Suffolk County Community College: Imaging Goes to College

Gordon E.J. Hoke

Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) (www.sunysuffolk.edu), on the east side of Long Island, had a document issue. Crushing amounts of paper were part of it, but delivering documents to the right location was a major conundrum of its own.

The county stretches some 60 miles from the rural east of duckling fame to the suburban rings outside New York City. SCCC supports three sites: easternmost Southampton, fast-growing Brentwood, and the main campus at Selden. Some departments, like Admissions, are centralized, and their challenge was to deal with an onslaught of paper, making it available and useful. Other departments, such as Staffing, are spread out over the three campuses, and their documents needed to be either triplicated or shuttled from site to site.

Student services—a critical area—also faced serious issues. In past years, students at Southampton and Brentwood had only limited access to schedules, grades, and other records stored at Selden. Even students at Selden had only a single point of access, and they encountered the delays often associated with paper storage and retrieval. For every student, there was a 30- to 50-page folder containing papers of everything from applications and transcripts to discipline and health records. The college kept the papers for six years after students left the college, meaning the document system contained approximately 4,000,000 pages. Growth projections showed a need for storage for another million pages.

The Admissions Department dealt with the most paper. Every year, approximately 20,000 applications arrive from Suffolk County's 70 school districts and beyond, and most arrive between October and March. Although the primary application is a standard form, the addenda come in an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Parts of each application—such as references, transcripts, and test results—arrive independently and need to be associated with the main application documents.

Discovering an Alternative
Frustration with paper management motivated the college administration to look for an alternative as early as 1995. At one point, microfilm was considered, but when Jack Rice joined the administration as Chief Management Analyst, he brought with him experience in document imaging and laser-disc storage gained at the County Board of Elections. Rice thought the scenario seemed perfect for electronic-document solutions, and following his leadership, the college agreed.

In 1998, the administration established a committee that wrote a Request for Proposals and sent it to 35 vendors nationwide. "We got between six and a dozen serious responses," remembers Rice, "and we narrowed down the field until we took three demonstrations of solutions." The winner was Feith Systems and Software Inc. (www.feith.com) of Ft. Washington, Pa.

Leon Conway, Senior Technical Manager with Feith and project manager for SCCC, notes that Feith's integration features were particularly attractive to the college. "The college has several software applications, using three different database engines. They thought that with their three different databases, image-enabling the existing applications would be a formidable problem. However, our Quick Integrator software was especially appropriate for SCCC. It allows existing applications to be image-enabled in minutes. What database an application uses d'esn't matter."

"Feith demonstrated they could fulfill our concept with only minor customization," explains Rice. "Their software easily met our initial needs, and they have been very responsive to our need for tweaks."

Centralization
Feith installed software to operate a high-speed scanner at the main campus, and SCCC began scanning inquiries from prospective applicants on a day-forward basis. "We wanted to create a virtual folder that tracked a student from expression of interest in attending to graduation and beyond," Rice details. "Because it is electronic, we can include e-mail and faxes without printing. We add placement tests, counseling notes and recommendations. Now we scan on all three campuses. The records are stored on a server in Selden, but they are instantly available at Brentwood and Southampton as well."

Approximately 80 clients are spread across the college, and password security is defined by job description. For example, only the nursing staff has access to medical records, and, "only a few eyes can see disciplinary files," states Rice, "Security is robust."

Staff and students view documents using Feith's WebFDD, which resides on the server and requires only a browser on a PC—and permissions—to gain access to the system. The WebFDD software has access to both the database and the document images. It returns electronic copies of images, and other information, based on the users' requests.

The document retrieval and viewing process starts in an image-enabled application. A search there results in the display of student's information. Next, the Quick Integrator is used to cull screen information needed by WebFDD to locate the student's document. WebFDD uses this information to retrieve the document image.

The central scanner is now supplemented with six departmental scanners distributed throughout the college. Scans go to indexing stations and then on to RAID (magnetic) storage. Rice rejected optical storage, saying the extra cost of the RAID box was more than justified by the speed of access. When Feith installed their system, the college already had an effective network and a sophisticated PC installation, so the total implementation cost was reduced. Using Feith ERM (COLD) capabilities, materials can enter a student's folder directly from the college mainframe as well, but 90 percent of the materials are scanned, according to Rice.

The staffing departments at each campus draw extensively on the centralized records repository for their work. "We have a couple thousand adjunct teachers," explains Rice, "and we keep records of who is qualified to teach which classes. But we used to keep records for each adjunct teacher at only one campus, although they can teach at two or three. Now any campus can find someone, for example, who can teach physics, regardless of their ‘home' location."

Practical Benefits
Rice is always looking for ways to use technology to improve the college's functions. In one case, he led a kiosk project that set up 14 stations where students can look up their schedules, grades, and other vital information. Rice looks to Feith to help him get the most out of the document system. "Feith is always enhancing their product and will push us along."

All of this improvement stemmed from SCCC's information technology department, but there has been no significant increase in staff size. Rice predicts another benefit: The space where file cabinets stood will become functional areas that will save some building construction and renovations. "Now we can store paper in an unheated building in a remote area with minimal access," he intones. "The warm areas are for office space. Our in-house architect is looking at reusing the freed storage space. Central Admissions alone is getting rid of 15 file cabinets, and longer term, we will get rid of 50 four-drawer cabinets."

Future developments will help smooth out the peaks and valleys of document processing such as the end of the school year when applicants send in their final high school transcripts. "The Feith project is a major, substantial part of our administration," states Rice, "and I see many more projects with them coming down the pike."

For more information, contact Jack Rice, Chief Management Analyst, Suffolk County Community College, at ricej@sunysuffolk.edu, or Gordon E.J. Hoke, Vice President, eVisory Consulting, at gordon.hoke@evisoryconsulting.com.

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