Moving Beyond Student Records

“What we’ve learned is that colleges and universities are really good at student records,” says Jonathan Langdon-Phillips, director of Research and Development at Branford, CT-based Westbrook Technologies Inc., referring to digital document imaging and management. “The areas where we see they have a big challenge are in documents that aren’t student records.”

That makes sense. After all, student records are pretty straightforward to move to a digital system: Student employees can scan back documents via a multi-function device (MFD, a.k.a.: photocopier). A third-party company, such as Westbrook, can set up the system for current and new documents going forward.

Take a look at how Austin Community College District (ACC) has moved forward from using digital document management for student records to using it for faculty credential records. As well, take a look at all the benefits such a system has to offer.

Austin Community College District

Founded in 1973, ACC offers 235 associate degree and certificate programs, university transfer courses, workforce training, adult education, and continuing education opportunities. The Texas-based school serves 44,000 credit students plus 10,500 continuing education and 3,000 adult education students.

In 1998, ACC first adopted a document management solution to replace its microfilm system as a more efficient and flexible method to manage records. Choosing Fortis enterprise content management software by Westbrook, the initial implementation proved to be an effective online resource that connected ACC’s satellite campuses and improved access to student records for past, current, and future students.

Next, ACC administrators began implementing Fortis in the financial aid, human resources-payroll, and facilities and construction departments. Within the next year, business services and other departments will likely have their own document repositories through the system.

Thinking beyond departmental applications, ACC most recently decided to expand on its success with electronic content management by housing faculty credential files for the Virtual College of Texas (VCT). VCT is a collaborative effort among nearly 40 public two-year colleges to facilitate sharing of distance learning courses among member colleges. All faculty-credential files for each member college are stored in Fortis for access by host colleges.

Two Components

The key components of a digital document management system include the MFD and the software needed to create electronic documents.

The MFD (also known as an MFP, or multifunction printer) got its start as a basic photocopier — an output device, if you will. It has evolved through the years so that now it includes the ability to scan individual sheets of paper and have them stored on the machine so that, let’s say, templated forms can be printed as needed. With the right software, an MFD is now an input device, scanning individual sheets of paper and converting them to digital documents that can be stored anywhere.

“Campus administrators need to know that the MFD is considered a network device that can capture, process, and feed data wherever it needs to go,” says Valeria Phillips, worldwide market development consultant, Public Sector and Education, Managed Enterprise Solutions, Imaging and Printing Group for Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard Co. “Integrated with our software solution, it’s a powerful tool for data management.

“In addition,” Phillips continues, “higher education is focused on proven institutional effectiveness, and the MFD accelerates decision making drastically.” This is because it’s so easy to optimize workflow by scanning paper into a file (a student application, transcripts, and essay, for example) and then forwarding the files to the necessary decision maker(s) (admissions personnel, for example), as opposed to copying, collating, and forwarding files via interoffice mail.

Then there’s the software that Phillips mentioned. Companies like Hewlett-Packard and Canon offer it. “We have a tiered approach for higher education clients,” says Stephen Agostini, senior manager of the Solutions Marketing Division of Canon USA, Lake Success, NY. “We can build what the school needs. It could be as simple as having a document being convertible to Word or Excel so that it can be repurposed as opposed to reproduced. Or it can be as complex as having the ability to capture data and having a single document management system.”

The Benefits

Large document management systems may require the services of a third-party firm, such as Westbrook, a software company that develops document management products. And the investment pays for itself with a number of benefits, not the least of which is the simplicity of permanently retaining student records because it’s so easy to keep them up-to-date and accurate. Along the same line, digital documents are not susceptible to data loss that occurs as a result of natural disasters, misplaced files, or even the paper aging that comes complete with fading ink and yellowing.

Another benefit is that digital documents have the flexibility to be used in many ways. They can be used as simple forms stored on an intranet that can be filled out online and submitted to the correct person. Staff members are automatically notified by email that a form has been submitted, so they know to review it. Beyond that, documents can be filed so that they are searchable within established parameters, such as by student ID or last name, or by status, such as undergraduate or graduate. “If I wanted all the records for students who graduated in 2009 with a business major,” says Langdon-Phillips, “I could enter those parameters and have the information immediately.”

A third benefit is that digital documents are easy to share — they can be scanned on the MFD and sent to a network folder from which approved personnel can access the documents. This is ideal for information that has to be moved along an approval process. “It’s a correct process every time,” Langdon-Phillips notes.

A final benefit is that digital documents can be kept secure and confidential by creating user settings that allow only credentialed staff to access and print certain documents. “You can lock down individual or sets of documents,” says Langdon-Phillips. “Similarly, you can assign rights for specific personnel or groups of users to access documents. Plus, you can determine what can be seen and what can be done with a document.” Another security aspect is the creation of an audit trail that notes everything done to a document: who opened it, who printed it, who edited it. The reverse it true, too, in that there’s an audit trail by user: What documents have a specific user accessed, printed, etc., within a specified time frame.

The key to maximizing all these benefits, says Langdon-Phillips, is to work closely with your software vendor. “Installing software doesn’t result in real productivity gains if it isn’t configured the way you need it,” he says. “There’s huge value to be gained in planning.”

Digital document imaging and management doesn’t need to be relegated to student records only. Its ability to improve efficiency, its flexibility, and security make it an excellent option for other campus departments, such as financial aid, human resources, facility management, and individual schools.

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