Stopping the Paper Chase

Stopping the Paper Chase

Today's document management and digital imaging systems help solve paper work hassles and prevent data mishaps.
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Prior to 1997, the University of Michigan was a paper-laden institution. Financial Aid office staff members, in particular, were weighed down by a paper-intensive process and the need to purge documents every four years.

In August of that year, U of M turned to the Perceptive Software product ImageNow, first using it in the Financial Aid office and the following year implementing it for all of Financial Affairs offices, as well as in the Registrar, Admissions, and Academic Advising.

"Today, we do not have a single piece of paper, other than incoming mail, that any person in the office touches. The mail comes in, our employee removes the staples and prepares the things to get scanned," says Assistant Director of Financial Aid Doug Levy. Once scanned, documents are placed in a filing cabinet for a couple of weeks, in case the images aren't of good enough quality for people to read. Then they're thrown out.

As for the annual purge, adds Levy, "We simply go into the imaging system and highlight the first row and the last row and delete. We accomplish it in one click."

By nature, institutions of higher ed teem with documents. The proliferation of student applications, prior transcripts, financial aid requests, tax forms, and other items, combined with varied and long retention schedules for the paperwork, has historically made the lives of employees more difficult. Not to mention, the paperwork has occupied entire rooms or warehouses, resulting in increased overhead and decreased efficiency.

With the advent of electronic technologies, however, IHEs are now able to reduce that paper load, or, in some cases, eliminate it altogether. Document imaging--the process of making electronic versions of all that paperwork, and storing it in a format which (hopefully) is conveniently accessible to the appropriate staff as well as secure--is making it all happen.

The best document imaging solutions may dovetail with an institution's enterprise resource system (ERP), making it possible to manage the data within a single application, or with other modules such as workflow, to help move the data around, while keeping track of it.

Part of U of M's attraction to ImageNow is its "interpretation engine," dubbed LearnMode, which allows the document imaging and management technology to integrate with the university's ERP, PeopleSoft, Levy says.

"For most software providers, that integration is accomplished through a software development kit," says Dennis Cunningham, director of sales for Perceptive Software's public sector business. But programming is not the way we do it, [so] we can get customers up and running at a fraction of the cost."

Traditionally in higher ed, paperwork
has occupied entire rooms or warehouses,
resulting in increased overhead and
decreased efficiency.

At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, running is exactly what it used to feel like at enrollment decision-making time. With 15,000 to 17,000 paper applications per year to process, which included physically transporting files across various departments and campuses, the student application process was hitting delays. The costs associated with the storage, printing, and transportation of those applications, meanwhile, had become excessive.

"We are competing for a better grade of student [than in the past], and you have to have the best student service around, and get the decisions out to the students faster," says Mona Loft, associate director of Admissions.

That thinking led her office to turn to document management technology more than two years ago. They selected OnBase, an enterprise content management (ECM) suite offered by Hyland Software and Matrix Imaging.

"We now make decisions on files in half the time that we did previously. We're now at about a week and a half between the time when we receive the complete application and when we mail out the decision letter," Loft says. "The whole Admissions office is paperless. All undergraduate admission, both domestic and international, are using imaging and document management. And we're not having to store off-campus anymore," she says.

The IUPUI system was offered by Matrix Imaging, a Hyland Software solutions provider. "They configured the OnBase software and made enhancements for our workflow that mirrored our business practices," Loft says. That was important, as the Undergraduate Admissions department was backlogged four to six weeks in processing applicants at the time--and the process was already getting complicated with part of the Admissions staff moving to a new building, notes Jennifer Tysse, vice president of marketing for Matrix.

Today's rapid application turnaround--a 100 percent reduction in time--is especially noteworthy, given that IUPUI did not have to hire additional staff, despite the growth in student applicants, Loft says. And the quality of the applicants is better since implementation of OnBase in 2002; 25 percent more applicants are in the top 10 percent of their high schools classes.

As for the room that used to be filled with paper, staff members are looking at other functions for that space. "On campus, when you have an entire room filled with file folders, people want to put desks, and a little lunch room, or anything else," Loft adds.

At Western Washington University, meanwhile, space is being saved through document imaging in a different way. The Admissions department began using a solution called Nolij Transfer in 2000 and it has since been used in other departments. Before that, four or five temps would have to be hired by Admissions for six months each year to process applications. "And we would still be weeks behind," says Information Technology Specialist Margie Conway. Now the school's online applications are in the system within 24 hours; what previously took five to 12 minutes each takes 15 seconds to five minutes. Although there are less data entry staff now compared to three years ago, that team is able to handle the school's increased number of applications.

As University of Cincinnati transferred the microfilm in its Human Resources department to a digitized format, this institution also found the need for fewer bodies around the office. Christina Diersing, director of Human Resource Information Services, had five staff members when she started in 1989; now she has one.

The larger team used to have a difficult time dealing with the university's 75-year document retention schedule. Another problem was their image storage: "Prior to 1999, we used microfilm, and the document management was done on a mainframe-based application. When I purchased it, the machine was a 3M product, but by the time I got rid of it, it was not a product they maintained any more. We inherited the source code and it just sort of sat there," Diersing says.

Implementing Captaris Alchemy document management software in 1999 was the beginning of a turnaround. The software was designed to help organizations better manage content that is "fixed," or in its final form. "We did a conversion of documents back to 1980. Currently there exist between three and four million documents filed in Alchemy," Diersing says. In addition, the office of the vice president for Administrative and Business Services is putting ongoing departmental correspondence on the Alchemy system.

Some institutional document management needs are inspired by regulatory requirements. "If a regulatory body wants to ask us who looked at this particular document on January 10 before a particular meeting, we can tell them who downloaded the document before that date," says Wayne Wilson, assistant director of technology services in the University of Michigan's Medical School Information Systems department. His department uses a Xythos Software file management product, which has features like version control and document logging that help in compliance.

The U of M medical school must offer its 2,000 research faculty staff members the ability to create and manipulate documents on their own, so a component called web DAV turned out to be particularly important. This back-office programming language allows end users to view and work with documents, no matter the program with which they were written.

"End users are in charge and can engage in ad hoc collaboration, and we would not know about it," says Wilson. That's all by design.

At medical research institutions, there are two crucial needs, says Jim Till, vice president of marketing at Xythos. "The first is that the user community wants an easier place to be able to store their stuff. The second need is quite the opposite, to better protect the content that they own." So Xythos products have both access and security features.

Another institution that has learned how document imaging technology can offer a solution to burdensome regulatory requirements is University of California, Irvine, which uses a product called Green Array in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

"Our particular problems are beyond document management," says Jane Emerson, chief of clinical pathology, clinical professor, and vice chair for Clinical Affairs. The regulatory licensing accreditation requirements of clinical labs, for instance, come from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations, the College of American Pathology (CAP), and other sources. "Next week is our CAP inspection. One of their new checklist questions is documentation of document management processes," she explains.

The department keeps its thousands of standard operating procedure documents electronically. There's another regulatory requirement, too: "Any procedure that is retired has to be archived for most of the lab for about two years, and for blood banking, some are for five to 10 years. For tissues, some of these documents are indefinite," Emerson says. Circulating hard copies to have everyone sign is hardly practical.

The department became a beta site for Green Array last year. The software is used to manage the writing, the revisions, the approval process, and the process of circulating the standard operating procedures for sign-off by technicians at the benches, Emerson explains. "Otherwise, we're circulating hard copy forms everywhere with change control forms, and there would be a lot of overlaid paperwork." The software also allows the institution to track its annual review process for each of the documents.

In the late '90s, the library at Oregon State University began a large scanning project. "Our most famous collection of documents is that of Linus Pauling, a very famous chemist and two-time Nobel Prize winner," says Ryan Wick, an OSU information technology consultant. "We have over half a million items in his papers, including a huge amount of correspondence he saved."

As more of Pauling's materials were made publicly available online, keeping the collection up and running became "a bit of a hassle," Wick explains. "For instance, we had several administrative problems, and we were paying ongoing maintenance fees." This prompted the selection of ContentDM software from DiMeMa, which was developed at the University of Washington. Designed for digital collections, the product is often used in libraries.

But getting records out of their existing database was easier said than done, according to Wick. OSU had to pay a third party to get the data out and into a form that could be transferred into ContentDM.

For Western Illinois University, the efficiency gains made the 2001 switch over to a document imaging system from Laserfische worth the effort. "We had to maintain a big filing system, and we reallocated staff. We're also scanning in paper time cards that the payroll office has to maintain for many, many years--and there are thousands of those. That's where the convenience is," says David Nelson, deputy director of Business Services.

"In the past, our employees had to go down to a basement storeroom and dig through boxes. Or, take cleared checks: handling the paper for those can be an awesome task," Nelson explains, adding that the university is obligated by the state of Illinois to retain most records for six years.

Johnson County Community College (Kan.) has also had a positive experience with electronic document management. "We have saved countless hours and money" since implementing SCT Banner XtenderSolutions from SunGard SCT, notes Dennis Day, dean of Student Services. "We built a building in 2000, and during part of the planning process we decided that we were not going to bring the paper files, which, we estimated, took up 4,000 square feet of space. Now, I can create an electronic file inside of a minute. Doing a manual, making a file folder and sticking pieces of paper in it takes at least 10 minutes."

"I can definitively say that we save at least one hour a day per person. Over the course of a year, that's 200 hours per person a year easily saved, which is almost a full-time position," Day adds.

Making the switch to document management also means eliminating the risk of lost documents," says Faithann Karge, document imaging consultant at Pennsylvania State University, which purchased Docfinity from Optical Image Technology in 1999. At that time, the decision was made for the Registrar's office staff to scan 20 years' worth of transcripts--more than 330,000 records, Karge says.

"They installed the software in July of 1999, did the training, testing, and product development, and were in full production by June of 2000. Project completion took them almost two years," she explains. "We were having people index and verify about one hour a day, and we only had one scanner. We had two or three part-time employees preparing the originals, and we also had them photo-cropping deteriorating originals."

No matter what application a college or university uses, the process of converting from paper to electronic images may never be seamless, acknowledges Chuck Warner, director of university information systems for Shawnee State University (Ohio), which started using a product called Feith Document Database in 2000.

As a result of the change, Shawnee has gone paperless so far as students records are concerned in the Registrar's and Admissions offices, and is getting ready to implement a document imaging product in the Human Resources and Business offices.

"There will still probably be some areas on campus with paper documents," says Warner. Nonetheless, 60 percent of the total campus is currently paperless. And if all goes according to plan, the school is on its way to being 80 to 90 percent paper-free. It's the type of plan every institution has the space for.

John Otrompke is a Chicago-based freelance writer.


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