Phase one included ten care managers. Phase two also involves health colleagues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”

How it’s used
The user writes with the digi pen on a form, printed with a unique formulation of microdots. A copy of the completed, signed form can be left with the service user.
    
The pen records the writing, date and time. The encrypted data is transmitted from the pen via a mobile phone or a docking cradle. It goes to a secure website where the handwriting is converted to type.
    
The user can then access the form for validation out in the field using a laptop, at home or back in the office. The user checks that the handwriting has been correctly converted, amends as necessary and submits the form, which is automatically filed into the council’s client records system.
    
The digi pen has won over staff at Greenwich Council. Karina Soerensen, care manager said: “It’s fantastic. I don’t have to return back to the office after each assessment.” John Auld, service manager added: “I used to be very distrustful of new technology. But now I am a convert.”

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