"I hate paper," says Erin DiMarco, registrar at Wilmington College (Del.). When the school experienced a dramatic enrollment growth in just a few short years, it quickly ran out of storage space for all the forms and records that accompany each student. Administrators needed a solution that would retain the files they needed and reclaim the space they had lost.
But we're getting ahead of our story. Let's first turn back the hands of time to the dawn of the computer age, when visionaries promised us that technology would soon lead to the paperless office. We all know how that story turned out. Between 1983 and 2003, consumption of paper for printing and writing alone more than doubled, to some 97.3 million tons in the U.S., according to a study last year by Canadian researcher George Sciadas.
But now, with environmental and social concerns taking center stage, technology is finally catching up to the promises made so many years ago. Cutting edge document management solutions mean that the elusive paperless office may be closer than we think.
Wilmington College was in growth mode. In the past four years, enrollment has gone from 6,000 to 10,000 students. But 40 percent more students also meant 40 percent more paperwork, and staff members were already retaining hard copies and microfiche versions of student records dating back to the college's founding in 1968.
-Erin DiMarco, Wilmington College
"We have five sites throughout the state of Delaware," explains DiMarco. "We were keeping all our student folders in paper form. Each site would keep a copy, and then they would bring all the completed folders to the main campus. If they wanted a copy of the file, I had to get a staff member to find the folder, pull the file, make the copy, send it down, and so on. They were duplicating copies of files that I already had, and every year we had to put in the budget for a new filing cabinet and new storage space."
DiMarco's main campus office had 72 file cabinets with six drawers each, each drawer holding 200 files. "You don't even want to know how many tons of paper that was," she says.
The solution for Wilmington was ImageNow, a document management and workflow solution from Kansas-based Perceptive Software. WebNow, the browser-based companion to ImageNow, extends instant document access to the other Wilmington College sites, further improving information sharing.
With a staff of part-time helpers, DiMarco managed the conversion some 58,000 files in just three months. "It was intimidating," she admits, "but we insisted on doing it in- house. I know that there are document imaging companies that are bonded and could do it for me, but as a registrar preserving data integrity, I needed to know where my records were and what was happening to them."
First, documents had to be prepared, staples removed, dog ears unfolded, and each page oriented in the same way. Then the pages were scanned and linked to each student's ID. "You can give the files any field value you want first and last name, student ID, year started, whether he or she is a bachelor or master student, or whatever," DiMarco says. "Once [the documents] are linked, you can search them by any of the fields you've assigned."
The search capabilities are a valuable feature if a document has been linked incorrectly, she says. "For example, my name is Erin DiMarco, but if a document was mistakenly linked to Eric DiMarco, we can search through the images for keywords and find that missing record."
With the proper permissions in place, staff at any of the Wilmington campus sites can view files with the browser-based WebNow client. "You can sit at your desk and look up a student record instead of going to a record room and digging through a file cabinet to retrieve a paper file," DiMarco says.
Wilmington staff members have also begun using ImageNow's Workflow product to route documents back and forth automatically or with a single click, a contrast to the time delays associated with sending files via campus mail. "If a document scanned in the admissions office is something the registrar's office needs to access, it can just go to the appropriate person and an alert gets sent," she says. "It has made the job so much easier."
And those file rooms? "We were able to convert the space where the filing cabinets were into three new offices," she says. "Our staff is freed up to do other things that need to be done. It has made them more efficient."
Remember when you were young and you were told that everything you did would go on your permanent record? At Regent University (Va.) administrators seem to take that promise seriously.
"We have a law school, and they like to track everything with their students, including e-mails," says Tracy Stewart, vice president of Information Technology. "They used to send copies of e-mails over to attach to the files, which created quite a physical problem with all the paper files. It was really getting out of hand, space-wise."
When Stewart came to the university six years ago, microfiche was the archival method of choice. "We just had boxes of records everywhere," she says. "It was really quite frightening, and I'm sure many colleges are like this. I mean, how many fireproof safes can you purchase?"
Compounding the issue was the fact that documents had to be sent off-site to be imaged. While they were gone, no one could access the records. "It might have taken several weeks for the process to complete, depending on how much we sent them to scan," Stewart says.
Whenever there was a question about a grade change or admissions document, a staffer would flip through the trays of imaged documents and then print out the appropriate pages. "Worse, microfiche wears out with heavy use, and our microfiche readers are old and expensive to maintain," Stewart says.
-Tracy Stewart, Regent University
The answer wasn't too hard to find-it was already in place. Because Regent was using the Banner administrative suite from SunGard Higher Ed, it was a simple move to add the Banner XtenderSolutions module to the mix for enterprise-wide document management.
Staff can now securely access electronic documents from within their familiar Banner environment, eliminating the costs of paper management and external imaging system maintenance.
"We started using it with applications," Stewart recalls. "Students apply online, but they have to send in high school transcripts or college transcripts and financial aid records. For adult students we require a r?sum? or a letter of recommendation. It's a lot of loose paper, so we scan it all and tie it immediately to the applicant record. The solution makes all the documents accessible and secure."
Stewart says no additional staff were needed to handle the imaging process. "Basically we just had to invest in a couple of scanners and two PCs and that was it," she says. "Multiple people were trained to do the scanning. It's a pretty easy job to hire for because it doesn't require a lot of skill."
Student files are automatically indexed and added to folders tied to individual student ID numbers. "The system is very sophisticated," says Stewart. "I can look up anything about the student demographically and it automatically pulls a list of everything that has been scanned in for that student."
Like some other document management products, Xtender- Solutions has note-making capabilities, allowing users to comment on a document. "That way the next evaluator can see what my thoughts were on a particular file, and I don't have to type an e-mail that might get lost; it's all part of the record," Stewart says. "It's very similar to the 'Track Changes' feature in Microsoft Word."
By having the documents stored online, multiple committee members can review files concurrently, and at their own convenience, rather than waiting for paper files to be passed around. All documents are in a password-protected database so that only authorized users have access.
-Erin Griffin, Loyola Marymount University
Besides saving space once devoted to paper files, Stewart says the system allows Regent to become almost completely paperless in the admissions process. "Most people fill out online applications, and when [the application] goes to the committee for review, it's all online. In the past, multiple copies were being propagated. We'd keep the official copy, but we'd have to make five copies for the people on the committee."
The other benefit is to prospective students, she says, because all their information stays together. "From a customer service perspective, things have improved greatly, and acceptance can happen more quickly."
Several years ago Loyola Marymount University (Calif.) began to incorporate various document management solutions. It's a process that Vice President for Information Technology Erin Griffin calls "more of a road map than finished construction, because the theory keeps evolving."
There were, of course, document scanners that tied into LMU's Banner system and made digital versions of student records and historical documents. But it wasn't long before the school realized the need for something that could do more.
"Document management used to be just scanning and imaging. You were trying to capture what are nonelectronic documents into an electronic format," Griffin says. "But now so many of our documents are originally in an electronic format. Now it becomes a question of life cycling. That's where the world of document management is starting to focus. What do you do with the document once you have it? Who has access to it? How long does it need to exist? How many copies need to be distributed? The concept of document management becomes more of a content management concept, and I think that those two worlds are converging."
Toward that end LMU chose Enterprise Document Management solution from Xythos. It's a web-based application that provides access to a complete set of document and file management features, including document check-in, check-out, version control, workflow and document classification, and retention.
The school is currently using the system more for enterprise created documents rather than for external documents that are scanned and archived. Enterprise documents might include faculty research, contracts, internal communications, building designs, and more.
"One of the great things we've been able to do with Xythos is to share content that is ordinarily difficult to share with vendors and external colleagues," Griffin says. "For example, we're in the middle of a library construction project right now, and we can have all the blueprints and even a 3D virtual reality fly-through stored and accessible to the architects and the people internally who need it."
The digital documents are accessible on campus or off, and they can be accessed and edited by those with the proper permissions. "It has been a tremendous resource for faculty who are doing collaborative research around the world," Griffin says. "You can provide access to the documents to anyone with whom you want to collaborate, and there is version control so you can track different types of edits. It provides an inherent flexibility and inherent capacity for collaboration that you can use in about as many ways as you can think of to collaborate with people."
But the focus at LMU is also on the future and full-blown record management capabilities to meet the challenges of an increasingly litigious society. New federal rules that took effect last December require corporations and institutions to preserve and produce electronically stored information in the face of litigation or face stiff penalties.
"From an IT perspective, the amount of information that most of us would be required to produce in the event of the receipt of a subpoena would overwhelm traditional archiving methods. We'd be restoring backups left and right," she says. "It would take huge amounts of manpower and dollars to restore the kind of information that we're going to be compelled to provide access to. So clearly the move to disk archiving and the creation of archives that are life-cycled is an important focus for us right now."
-Neil Baker, Roanoke Chowan Community College
The Xythos system enables that control by redefining the purpose of backups and document storage.
"A backup made for the sake of a restore in the event of a disaster isn't necessarily the same as one made for data recovery," Griffin says. "The process of transferring, for example, tape backups to live servers old data for someone to peruse to find certain types of information would break you. We need to look at digital archiving as the methodology for electronically discoverable information, and that has to reside in a different part of our archive."
As with any technology solution, the question of return on investment invariably comes into play. Griffin says the system is low maintenance, and any ROI really comes from increased efficiencies. "One of the great beauties of introducing technology is that, although dollar reductions are often calculated by the number of people who don't have to do the job anymore, you rarely save money because you rarely eliminate people. Instead, you refocus their energies to something that is more complex and brings additional value to the university. That's what we're seeing happen: People are done with making photocopies and are able to focus on things that bring us better value."
Most people employing document management solutions are happy to reduce paper storage for printed documents. But Roanoke Chowan Community College (N.C.) officials took that idea a step further to eliminate the documents themselves.
The school had invested heavily in preprinted forms schedules, checks, receipts, grade mailers, transcripts, and so on and had to manually scan each completed form for archiving, a drain not only on financial resources but also on personnel.
When considering the school's printed output, Neil Baker, coordinator of IT services, found a cost-effective, user-friendly document management solution that manages both ends of the problem.
The college partnered with South Carolina- based AIG Technology for a suite of solutions that integrate document input, archiving, retrieval, and electronic workflow.
"The first half of the solution was finding a print product," Baker says. "The problem was we had no way to manage documents for archiving, or being able to determine if, in fact, we even needed something printed or just stored."
The AIG Technology solution offered a set of digital templates that, when combined with pressure seal paper, prints finished schedules, certificates, checks, grade mailers, and more, eliminating the need for the costly preprinted forms and envelopes.
"It takes the raw data coming out of our student system and turns out a document the way we want it to look, complete with our logo. That helped a lot with checks, grade mailers, and transcripts. Now we no longer have to print and stuff envelopes," Baker says. "With our grade mailers, you just print, fold, and seal."
But Baker was also interested in document imaging for archiving purposes. For all administrative system printing such as schedules, checks, contracts, and certificates, the college uses AIG's Doc e Serve, which upon outputting to a printer also transmits data to the Doc e Scan solution for automatic archiving, a standardized function mandated by the North Carolina state auditor.
"There are a lot of products for imaging and management," Baker says, "but for a lot of them you have to print the document, and you have to scan the hard copy for archiving. We can take any document we print whether it's HR payroll data, transcripts, accounts payable checks, vendor records and automatically archive it. We never have to touch the data."
Doc e Scan also acts as a standalone product, so historical documents can be added to the archives at any time. Baker says the goal is to eventually archive all the old microfiche files for storage on DVD.
"The other benefit of the system is that it has OCR capabilities, so you can edit documents," he says. "We use it for its search string capabilities, so we can find whatever we're looking for in any of the scanned documents."
The greatest feature? "You don't have to be an IT person to understand the solution," says Baker.