Monday, July 11, 2016

DFPC Innovation Moves from Scan-Tron to Right On!

Remember painstakingly coloring in every bubble on a Scan-Tron sheet with a No. 2 pencil, hoping you hadn’t accidentally filled in the wrong bubble?

Prior to May 2015, that’s what Colorado firefighters and their training officers had to do in order to register and take tests, obtain certifications and submit certification renewals at the state level. The training and certification process involved multiple manual steps and communication via “snail mail,” resulting in a process that could take about six months from start to finish.

Fast forward to today, and nearly every step can be completed online; current information on firefighters and their certification can be accessed instantaneously from a secure database, and the testing and certification process can take as few as a couple of days instead of several months.

The change is a perfect example of the type of everyday process improvement that Governor Hickenlooper has challenged state workers to implement in an effort to make Colorado government “efficient, effective and elegant.”

One Crested Butte training officer is so happy with the new
system, she mailed a thank-you banner scrawled on one of
the old bubble-sheets that have since been done away with.
Sometimes, seemingly simple innovations can have an enormous ripple effect to save time, improve customer service and reduce costs. And sometimes, seemingly simple solutions aren't as simple as they might seem. Take this DFPC project, for example: although the old system was clunky and outdated, you can’t simply stop using a technology or system; you have to create, test and launch an effective new system before abandoning the old.

DFPC Professional Qualifications and Testing employees spent more than a year researching, finding the right vendor, negotiating the project, and then developing, testing, and rolling out the new online testing and certification system. They launched the new system in May 2015. Just over one year later, 90% of certifications are taking place online.

Training officers and DFPC staff alike are ecstatic at how much time and effort the system is saving. In fact, one training officer hand-made a thank-you banner out of the old “bubble sheet” forms and mailed it to DFPC workers. It still hangs in an office at 690 Kipling St.

The old process involved filling out dots on "bubble sheets" to register for a certification class and mailing the registration to DFPC for verification. DFPC staff would scan the sheets to enter the info into a database, then mail the bubble sheet back to the fire agency so that firefighters could record their test answers on their respective bubble sheets. Their Training Officer would then mail the completed test sheets back to DFPC for scoring. Finally, DFPC staff would prepare and print a batch of certificates for those who passed, hand-affix a gold state seal to them, and mail them to the fire agencies.

The process of renewing a firefighter’s existing certificate was onerous as well, involving filling out a bubble-sheet with the individual’s name, agency, etc. and mailing it in. Training officers had to keep meticulous records and check them regularly, because the only way to look up a firefighter’s certification expiration date was to track it themselves or to remember to call the state to search for the data. And if a firefighter misses the deadline to renew – despite having completed the required ongoing training -- he or she has to go through a more complicated process of requesting reinstatement of certification.

“We’re seeing an increase in renewals instead of reinstatements because fewer people are missing those key deadlines. It’s easy for the training officers to check the status of their firefighters online, instead of having to call us,” said DFPC Section Chief Mark Quick.

With the new online system, firefighters and their training officers can access their existing certifications and determine which certifications are close to expiration. They can register online in a matter of minutes and, once they’ve completed the necessary training, can take the test online as well. Results are posted within 18 hours and a Certificate is available immediately.

DFPC staff are currently gathering data to measure the impact this project has had and continues to have. Their outcomes will be included in the Governor’s Cut the Burden report slated for release in January 2017.

Do you have an example of innovation or of efficient, effective, elegant government that you’d like to highlight on our blog? E-mail your story idea to patricia.billinger@state.co.us.

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