Simplifying a Complex, Challenging Task
Imagine the life of a university or college records manager or compliance officer. Facing an almost uncountable number of federal and state document management requirements that grow more complex by the day, they’re somehow expected to stay on top of these regulations, and to ensure that every document accurately adheres to them. Any failure to do so puts a university system at a high risk of being out of compliance.
Consider Texas A&M AgriLife, which encompasses five members of the Texas A&M University System. AgriLife operates 80 different major units statewide. And an AgriLife component—Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service—has a presence in 250 out of 254 counties in Texas.
A main regulatory requirement for AgriLife stipulates that all Texas State agencies shall establish a records retention schedule, says Bob Hensz, risk and compliance manager and internal management review and records officer at AgriLife. Given the sheer number of documents and their diversity, records retention is beyond complicated.
Take research grants, says Hensz. State requirements may specify a particular grant be retained for a certain period of time. However, federal requirements may specify holding the grant for a longer or shorter time period. Where there’s a conflict, Hensz says they hold it for the longer time.
There’s more. Again, using research grants as an example, he explains that they might purchase items against multiple grants, resulting in one purchase order having 10 different items on it, purchased against different grants, some or all of which could have different retention requirements. The challenge comes in ensuring that they retain a copy of that PO until it has been held for the longest retention period of the longest grant.
Prior to 2006, everything was done manually, Hensz says. Copies of POs were made, inserted into hard copy files and then tracked as to when the retention period was met—an effort requiring additional personnel, copiers, time, and other resources. But in 2006, life took a turn for the easier, thanks to the implementation of their Laserfiche enterprise document management (EDM) system. Now, when a PO is processed for payment, paid, and filed, the Laserfiche electronic workflow feature copies that document, placing a copy in each of the relevant grant files.
“And when the end of that grant arrives, and the retention period has been met, the Laserfiche system notifies us of this and the file can be destroyed,” Hensz says.
The Laserfiche system allows access control down to the individual document, enabling managers to restrict someone’s access to just viewing a particular document rather than fully interacting with it. “Or, for example, this will allow a professor to look at his or her own research grant but not view someone else’s,” Hensz says.
Laserfiche EDM has performed so well that AgriLife transferred it over to the Texas A&M University Computing and Information Services; it’s now managed as a shared service for all Texas A&M University and university system members. This has not only allowed for document sharing, but the university system now has multiple systems operating with the EDM system that can talk to each other. “This shared-service model enables us to achieve economies of scale across the entire Texas A&M University System,” Hensz says.