Fluid Communications

Trends in paperless schools and enterprise content management technology.

GUEST COLUMN | by Linda Ding

CREDIT LaserficheSchools in both K-12 and higher education are transforming classrooms to keep pace with technology. Technology adoption in other operations—such as HR, accounting and recordkeeping—however, traditionally trails that of classrooms as institutions continue to rely on paper-driven protocol. Some schools are looking to change that with enterprise content management (ECM) technology, which has implications beyond going paperless.

Recordkeeping regulations require schools to store and secure documents dating back years, sometimes decades—and boxes or filing cabinets filled with paper cost money and space to store. 

While ECM used to simply be a means of storing electronic documents, ECM solutions providers now offer tools and integrations that increase school employees’ efficiency, lower costs and ultimately allow institutions to better serve their students. Here are some of the newest ways that schools and districts are using ECM to positively affect operations.

More Accessible Digital Student Records

Paperless isn’t so much of a trend as it is a necessity for many schools and school districts. Recordkeeping regulations require schools to store and secure documents dating back years, sometimes decades—and boxes or filing cabinets filled with paper cost money and space to store. Additionally, searching and retrieving records in a traditional paper filing system and physically routing them can result in lost documents and shipping costs.

The Ottawa-Carleton School District Board (OCSDB) is the largest school board in Ottawa and one of many organizations that has benefited from digitizing student records. With 147 schools, OCSDB processes and stores a large volume of student information. After digitizing records and automating its filing process with ECM software, OCSDB eliminated significant physical storage space and made the retrieval of student information easy and immediate through simple keyword searches. In Palm Desert, Calif., College of the Desert also digitized student records, which improved access to information and enhanced communications between staff and students. Both organizations’ initiatives realized significant time savings, allowing staff to spend more time on crucial services that directly affect students.

Electronic Forms to Collect Information

Even as schools begin to adopt ECM systems, paper forms remain a common way to collect information—some schools initiate processes by scanning paper into their ECM systems, and then destroy the paper document. Electronic forms, however, not only replace paper but also increase accuracy, eliminate missing information and save even more time by initiating automated workflows.

Located in Collin County, Texas, Plano Independent School District (ISD) is known for its high academic standards and state-of-the-art technology. Plano ISD serves approximately 55,000 students across 72 schools, special programs and administrative sites. Plano ISD implemented electronic forms in its after-school care program to track and confirm student attendance and late pickups. Electronic forms and automated workflows improved accuracy in legal and financial protocol, and have since processed the equivalent of over 7 million pages of information or more than 3,000 physical storage boxes. In addition, Plano ISD increased revenue collection of drop-in and late fees.

Integration for Enhanced Collaboration

While many institutions have existing ERM and CRM systems, ECM providers have introduced powerful integrations with leading software in the education industry. These integrations allow fluid communication between systems, eliminating redundant data and streamlining processes.

Cégep à distance (Collège de Rosemont), in Montreal, reengineered its exam review process by integrating its ECM system with a project management software the college uses to manage student information. Exams are scanned into the ECM system and results are pushed into the project management software, which then makes the information available to the Ministry of Education. The integration shortened exam processing time and enabled the college to track the process from start to finish.

Automating Back-Office Processes

Many schools have been realizing the power of ECM by automating processes in nearly every department, including essential operations surrounding employee onboarding or accounting. Organizations can create workflows that increase efficiency and reduce the chance for human error. Some ECM tools also provide audit trails and data analytics that enable schools to track processes, automatically send progress updates to those involved in real-time, and identify bottlenecks.

Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering automated its employee onboarding process to make it more efficient as the college was looking to hire a large volume of employees to manage increased enrollment. This automation realized savings of more than 2,000 hours of employee time in one year and standardized the filing and naming of employee records in an electronic repository, making them easily searchable. Other departments have leveraged the ECM system and automated processes such as contract management and accounts payable.

Enterprise Transformation

As educational institutions adjust methods and operations to serve a new generation of tech-savvy students, digital is fast becoming a ubiquitous term. Students and employees continue to expect quicker, easier access to information and services, which has pushed educational institutions to completely transform their operations with ECM. Budget is also a motivating factor for many institutions to increase efficiency across the entire organization.

While enterprise-wide transformation can seem daunting, schools are achieving significant ROI by adopting the methods that best fit them. Texas A&M University System offered ECM software as a shared service through its central IT office after individual college deployments showed time and cost savings. The transformation allows staff to leverage success and knowledge across departments and colleges. In Ottawa, Algonquin College implemented ECM in its HR department, which spurred an enterprise expansion that has ultimately improved student service in 23 departments, including the Registrar’s Office and IT.

As technology continues to change the education landscape, K-12 and higher education organizations will need to transform in various ways to increase efficiency and, most importantly, better serve students.

Linda Ding is the Education Program Strategist for Laserfiche. She speaks frequently on issues surrounding deployment of institution-wide IT initiatives, information governance and integration strategies. She was an executive panelist at the 2010 Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference at UCLA and has presented at the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) Annual Meeting, EDUCAUSE, the Harvard IT Summit and the Laserfiche Institute Conference in Los Angeles. She holds B.A. degrees in Economics and Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley and an M.A. degree in Program Evaluation from Claremont Graduate University.

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