Best Practices for Going Paperless in Higher Ed

Keys to effective electronic document management

Complying with recordkeeping laws and information security requirements can be made easier with electronic document management. This is critical for higher ed institutions that are struggling to do more with less. This web seminar, originally broadcast on April 22, 2014, featured leaders from the Washington Student Achievement Council, a state agency working with colleges and universities to expand access to higher education in Washington. They shared how implementing electronic document management allows them to save time, money and resources, and to better serve both students and institutions.

Linda Ding
Education Program Strategist

Many colleges and universities have determined that maintaining a cost-effective back office is an important strategy in stabilizing tuition and operational costs. One way to reduce overhead is to decrease the reliance on paper documents. Paper-based operations are costly. Extensive labor and time is required to file away paper documents, resulting in the increased likelihood of duplicated and siloed information. The benefits of going paperless are clear. Institutions can save almost immediately on costs associated with printing, storage and postage. Some institutions that we work with were able to save $30,000 on storage costs alone for a single department during the first year of scanning paper documents.

But the biggest returns on investment for a paperless office operation stem from three areas:

  1. How quickly and efficiently staff members can access the information they need to get a job done.
  2. How well-structured business processes, such as admissions or advancement, can be automated through workflow.
  3. How well one can protect the security and integrity of digital information at the institutional level.

To realize these returns on investment, institutions can leverage document management technology to standardize their approach to managing their documents’ life cycles. Institutions can use modular components to effectively capture, distribute and store information so that all constituents can easily search and retrieve critical information. Moreover, this technology can make it easy to access documents from any location, with any device, so that authorized staff members can stay connected to institutional information from the office, from a meeting or while on a business trip. Business process management can also be accomplished with workflow tools that allow scheduled tasks to be monitored and completed without manual intervention. This strategy becomes critically important as there is sustained pressure to do more with less across the education industry today. Workflow automation can help move the increased workload along without adding more staff resources. Institutions can also leverage the digital records management practice to establish a governance structure that protects information at the institutional level, while not compromising the accessibility of the information to approved staff.

Kim Porter
Records & Projects Manager
Washington Student Achievement Council

The Washington Student Achievement Council administers several student financial aid programs that support educational access and affordability, and prepares underrepresented middle and high school students for post-secondary education through early outreach and success programs such as College Bound and Gear Up. The council also provides a college savings option for Washington residents through the Guaranteed Education Tuition Program (GET), which is Washington’s 529 college tuition program. Since 1998, more than 154,000 GET accounts have been opened and over 34,000 students have already used their accounts to attend colleges, universities and technical schools nationwide.

Our unit receives all of the paper for the program. We scan and route all of the correspondence, set up and maintain all of the GET accounts, and oversee the records retention and archiving. We receive, process and route a variety of different documents, including payroll and payment lockboxes from the bank, paper and web applications, account change and maintenance forms, historical program documents, contracts, and invoices. The legacy system we used before Laserfiche was old and no longer supported by the vendor. There were limited ways for us to index and to retrieve the documents, which could only be found if you knew what day they came into the office and the way they were received. The only way we were able to get a document into the system was to scan it. So if our contact center received an email from our account runner, we had to print the email, walk it over to our records department, scan it and then shred it.

Also, every scanned page was a separate document—so if that email was four pages, we would have four separate scans in our system. You would have to figure out which page was which. Needless to say, we needed a solution. Laserfiche offers all of the features that we wanted and then some. It contains a familiar Windows-like look that is easy to understand and to teach. It’s very intuitive. Another big selling point for us and for our IT department was the Laserfiche SDK toolkit and the documentation that allowed for custom integration with our existing programs. We set up our Laserfiche system in our repository to mirror our retention schedule. Because we were able to show where all of our documents were being stored and the security around them, we were able to get approval from the secretary of state for early destruction of records. As soon as the archive box is full, we can send it to the record center right away. This uses less of our filing cabinet space and we don’t need as much storage area for our archive boxes.

Melissa Huster
Lead Records Coordinator
Washington Student Achievement Council

With Laserfiche, we don’t have to print anything. If it’s already electronic, we can either drag it and drop it into Laserfiche or we can print it directly into Laserfiche. If it’s on paper, we can scan it. Also, our IT department has created custom web forms for our customers to complete online; as soon as they are completed, they immediately go into the system. Laserfiche has a wide variety of features. We don’t use them all, but we do use quite a few of them, such as text boxes, redactions, highlighting and sticky notes. Also, we can use the link feature to pair documents. For example, we may get an application along with a guardian form—they are two different documents that each serve their own purpose, but they need to stay together.

With Laserfiche, we can link them, and then they can be easily retrieved simultaneously. The redaction feature is user-specific—we can set different security levels on redactions to control who can and can’t see the information. To me, my redactions appear grayed out, because I created them. However, I am the only one who can see through my own redactions. If I was to print the document or even make a PDF, the redactions would be completely blacked out. And anyone else who did not have security access would see only the black-outs. With Laserfiche, we do more with less. We have increased security. Our processing time is reduced. Anyone can see at any time what stage a document is in. And retrieval is much faster. We don’t spend time trying to find missing documents and we don’t have to physically walk around the office to look for where a piece of paper might be.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to:


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