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Commentary: Paper documents are becoming an achilles heel to efficient data management for K-12 schools and higher ed institutions — making business process automation essential.
Andrew Daniel is vice president of corporate strategy for Softdocs, responsible for the development and execution of overall corporate strategy a...
For K-12 school districts and higher education institutions, stagnant budgets and increasing requirements have made “do more with less” the mantra that drives their day-to-day administrative operations.
Considering the operational costs of paper documents — the personnel, time, space and equipment to manage and store them, as well as the possibility of paper being lost or destroyed — it’s clear why paper has become an obvious target for administrators looking to reduce the burden. Student and employee forms, as well as other content still pose challenges that stymie their ability to more efficiently capture and manage.
Today, educational institutions are expanding their paperless initiatives by turning to new business process technologies such as enterprise content management (ECM) to help consolidate documents and content of all types, as well as streamline processes, save money, and serve their students, staff and communities.
A lifeline in a deluge of disparate data
K-12 school districts and higher education institutions often rely on a variety of software systems for a host of operational processes including HR, finance, student records and teacher contract management. Consequently, this results in a flood of disparate data from a variety of systems, such as ERP, SIS and LMS, that may be stored locally or in the cloud. Through the use of business process automation solutions such as ECM, a single document repository helps consolidate content and data, eliminating the need to input the same information into multiple systems and reducing the risk for inaccurate data.
For the University of West Alabama, that single-source content repository has been key to helping reduce the onslaught of student paperwork generated by burgeoning enrollment numbers. The school offers four levels of degrees, so a student earning an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree could accumulate a massive student record based on application records, financial aid forms, transcripts, alumni data, etc.
The school’s streamlining process begins with automatically creating an electronic student file when prospective students submit information for admissions. Based on security, departments from across the institution have access to relevant student content from a single file no matter the source. Independent of the level of degree or department of study, student information is consolidated and available for current or future access needs.
Opening a flow of communication
Communication is key when a myriad of forms, like teacher contracts, leave requests, grade change requests, expense reimbursement and requisition forms, play such an important role in an institution’s business processes. Continued reliance on paper and manual processes often lead to bottlenecks caused by paper-based forms languishing in mailboxes or on desks, awaiting reviews and signatures.
Through secure business-process automation and electronic forms, communication is facilitated between departments and with students, promoting more efficient workflows and providing more detailed tracking of content and forms.
Located in eastern Georgia, Bulloch County Schools was challenged by a manual two-week process for new teacher contracts. Human resources personnel manually typed and delivered teacher contracts to the schools for teacher signatures. Contracts then went to the superintendent for approval, were copied for filing and then went back to the teacher.
Now the ECM system generates electronic contracts, using the teacher’s information from the ERP system. The workflow process forwards it electronically to the teacher for review and electronic signature capture. From there it is sent to an auditor and then back to the superintendent for approval before being automatically filed along with any related correspondence in the teacher’s electronic file.
Simplifying compliance and retention
Institutions face compliance and record retention issues whether they’re dealing with paper or digital documents, particularly as local, state and federal laws change. However, by consolidating content into a single, secure digital system, institutions can streamline and standardize their content storage, protection and destruction process.
An ECM system automates the retention and destruction of documents based on preset schedules. An institution can set retention time periods and adjust those schedules based on new federal and state regulations. Automated document destruction enforces retention policies, while also preventing documents from being unintentionally destroyed – in both cases, reducing legal risks and massive fines.
As data management becomes increasingly complex for educational institutions to manage disparate systems, inter-departmental communication and compliance issues, business process automation can create a virtual paperless environment while increasing efficiency and productivity.
Andrew Daniel is vice president of corporate strategy for Softdocs and has worked in the technology and software arena for nearly a decade with a focus on using Internet-based solutions to meet specific business goals and objectives.