Kissing Paper Goodbye
University goes paperless and aims for automated document management
- By Bridget McCrea
It all started in the registrar's office, where every student's file was assigned a traditional "folder" to hold his or her admission documents. After watching those files pile up and require an increasing amount of storage space--not to mention the time spent shuffling through the papers--the technology team at Misericordia University in Dallas, PA decided to do something about it.
"I started researching document management last year, and was amazed at the sheer number of applications and capabilities that were out there," recalled Val Apanovich, director of IT for the 2,500-student institution. After narrowing the selection down to four or five vendors that focused on the higher education arena, Apanovich gravitated toward CampusDocs for its "low-cost entry point."
"For many of the products, we would have had to purchase the product and a server," said Apanovich, who instead took the software-as-a-service (SaaS) route, which gives the university access to a subscription-based service that resides on the software vendor's server, and that is accessed via a Web-based, password-protected setup. "We went for the option that didn't come with a major financial investment, loaded our content on the system and got going."
Once the registrar's office was up and running on the document management system, the admissions department quickly followed suit. "We knew that having just one office online wouldn't be much help, as there was a great deal of information being passed back and forth between the registrar and admissions," said Apanovich. "Both departments are scanning in their paper files now, and we're looking to have both departments completely automated when the freshman class comes in the fall of 2009." (Admissions is currently about 75 percent automated.)
The university's paperless initiative doesn't end there. According to Apanovich, students are also using the technology to drop or add classes and declare their degrees. The documents are electronically routed and kept safely in each student's electronic file. "This saves on the stress and hassle of losing or misfiling important documents," he said, "and also saves a tremendous amount of time for all parties involved."
Students, for example, have been relieved of the responsibility of handling important paper documents and delivering them to the necessary parties. Involved parties simply receive an e-mail instructing them on how to proceed (approve, don't approve, and so forth). With the click of a mouse, the document moves on.
"In the past, students had to print out the PDF, fill it out by hand and walk it around from place-to-place, getting the necessary signatures," said Apanovich. "Now we can control the process and track important documents much more effectively online, all the while reducing the massive paper trail."
In addition, Misericordia's occupational therapy and physical therapy departments--two of the school's largest areas of enrollment--are using the CampusDocs to help place students in clinical externships. The school can consolidate all of the possible locations (spanning the United States) where the externships exist, and students can track their paperwork and research the facilities online.
"This is a big improvement over the cabinet stuffed with clinical information that students and faculty had to sift through to get to the information they needed," explained Apanovich. "We gave scanners to the OT and PT departments; now all of that information is online for students to peruse and select from."
Misericordia University, which paid an initial setup fee plus $1,200 a month for the CampusDocs subscription, creates many of its own forms inhouse. The document management system then converts these into PDFs and delivers them to the registrar's e-mail inbox. "We worked out a reasonable price of $440 with the vendor," said Apanovich, "and the extra cost has been well worth it."
The switch to a paperless system hasn't been all easy for the 85-year-old institution, and reasonably so. "Understanding the document management environment, the technology and how it all works has been challenging for some people," said Apanovich. "It's very different than what we were doing before."
The school's admissions office, for example, assumed that, once it uploaded a batch of primary information to the system, it would only need to send updates or changes as needed. As it turns out, CampusDocs needed the "full load" of information on a daily basis. "Now we know that's just how a document solution works," said Apanovich, "but we weren't aware of that in the beginning."
While Apanovich said the university has yet to add up the dollars and time it's saving by using a document management system, some of the benefits are already clear. The IT team, for example, has yet to train anyone on the system. And, the user-friendly, intuitive interface means "no time lost on a learning curve."
Up next, said Apanovich, will be the full automation of the university's adult education offices, where the tracking of new students has become cumbersome, owing to the fact that they must be approved for admissions by faculty members and other parties. "Through the document management system, we expect to be able to quickly bring up the documentation on every adult student," said Apanovich, "to see where they are in the admissions process and figure out how to get things moving along."
Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.