Document Management | Feature

Convincing a Campus to Go Paperless

Texas A&M offers three tips that will help ensure a smooth transition to a paperless workflow.

For many universities, the road to a paperless workflow couldn't be called a path of least resistance. Complex, paper-heavy processes, combined with staffers clinging to old ways, make it difficult to implement new document management technology.

In 2007, Texas A&M University's Health Science Center implemented a Laserfiche document management system that was to be used across the Health Science Center's colleges and research institutions for documents related to human resources, payroll, accounts payable, travel, and contracts. "At the time, I had many responsibilities that were heavy on paper and were process-heavy, that went through a lot of people's hands across the Health Science Center before they were completed," recalls Kristen Nace, assistant VP of fiscal services and budget at the Health Science Center. "I couldn't understand why we didn't already have this kind of system in place."

Tasked with overseeing the implementation, Nace has since become the Laserfiche point-person for the entire Health Science Center, ensuring that the document management needs of every department are prioritized and implemented. Because the system manages documents that pass through multiple departments across campus, from the get-go all departments were required to participate in its use at some level. How did Nace get the entire campus on board in the early stages? Here are her tips for a smooth transition to a paperless campus:

1) Make Sure the Project Has Friends in High Places.
"Getting our president on board with the purchase and implementation--and ultimately with how I envisioned Laserfiche would be used--was pivotal," remarks Nace. The vice president of Nace's department arranged the meeting between Nace and Health Science Center president Nancy Dickey, during which Nace explained how a document management system could save the campus money and streamline campuswide processes.

"I'll be honest with you: That meeting was a little intimidating," admits Nace. "I was asking for a large sum of money to initiate a project that I had big dreams for. But, it didn't take much convincing at all, because our president likes technology. She quickly started talking to me about how great this system could be for not only the ways I wanted to use it, but also for things that other departments were interested in. She was totally on board, and she helped me spread the news across the departments."

Dickey invited Nace to give a presentation about the project at an executive committee meeting with the school's vice presidents and deans. "I explained how Laserfiche worked, and the ways in which we were hoping to use the product in the near future," says Nace. "We answered a lot of questions and concerns at that meeting. I think that any potential negative issues were handled at that one point in time before we had even purchased the product."

Dickey continued to be involved in the project throughout its implementation, as different departments requested new ways that they'd like to use the system to meet the specific needs of faculty and staff. "Once people started using the system in the way that I'd originally intended, I started getting all of these requests for new ways to use Laserfiche, but I didn't have the manpower to get to them all," remarks Nace. "The whole time, our president has been very aware of all of the requests we've received from different departments, and she, along with the management, has been instrumental in getting it all done."

2) To Get Buy-in, Show Results--and Start Small.
Once the project was out of its pilot phase, Nace's next step was to have all of the Health Science Center's colleges and research institutes participate at a low level. But, rather than require that all university processes be paperless, Nace introduced only five specific processes linked to her department that would now be routed through Laserfiche.

"We went with a small-win methodology upon implementation," remarks Nace. "We started off small, got those small wins, built user confidence, and then began to expand and grow the product into more complex uses that allow you to really identify your time-saving and cost efficiencies."

Staffers did raise concerns when the system was introduced: How much time would people have to spend scanning paper into an electronic system? What if my document gets lost on the server, or what if somebody deletes an important document? But, because Nace focused staff training on specific processes to gain user confidence, those concerns were short-lived and were quickly overshadowed by the benefits the system provided when it came to, say, instantly identifying the status of a document being routed through an approval process.

"User buy-in is so important, and I think you gain that buy-in by showing results," remarks Nace. "Once someone is able to get into a system, then, within their own mind, they're able to trust that the document is going to be there, that it's not going to get lost and it's not going to get deleted unless it's an intentional act. We worked hard to build their trust in the system."

3) Be Open to New Ideas in Order to Reach New Users.
"The way we're using Laserfiche today is far more complex and far more developed than the way we were using it when we first began," says Nace. Soon after the system was introduced, Nace began receiving requests from departments across the institution to customize the system for their own needs.

For example, one particular college wanted to scan medical records into the system, and then have those records automatically routed in a certain way. "Everything about their project and how they wanted to use Laserfiche was specific to their college," notes Nace. By accommodating these requests, what started as a system to support administrative processes in the fiscal services and budget office quickly became a system adopted and used by faculty and staff across campus. "It's a whole different audience than was our original goal," remarks Nace. "Honestly, the campus was ready for something like this."

About the Author

Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.

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