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Process Makes Perfect

Tom Allanson

Wasting Resources on a Paper Census? Senseless.

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Well, it's that time of the decade again, and like most of you I received my 2010 U.S. Census form in the mail a few weeks ago. In addition to being surprised at how short it was, (Really? Sweeping legislative changes can be made based on how many out-of-town friends visit my house?) my major issue was the fact that I couldn't fill out this form online. Doing so would be a simple, extremely convenient means of getting information delivered and returned quickly.

Advocates of paper forms will stress the idea that not every United States resident has a computer and Internet access, and while this is indeed true, more than 70% of Americans do. People who cannot access the Internet in their homes can do so for free at any public library, and some can even use their cell phone to go online.

Let's consider the financial aspect - the cost of mailing and processing Census forms hover around a staggering $14.5 billion. That's $46 per U.S. resident. The time-consuming, manual methods used to manage the Census cost the government (and us) so much money it's a wonder why it wasn't digitized fifteen years ago!

As with the debate over online voting for state and federal elections, there are security issues to consider. Websites get hacked, information transmitted wirelessly is "out in the ether," etc. But let's take a step back: online banking services have become the norm; we can reorder something as important as a driver's license online; we shop for merchandise with our credit cards online. Heck, we do our taxes online (and as the former president of TurboTax, I'm keenly aware of how popular this option has become).

I'm certainly not alone in my desire for a digitized Census. The New York Times' Freakonomics blog bemoaned this modern-day antiquity and recognized the upstart group of concerned citizens behind UnofficialCensus.org, a website whose mission is to "shame the U.S. Census Office for not having a method of online submission. This is 2010! Even the IRS, whose forms are much more complicated, allows online submission."

Indeed it is 2010, friends. We now have sophisticated, easy-to-use online solutions that can automate the entire Census process. While I can't speak for every option out there, my own company, PerfectForms, lets people with no technical knowledge create any type of form, collect the data submitted and analyze the results. With the government's vast scope of IT resources, shouldn't Census automation be a no-brainer?

Here's hoping this debate is ancient history come 2020.


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Tom Allanson of PerfectForms shares his ideas on managing business processes, automating workflows and designing for business users - both in the cloud and on the ground.

Tom Allanson

Tom Allanson, CEO of Perfect Forms, Inc., has over 19 years of experience leading teams and growing businesses and has held key executive roles at Intuit, General Electric, and H&R Block. Most recently the President of H&R Block Digital Tax Division, he had previously been Senior Vice President at Intuit in charge of the Tax Division, including TurboTax. He started his career as a design engineer.


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