Document Imaging >> The Road to Paperless

Moving to electronic record-keeping and record-sharing means different things for different institutions with varying needs, challenges, and budgets.

Document ImagingMore and more colleges and universities today have discovered electronic record-keeping and -sharing, made possible by document imaging technology. Across the country, schools such as Monmouth University (NJ), Washington State University, the University of Idaho, and Towson University (MD) are, in fact, embracing document imaging wholeheartedly. Yet still, there are campus administrators mired in paper records, unaware of the relief the technology offers.

In a nutshell, document imaging provides the capability to capture, store, manage, and route documentation in a secure electronic manner. With this technology, paper documents, photos, and graphics can be scanned and saved as images, organized into electronic folders, linked to business applications, and retrieved by users. The benefits of this approach are undeniable: It makes documents easy to find and retrieve, enhances the ability to share documents across campus, replaces the dreaded microfiche, and preserves document integrity. On top of this, document imaging can save money on both printing and storage costs. The record-keeping challenges that move campus administrators and technologists to search for electronic solutions are myriad. So, if you see yourself in the stories and challenges that follow, it just may be time to clear out those filing cabinets.

Total Conversion

For years, record-keeping for the more than 23,000 students at Monmouth University was less than a paradigm of efficiency. While the school generated only one copy of a student’s transcripts, office personnel printed multiple copies of other records, such as requests to change majors. Depending on the kind of correspondence, the school made copies to distribute to department chairs, academic advisors, and so on. For any one of these records, there might have been five or six physical copies residing in various campus offices. Not only was the process expensive, but there was no way for administrators to keep track of how many copies were in circulation at any given time.

FACTBOX

At Monmouth University, the challenge was the learning curve. To familiarize users with the system, administrators created a pamphlet explaining which kinds of materials would go into each of the new electronic student folder types, and how users should access the new system. Now any Monmouth user can master the system in five minutes.

School officials set out to change things in 2004. After investigating a series of storage options, they decided to transform the student records process entirely, eliminating paper with a document imaging solution that created electronic copies of records instead. The new solution hinged on the multifaceted D3 Workflow Suite from AIG Technology, a three-step solution that consists of automatically completing documents, scanning them, and uploading them to a server. Laura Babbin, director of registration and records, says the new system ended the paper drain and improved efficiency almost immediately.

“The old carbon forms with the three or four sheets we used to have our people tear off and stick in different files—those are long gone now,” she says. “Thankfully, at this point, our people don’t even have to touch paper if they don’t want to.”

The first phase of the AIG project involved digitizing 17,000 student files. As part of this effort, Babbin’s office assigned each student a virtual drawer consisting of eight unique folders: Academic Advising; Academic Standards and Review Committee; Registration; Enrollment Information (including financial information from accounting); Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act data; Grades, Graduation (e.g., transcripts); and Non-Monmouth Coursework. This process went so well that Babbin’s department looked to expand the imaging effort into other areas. First, they tackled archival records dating back to 1933, including curriculum charts, microfiche, and other chronicles of school history. Next, they hit the academic archives library of older documents, such as university catalogs. While the school still has hard copies for many of these documents, Babbin says the electronic versions take up less space and are easier to find than the oldfashioned method of searching through drawers and file cabinets. The system is relatively inexpensive, too: After the initial hardware investment, Monmouth paid AIG a license fee of $10 per user.

Storing Digital Images on a 'Jukebox'

FOR RANDY WOOD, administrative systems architect at the University of Idaho, using document imaging to convert his institution to electronic records was easy. Like Washington State University (see “eRecords Needs Evolve Over Time”), the school went with an Imaging and Business Process Management system from Stellent. Once the institution started generating electronic records, however,Wood faced the hard part—finding a place to store them.

The school’s solution: An M104 Series “optical jukebox” from storage vendor Plasmon. The device, which looks nothing like the kind of jukebox you’d find in the local bar, stores data on 9-gigabyte “platters,” which actually do look a bit like records. The device has capacity for 104 of these platters, making its storage capacity ample. Because it’s optical, the jukebox makes an unalterable record of every file.

“We’ve got enough storage now to last us for at least a few years,” says Wood, who claims the alternative was spending $300,000 on fire-retardant file cabinets for printed files (compared to approximately $44,360 for the optical jukebox and platters). “This is definitely one of the keys to our document imaging system as a whole.”

Just about the only challenge to the document imaging effort was the learning curve. Immediately after the initial implementation, representatives from AIG came to campus to teach faculty and staff users how to manipulate the new system. While this training wasn’t difficult, it did take users a few weeks to get used to something new. To familiarize these users with the system, Babbin’s office generated an easy-to-follow pamphlet that explains which types of materials go into each of the eight student folders, and how users can access the AIG system from their desktops. Thanks to this document, says Babbin, just about any user can master the system in five minutes or less.

“We don’t have many technical people supporting this,” she says. “It’s just easy to use, and that’s precisely why we like it.”

eRecords Needs Evolve Over Time

A similar system is in place at Washington State University, where records management had become such a problem, officials as far back as anyone can remember routinely complained about facilities that were inundated with files. In fact, it was back in the spring of 1998 that WSU administrators first undertook the task of identifying a solution for document management. At that time, they were seeking a solution that would help the Admissions office eliminate its mountains of paper. After a thorough vendor and product evaluation effort, they chose the eMedia integrated document management product from Optika Imaging Systems (now owned by Stellent), and opted to work with third-party document management integrator Integra Information Technologies.

Working with Integra, WSU defined and programmed admissions document scanning, indexing, and workflow rules. Then in 1999, the Admissions office implemented Optika’s then-just-released eMedia imaging and workflow system. Integra’s scanning and indexing modules were added later that year. Because this was one of the first client-server application installations in the student services area at WSU, the project was complex and required considerable coordination, consulting, and monitoring. Kathy Cross, information systems manager for the Office of Admissions, remembers that the biggest challenge was defining the relationship between the vendors and WSU, and the responsibilities for work on the overall project.

“It was a bumpy first year, working out all of the different relationships,” she says, looking back. “Lucky for us, we managed to figure everything out before the project had time to fall apart.”

Because of the aggressive implementation schedule, the system was tested in 2000 and then installed and placed directly into production mode. Since then, the software has gone through two name changes and several version upgrades. The current product name is Imaging and Business Process Management (this change came after Optika had been rolled into Stellent). In 2003, WSU purchased Ascent Capture from Kofax to provide more indexing options for manipulating documents after scanning. Also that year, the school added document management vendor ImageSource as a solutions provider.

FACTBOX

Today at Washington State University, a variety of users access a multi-dimensional, multi-vendor electronic records system that has evolved over an eight-year period. Some users log in to explore workflows; others retrieve records and images. Administrators believe the flexibility of the products allows individual departments to implement a solution that works for them.

In addition to all of this behind-thescenes software, the system incorporates a number of scanners from Fujitsu. Today, a variety of users access the system, including departmental staff, faculty members, administrators, and more. Some of these users log in to explore workflows, while others spend time almost exclusively retrieving records or images. According to Cross, the flexibility of the products allows departments to implement a solution that works for them. Another obvious benefit has been that remote campus locations no longer have to rely on FedEx or the US Postal Service to shuttle important documents back and forth.

“Now we’re all working from the same electronic workflow and imaged document,” she says. “Both here and out on our branch campuses, that’s a good thing that was long overdue.”

Financials First

A similarly evolving system at Towson University has also yielded impressive results, but this one sprang up around the need to better organize financial records.

For years, Towson had operated the old-fashioned way, printing and distributing multiple copies of documents as needed. As the campus continued to grow, however, officials quickly found themselves running out of storage space. Jay Taffel, senior process analyst for business support in the school’s Office of Technology Services (OTS), says that at one point in the not-so-distant past, he realized that the school had “rooms full of paper.” Taffel set out to find a solution to clean up the mess and minimize the spread of paper-oriented inefficiencies, moving forward.

Document Imaging 101: Not Your Usual 12-Step Program

THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA has been practicing document imaging in one form or another for the better part of this decade. In 2004, the school published a helpful 12- step guide for schools interested in setting up a program of their own. Here are the highlights:

  • STEP 1 Gather information about forms, volumes, and current document processing methods
  • STEP 2 Define customization and workflow
  • STEP 3 Define security criteria
  • STEP 4 Estimate hardware and software
  • STEP 5 Estimate personnel required
  • STEP 6 Create system design document
  • STEP 7 Customize software or buy it (and hardware) from vendor
  • STEP 8 Develop test plans
  • STEP 9 Install software and hardware
  • STEP 10 Test installation
  • STEP 11 Create administrator and user manuals
  • STEP 12 Training

For more information on the University of Florida’s implementation, click here.

That solution came in the form of ImageNow, an integrated document management solution from Perceptive Software, and the school first used it to tackle some of the paper that had existed for years in the Financial Services department. There, reports Taffel, staff members have been scanning accounts payable invoices and vouchers since July 2005, and, to date, have scanned more than 119,000 pages. The department was keeping three years’ worth of hardcopy documents, since the school is required to send originals to the state capital for processing. By digitizing the documents, however, Towson has been able to build an easy-to-use database of these files to serve as a reference down the road.

“Storage on college campuses is a luxury these days, and nobody knows that better than we do,” Taffel says. “Not having to keep these papers around has literally freed up office space for staff in [the Financial Services] department and has greatly improved customer service, since the documents can be retrieved immediately via the software.”

Towson University

WHEN TOWSON UNIVERSITY decided to retire
a legacy SIS, the OTS staff preserved more than
128,000 student transcripts by storing them as
TIFF files in the school’s imaging database.

The financial services scanning project was just the beginning of Towson’s document imaging endeavor. Some of a university’s most critical documents are official transcripts, so when Towson decided to retire a legacy student information system (SIS), the school needed to preserve the transcripts of over 128,000 former students on that system. To do this, OTS staff set out to virtually “print” almost 300,000 pages into TIFF files, then stored the digital documents in the imaging database. The project cost far less than it would have cost to hire a third party to engineer the conversion. More importantly, says Taffel, Towson didn’t lose a single file.

Next, Towson digitized files on the departmental level, training department staffers to do the scanning on their own. One department scanned old invoices, while another focused on digitizing student records: 2.3 million grade reports, drop/add forms, and registration files from a legacy scanning system were imported into the new database, with new images added daily. A third department tackled records from yesteryear, including card-stock transcripts dating back to the 1920s that were converted to microfiche in the 1980s. Throughout the process, officials rejoiced at the prospect of eliminating the need for offsite physical storage, a proposition that was costing as much as $600 a month.

In addition to preserving the past, Towson is planning for the future, particularly in the area of graduate and undergraduate admissions. ImageNow’s Import Agent automatically routes and catalogs new online applications into the document imaging system without the need for manual indexing. For paper applications, staff members create barcoded cover sheets that list each applicant’s name and unique identification number. As the paper applications are scanned, ImageNow uses the barcode values to sort the documents in the system. Hard copies are shredded after scanning, reducing the need for more storage down the road. “When you think about how time-consuming all of the paperwork involved in admissions can be, creating electronic copies of every application just makes sense,” says Taffel, noting that financial aid is the next department to undergo a scanning blitz. “Someday soon, I imagine every school will be doing this.”

WEBEXTRA :: Read about how one community college turned to document imaging to handle the onslaught of paper, click here.

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