5 Ways to Create a Productive Paperless Environment

The benefits of digital document management and transitioning to a paperless environment

Document management holds tremendous potential for improving information security and recordkeeping compliance, streamlining processes, and enabling colleges and universities to do more with less. Meanwhile, paper-heavy environments can lead to wasted time, reduced productivity and employee frustration. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on August 26, 2014, attendees learned five key ways to create a productive paperless environment at their institutions: identifying document types for effective document classification, utilizing metadata for faster information retrieval, using existing system data to eliminate manual data input, leveraging ECM technology to create searchable document templates, and establishing an effective workflow that creates more transparency. Attendees also learned from real-life examples of how document management has improved the accounts payable department at California State University, Chancellor’s Office. Other topics included the benefits of digital document management over paper document systems and advice for transitioning to a paperless environment.

Linda Ding
Education Program Strategist

The field of higher education is essentially a paper-generating machine. And I’m not just referring to research papers, but the physical paper itself. The problem of paper is a reality. It is costly to print and store. For a typical higher education administrative office staff of 10, the paper-related costs could easily amount to a full-time employee’s salary. And there are also intangible costs associated with duplicate work and multiple copies of the same document all over campus, or multiple forms and paperwork asking for the same information. To combat these problems, many institutions are implementing a series of strategies to help improve operational efficiencies.

For example, there is an overall trend to consolidate administrative operations in order to reduce redundant work. Some institutions are examining how to augment processes to minimize manual intervention. More information is being digitized to reduce paper consumption. These strategies can be summarized as a document management strategy, where institutions can break down the different steps within the life cycle of a document and standardize the way the staff members can interact with the document and the information. Institutions can leverage document management technology to achieve greater efficiency. They can effectively capture, distribute and manage documents and information so that all constituents can easily search and retrieve critical institutional information on the go. Institutions can also leverage digital record management tools to establish a governance structure that would protect information at the institutional level.

In general, there are three areas where institutions see the biggest ROI from a paperless operation strategy. First, how quickly and efficiently staff members can access the right information they need to get a job done. The fact that they are able to retrieve critical business information on-the-go and not be bound to any devices adds great mobility to today’s knowledge workers. Second, how well structured business processes, such as accounts payable or admissions, can be automated through better workflow. Routine tasks, such as document indexing and filing, can be automated without constant manual input. The third biggest area for ROI is closely associated with information security and integrity. With the right tools and policies, institutions can protect important and sensitive information without compromising how easily the staff can access that information.

Lauri Reilly
Accounts Payable Manager
Chancellor’s Office
California State University

The California State University system is comprised of 23 campuses. We have about 447,000 students with 45,000 faculty and staff. We are considered the largest, most diverse and one of the most affordable university systems in the country. The office of the chancellor is located in downtown Long Beach, and we serve the 23 campuses of the system. We have approximately 500 employees, plus about 100 more employees at a couple of our offsite facilities, one in Washington, D.C., and one in Sacramento. We provide statewide management in areas such as academic affairs, business and finance, institutional research, computer and technology resources, physical plant development, employee relations, governmental affairs, general counsel, advancement and public affairs.

We processed over 11,500 documents last year including invoices, procurement cards, backup, travel cards, employee reimbursement and a small amount of student refunds. We’re using Oracle/PeopleSoft’s suite of applications for the financial operations in the building, and Laserfiche has been our imaging solution now for about 10 years. We have about 190,000 documents in our Laserfiche database with a total of just over 1.2 million pages. We still have paper. We’re still receiving paper. We’re still routing paper. But we’re working on eliminating that. Data from each of the documents that we receive are entered into our PeopleSoft database, and PeopleSoft assigns a unique identifying number, which we refer to as a voucher number. We have scanners located at each AP tech’s desk. After they’ve input the document into PeopleSoft, they usually will scan it right away and enter the voucher number. That gives our departments the ability to access the information, as soon as that voucher number is ready.

Prior to scanning documents into any imaging system, thought must be given to how you are going to use these documents in the future. What information will end users need in order to retrieve the documents? The information that you associate with a document is referred to as “metadata.” What is metadata? The best definition I could find was provided by WhatIs.com: Metadata summarizes basic information about data. It’s data about data. In this particular case, our data is an image. Metadata can make finding and working with particular instances of data/images easier. For example, “author,” “date created,” “date modified” and “file size” are examples of very basic document data that help. Having the ability to filter through that metadata makes it easier for someone to locate a specific document.

At the end of the day, what did we actually achieve? We achieved some maximum efficiency when it came to scanning our documents. We used to have a work-study student when I first started at the chancellor’s office. All he did 20 hours a week was scan documents and populate the few fields that we had at that time. Now we have a much more efficient process that’s done immediately after we have a voucher number, right at the desktop. It’s controlled by the subject-matter expert, which is my AP check person. Then workflow grabs much more data than we could ever think of manually populating, and it auto-files for us. The efficiencies are just amazing. We don’t have any misfiled or lost documents anymore. It’s not like we go to a file cabinet and try to locate something, somebody pulls it out, it sits on their desk for an infinite amount of time before they find it again and put it back into the file cabinet. The documents are available to our staff in the Washington office, and they’re also available to our staff in Sacramento—so they don’t have to call us to request a copy. They don’t have to keep copies of documents at their location for their purposes, because they have access to the Laserfiche database.

Additional users that have come into play include our auditors, who come in asking for documents during audit season. You can type in voucher numbers quickly, save the PDFs electronically to a folder and allow the auditors to have access to the folder outside the Laserfiche system, and then they can look at the documents they have requested. We also get public requests for information. It’s now easy to fulfill these requests. They give me a timeframe, which I simply type in, and I get all the documents to help meet the requirements of the request. We finally got to realize the biggest cost savings last year. We used to store all of our old data. We would box up the oldest years’ worth of files, put them in these very expensive bankers boxes, label them—which took a weekend to do because it’s just too difficult during work hours—and then shipped them to an off-site storage facility, which is a continuous cost. Last year I ordered Shred-Bin. We opened the cabinet drawers, threw the stuff into the Shred-Bin, locked it up and the documents were shredded. That right there is our big savings, in both cost and time.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.universitybusiness.com/ws082614


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