You are here

How to Tame the University Document Problem

The biggest document process pain points-and what can be done to ease them.
University Business, May 2008

Documents have been the primary vehicle for knowledge-sharing since the ancient Egyptians captured ideas on papyrus. Documents nonetheless pose a heavy burden for a university, a sometimes exorbitant cost of doing business in a time of intense fiscal pressure. Great books aren't the problem; the problem is the production, distribution and management of the far more plentiful documents that keep academe in business: marketing and enrollment brochures and correspondences, alumni and fund-raising communications, customized course packs and class materials, course catalogs, student and business processing forms, records, general office print and fax as well as mail and package distribution.

These materials take considerable resources to create and manage through their lifecycle, from initial production and distribution to storage and final disposal. The burden, however, can be significantly lightened. When a university examines its document processes from end to end and manages them strategically, it can reduce the total cost of document production and distribution by 15 percent to 30 percent while increasing efficiency and reducing waste throughout its business processes. This article will identify the biggest document process pain points as well as solutions for easing them.

Like many businesses, universities are awash in print and mail distribution work. While most of the work is predictable, it is also characterized by a short production window, highly customized and complex mailings, and multiple projects being worked on simultaneously. For example, there is student recruiting, acceptance and enrollment, and fund raising. Each semester, universities send multiple communications that include brochures, newsletters, invoices, grades, and registration as well as room and board information. Additionally, faculty members create course packs including syllabi, articles, reading materials, tests, and other handouts. The admissions and registrar's offices, meanwhile, send out invites, reminders, applications, transcripts and confirmations. It's a lot of paper going in and out under rigid deadlines.

Solution: Combine print and mail centers, if you haven't already, so that print is tightly connected with mail and distribution, both outbound and inbound. Second, automate the print process. Rather than having people wander into the print center, enable faculty and staff to initiate print jobs from their PCs using on-line print management tools to submit and track jobs. Whether ordering forms on demand, course packs or sending reminders and notices to students, the print and mail job orders should include charge-back codes and credit card processing for cost accounting and allocation to departments, projects, or student accounts. This automates the print workflow and makes it easy for the print center to produce, assemble, package and distribute documents and manage the jobs seamlessly. Third, print and mail smarter. The print and mail center should verify addresses against the US Postal Service address database to avoid unnecessary print and postage. The mail center is the ideal location to update institutional mailing lists immediately as "undeliverable" mail pieces are received. This will prevent wasted print and postage the second time.

Don't forget to avoid the US Postal Rate change traps. Universities need to educate their internal clients (e.g., marketing, bursar, admissions, and accounting) about reformatting existing mail pieces to conform to the new rules. For example the postage for a two-page document sent in a flat envelope will cost 97 cents. If the same document was printed duplex (on both sides of one sheet) folded and sent in a #10 envelope, it will cost 42 cents. Imagine how fast the savings per year will accumulate by avoiding the extra postage, paper, and large envelopes.

Universities own or lease a lot of personal printers and convenience copiers (now called multi-function devices or "MFDs") for use by faculty, staff, and classroom labs. These devices are found in offices, student centers, libraries and sometimes in student residences. Most universities, however, have far too many machines, and most are used inefficiently. For example, personal desktop printers are under-utilized, cost 4 times more (on a cost-per-impression basis) than shared MFDs, and often are used by only one person. Or a university might have multiple fax machines in various locations, each incurring a monthly fax line charge even though it is rarely used. On the other hand, there is a shortage of sharable MFDs, each of which can provide copy, print, color, scanning, and faxing for numerous people throughout an office or entire building at a cost per impression of 2-3 cents compared to 8-12 cents for personal printers.

Solution: Universities should consider managing copiers and printers as fleets deployed strategically throughout the campus. They need to think about efficiencies and productivity resulting from an MFD environment and a professionally managed fleet. Whether located in an administrative office or in a public setting for student use, the MFDs need to be sized for the expected traffic and configured for the expected use. If a machine's output is 10,000 impressions per month but is rated for 20,000, the university is overspending. If the numbers are flipped, the machine would be overburdened and ripe for frequent breakdown. Public-use MFDs should be configured with student card reader technology, remote monitoring, and large-capacity paper trays to maximize their use and minimize maintenance and support.

Personal printers are a separate matter. Personal desktop printers can be replaced with MFDs that are shared among adjacent offices, reducing total cost of ownership from roughly 10 cents per page to 2 cents - potentially saving six figures on an annual basis. The switch to MFDs is a scary proposition in academia, as it is in other industries, because it requires changing employee behavior. For example, while privacy is a big justification for "I need my own printer," it is no longer an issue when people understand the ease of using PIN codes to protect their print jobs. It is our experience that when people understand the capabilities of an MFD, they will voluntarily give up their personal printer because the MFD helps them to be more productive. These machines are faster, and provide scanning and finishing applications such as hole-punching and stapling. The MFD also enables them to reduce unwanted printing by deleting print jobs that have been sent but are no longer wanted.

To control office print costs, the university can contract with a single service provider that manages all print, copy, and fax machines irrespective of existing contract or model. The provider can balance the total cost with the necessary service. This will require an eye on technology, service, and performance. The service provider should be able to guide the university to a low cost/high performance output environment and provide the following critical capabilities: responsive service, electronic device monitoring and onsite support. Finally, there should be one phone number to call for service.

Anyone working in the registrar's or admissions office knows that these are among the biggest document process bottlenecks in the university, fraught with tedious, time-consuming tasks. The admissions process in recent years has seen a significant increase in the number of applications that are processed in hard copy, even when submitted online. With up to 10 applications for every one admitted student at some universities, that is a lot of fallen trees. Most registrars are still working completely with paper files, which are stored for a specified duration based on the university's records policy. These records pile up over the history of the university, which can mean a century's worth of records filed in basements and buildings throughout the campus or in offsite storage.

The registrar's office staff faces a constant barrage of requests for transcripts, grades and letters of recommendation. A state university we work with currently receives 100 such requests per day. With an average fulfillment time of 15 minutes for finding the file, copying the requested pages, mailing it and re-filing, that's 1,500 minutes per day, or the equivalent of three full-time staffers. The reality is these folks have other duties, and records fulfillment is becoming a budget issue. With spikes in demand, it can take weeks to fulfill a request for student records.

Solution: Convert student records files into electronic images - PDF, TIFF - as early in their lifecycle as you can. Although you may keep the hard copies as backup, the printable images will suffice for records requests. Retrieval then becomes a matter of a mouse click, with a second mouse click for printing if necessary. The most advanced registrar offices are integrating records retrieval with the mailroom, so the second click - rather than printing - drops the document directly into the mail. Fifteen minutes of labor has suddenly dropped to one minute. Over the course of the day, 1,500 minutes (25 hours) of labor for 100 requests has plummeted to one hour, 40 minutes. That is a significant time benefit with big potential savings in staffing and overtime pay.

Another benefit of imaging records is that it helps prevent the disappearance of important documents due to misfiling, accidental destruction, disasters such as fires or floods, decay, or the simple fading of pencil marks made a century ago. When combined with a sound records management policy, imaging improves efficiency, reduces labor and storage costs, and provides back-up and disaster recovery capability.

The university I mentioned images student files upon graduation and is currently imaging all files working backwards from recent files to those over a 100 years old. We are imaging only the documents the university needs to retain - e.g., applications, grade reports, transcripts, - and destroying superfluous pages no longer required to be kept. Every file is indexed for easy retrieval by student name, Social Security number, student ID, graduation year, school attended, and major.

These are just a few examples of how universities can reduce costs, improve performance and upgrade service with a combination of strategic thinking, new processes and a few well-chosen document process automation tools.

In general, universities need to take a holistic view of their document processes by considering print, mail, copy, distribution, imaging and records management as one, multifaceted challenge. This view sees documents as going through a consistent lifecycle of value from creation through disposal.

Successful universities tend to centralize and automate document processes when they can. Performance management systems can facilitate this approach by enabling accurate measurement, analysis, and benchmarking of key performance indicators (KPI).

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention perhaps the most certain way to ease the document process burden. Consider outsourcing the problem to experts in the field with proven solutions. You may need your own staff in the registrar's office, for example, but you can outsource the imaging and records management function, as well as the management of the printer/copier fleet and staffing of the production printing, mailing and courier operations. The processes, documents, and staff will still remain inside your facilities - close for you to keep an eye on - but the day-to-day headaches, technology and people issues go away because professionals with experience are handling these operations. You'll spend less this way, offload some headaches, and improve service.

Ultimately, universities, like other industries, need to recognize that with the exception of great books, they are not in the document business. They have all they can do to educate thousands of young minds and set them off on lives rich in career opportunities, culture, ethics and leadership skills. When your mind is on education, as it should be, it's difficult to sustain best practices in document processes. Better to assign accountability to experts, and let them worry about it.

Register now for UBTech 2018

Register now for UBTech 2018, June 4-6 at the Mirage, Las Vegas. At UBTech 2018, you’ll network with a dynamic community of higher ed leaders who are shaping the future of campus technology and explore topics like cyber security, distance learning, campus learning space design, communications, personalized learning and more. Your UBTech registration also includes a free pass to the InfoComm exhibit hall.

Register now>>