Paper Chase

Administrative Computing Services at Western Washington University
University Business, Jul 2011
Western Washington University
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You need something done. What are you told?

“Fill out a form.”

Western Washington University officials figured there had to be a better way. The use of hard-copy forms to request services, they believed, was a waste of paper and time, as the requisitions had to be sent via campus mail to the appropriate parties, who in turn had to review, copy, and file them. Each person in the approval chain needed his or her own copy, and there was no central repository where the forms could be accessed easily.

That’s to say nothing of forms--some of them quite important--that got lost, which sometimes took weeks for someone to realize.

The university’s Administrative Computing Services solved the problem by developing electronic versions of the approximately 200 forms used at the school. Created by Help Desk staff using a basic HTML editor, Esign forms support online data entry, routing via email for approvals and processing, digital signatures, and attachments. A simple piece of code at the bottom of each form leads the system to populate the form with the information a particular user needs and allows for storage of the data, routing of the information, and storage of and access to e-signatures.

“The forms are generic in the sense that the e-signature box is the same on every single form,” says Bob Schneider, director of administrative computing services. “It verifies that data against our SunGard Banner ERP system and it gets routed that way. It’s all in that one set of code.”

E-forms replaced hard-copy requests, and the university saved time, paper, and frustration.

Esign forms have reduced processing times from up to two to three weeks under the paper-based system to less than a day, and each user has an individual online repository to access any e-form he or she has ever processed.

From October 2009 through September 2010, more than 75,000 Esign forms were accessed, submitted, and processed.

“It turned out to be pretty slick and became very, very popular,” Schneider notes.

Championing by the form-laden human resources department helped a great deal, as did incidents that vividly illustrated paper’s shortcomings. Schneider recalls one example in which four employees had been granted pay raises. Two reported to a vice president who submitted the request electronically; the other pair’s VP used hard copies.

“These four people were chatting another week or two later and mentioned something about the raise,” he says. “Two of them said, ‘We got ours; that’s great, isn’t it?’ The other two said, ‘You did? We haven’t seen anything!’ I think in that incident, the paper forms actually got lost.”

Needless to say, once the requests were resubmitted via Esign forms, the raises went through. According to Schneider, while the culture change has sometimes been hard to overcome, the benefits, as cited above, are manifest.

“We do not lose any forms,” he says emphatically. “There’s a complete audit trail at the bottom of every form. At any time, you can see whose desk it’s on. Paper forms, you know where it’s supposed to go, but you don’t know what desk it’s on.”