School of Law Dean’s Office, Mercer University

Winning the Storage Wars
University Business, April 2012
Mercer University
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Eliminating physical documents has made information retrieval a lot less cumbersome and saved precious storage space.

Like most academic institutions, the Mercer University School of Law (Ga.) generates a lot of paperwork. However, the Dean’s Office team knew there had to be a better way to process and store key financial and administrative files than to simply fill banker’s boxes and stack them in the school’s dingy attic and basement. That attic was almost completely filled, anyhow. All 1,500 square feet were stuffed with boxes of files dating back to the 1950s, says Michael Dean, associate dean and COO of the law school.

In addition, information retrieval was “very laborious and completely inefficient,” Dean says. Imagine having to take an elevator up or down to find needed files. Dean estimates an average of 3.5 hours a day was spent looking for paper documents.

So a team consisting of Dean, Chris Bombardo, and Debra Boney began working on a storage solution that met three criteria—and required no extra physical space. First, the team wanted to maintain the way financial transactions were currently indexed. Second, the new process had to require less time than the current one. Finally, the solution could not need an outlay of capital to implement; it had to make use of existing resources.

What the team developed was a re-engineered business process using existing equipment—a copier with a pdf scanner. The copier simply took the same task, reproducing a document, and provided a different output, says Bombardo. By setting up a mechanism on the copy machine that generates an electronic scan of a document, rather than another physical copy, all three criteria could be met.

Scanned documents are sent to an “Incoming Scans” folder within the “Transactions” folder, which contains a series of subfolders organized by year and transaction type. Later, the untitled documents are renamed and placed in the appropriate electronic subfolder for safe keeping. This electronic renaming process replaces the tedious act of taking a printed photocopy and placing it in a manila file folder—and is more than 10 times faster. The renamed documents are also labeled with unique identifiers that provide data for electronic searching. “We’ve eliminated physical documents from here on out,” says Dean, “optimizing time and space.”
Now that the filing and storage process has been overhauled, the team is scanning existing paperwork so that boxes can be removed from the attic. Once cleared, “it could be turned into more productive space,” notes Dean, such as a library archive.
In addition to reclaiming usable space and drastically improving the ease of information retrieval, the Dean’s Office estimates an annual cost savings of $20,000 in being able to more easily access information and nearly eliminate storage supplies. Dean plans to share the successes of the initiative with other departments.
In the challenge to do more with less, says Mercer’s executive vice president, James Netherton, “technology holds the key, but its potential to reduce cost while improving service has not often been achieved. Our Law School team has realized this goal with creativity and seized the opportunity to free up important space.”