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Cutting the Paper Chase

Department of Enrollment Services Operations, Admissions, and information Systems and Technology at Boston University
University Business, Nov 2010
paper chase
In the past (above), file folders adorned the records room walls. Now (below) there are much fewer papers for enrollment staff to shuffle and crucial tasks related to customer service and quality control get more attention.

It wasn't as if the admissions office at Boston University did nothing to keep from drowning in paper, working 12-hour days and weekends, and falling behind on customer service.

Administrators engaged in annual streamlining, but with BU's applicant pool increasing by more than 10,000 over the past five years, it was difficult to keep up. More than 200,000 supporting credentials had to be processed and filed, and 38,000 applications needed to be ready for admissions staff to read by April 1. The entire process was time-consuming and cumbersome.

"When you have a population of students you want to look at for a particular reason, there was a huge paper chase in the office to accomplish that," says Marylou O'Donnell-Rundlett, senior associate director of enrollment operations. "We had to produce a list from our student information system and go on a hunt to gather the folders."

As many other schools have done, BU opted to go digital. It purchased Hyland Software's OnBase enterprise content management system, a document imaging and processing package that provided a host of advantages. Application materials were scanned and then permanently stored away and information could be integrated from existing BU databases across campus. The package's workflow function directed a variety of applications—for enrollment, scholarship, and accelerated programs, for example—to appropriate staff for review and, if necessary, completion. No longer restricted to a single physical file, multiple staffers could review applications simultaneously. Electronic routing of files allowed for quick transfer of work from overloaded staff to those with more capacity.

"That process of finding things is completely gone," O'Donnell-Rundlett says. "Staff can spend more time in the review process and in customer service and interacting with students. That's a critical shift for us."

Document imaging turned admissions staff from folder jockeys to customer service pros.

Within a year of launching OnBase, BU was realizing both quantitative and qualitative benefits. Temporary staff was reduced from 12 to six, saving $66,000, and a full-time staff position was eliminated. Paper use was cut by more than 620,000 sheets, and with that came less usage of toner cartridges, file folders, and labels. Workloads eased, with staff members clocking in only four Saturdays this year instead of the usual six. And shuffling papers has been largely automated, freeing up staff for more operationally important tasks, such as customer service and quality control.

"It makes us better enrollment officers," O'Donnell-Rundlett says. "It provides more value to our employees in terms of how they view their jobs and what they're spending their time doing."

The university's swift implementation of the package led to challenges; by last February 1, BU was 60 percent behind what it had processed in 2009. But within two months staff had recovered, which O'Donnell-Rundlett attributes to "the efficiencies gained with the OnBase electronic review process," and by the time the university's notification date had rolled around, admissions staff had sent out the largest number of decisions in the school's history.

"We've always been an organization able to look at processes and try to find a better way to do things," she says. "The ability to change our process so dramatically in such a short period of time was a reinforcement that the atmosphere of constantly looking and changing really has value and allows you to be agile and flexible in how you're doing your business."