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Reducing workflows and eliminating legacy issues to achieve a zero-paper campus

University Business, November 2013
Rob Thompson, director of academic and core applications, Wayne State University
Rob Thompson, director of academic and core applications, Wayne State University

More is not always better, as Wayne State University discovered. Like many universities, Wayne State relied on a dual system where applicants submitted some information online, and other information using paper forms. The result was a clumsy and redundant process. “People were carting around physical crates of paper applications and it could take weeks or months for them to get processed,” says Rob Thompson, director of academic and core applications. So, in 2009, the 30,000-student research institution in Detroit began moving toward a zero-paper graduate admissions process.

Wayne State began by phasing out the paper system and requiring students to submit their applications online. Thompson and his team developed a system known as Application List & Report Tool (ALeRT) which allowed admissions officials to combine all the requested admissions information—transcripts, letters of recommendation, and GPA—and view them in one screen. All that data was now stored in the cloud, so “anyone at Wayne State can easily get data from an online application, put it into the central database, and have it available so multiple people can access it simultaneously,” says Thompson.

Wayne State decided to build AleRT in-house after struggling to find a vended solution that could seamlessly integrate with the existing enterprise software. “We found nothing comprehensive enough to provide the deep out-of-the-box integration points and mash-ups we were looking for, especially for complex forms such as an admissions application,” says Thompson. To build ALeRt in house required nearly 2,000 staff hours of development time over a three-year period. But the hard work is paying off. By 2012, Wayne State had moved most of its admissions process online, cutting approximately $400,000 in costs in the Office of Graduate Admissions.

Throughout 2013, Wayne State has built on the success of ALeRT, transitioning many other paper processes online and allowing administrators to do mash-ups of different data sources. Thompson and his team developed an in-house system that allows administrators to create their own custom online templates for a range of processes, from scholarship applications to housing forms. It was dubbed, appropriately, Formy. This year, they began to roll out Informy, a tool that aggregates all data submitted through Formy into a single screen.

“Informy is a powerful next-generation online mash-up tool, which eliminates redundant and clumsy workflows,” says Thompson. “It allows anybody who has access to our systems to bring together all the data points they may need.”

With Formy and Informy, Wayne State administrators are increasingly streamlining workflows and upping their efficiency. “In the past, we had isolated databases, and it was very difficult to have multiple people inspect and work on a single workflow at one time,” says Thompson. “Now administrators can work simultaneously on the document and bring in data points. Its completely overhauling the way we approach workflows.”

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